We will die in Alaska, and be buried right alongside those who came before us. This state is our collective home and for many of us a part of our identity. Even if the state government implodes, many of us would not leave Alaska.
When we think of Alaskans, we first think about the people who will be here long after the oil has run out. We think about the people who fish, hunt, gather, hike, work and live on this land. Some of us were born and raised here, others were drawn northward for jobs, family or adventure. This climate is one that appeals to a certain kind of person, and it demands a respect, and a way of being in order to survive in it. This environment is what makes Alaskans different.
Implicit with the discovery of oil was the hard truth that it wasn't going to last forever. Oil prices, like all commodities, go up and down. When it's good, it's good; and when it's bad, it's bad. Some of Alaska's greatest leaders recognized this from the start and began planning for the future of Alaska accordingly.
So how did this crisis sneak up on us?
The answer to this is key to answering the question of how we rise above the current fiscal and economic situation. During the first weekend in April, we — along with over 20 other young Alaskans affiliated with the nonpartisan, all-volunteer group Our Alaska — sequestered ourselves away from our families and daily lives to think about the future of our state. Situated north of Matanuska Glacier, we were surrounded by awe-inspiring scenery which constantly reminded us of why we live here.
To the question of how to secure the best future for Alaska, dozens of ideas were put forth with folks chomping at the bit to defend why they believed their solution was a key part in securing that future. Ideas ranged from sweeping changes to the political system to retooling our fisheries strategy.
Instead of letting argument take over our discussions, we started to look for common ground. We recognized that even though it was a diverse group — politically, socially and racially — we didn't represent the views of all Alaskans. Yet something we all shared in common was a concern for the future of Alaska, and that all of us in the room strived to be in Alaska for the long run. No fair-weather Alaskans here.
By understanding this long-term vision, Our Alaska developed shared values amongst the group. Among them were values most Alaskans also share: respect, constructive compromise and cooperation, accountability both to yourself and to your community, and courage.
The state's current fiscal situation ends up being part of the larger picture of Alaska's future. Instead of focusing solely on the problems of today, it needs to be recognized as part of a larger problem: lack of vision, and short-term thinking both from the electorate and from our elected officials.
It was also recognized that this isn't a problem limited to our state, that many of the problems we face are indeed problems our country faces. We realized that we aren't interested in toeing party lines; we are interested in the future of Alaska and Alaskans.
We knew we weren't going to solve the problem in a weekend, but we certainly felt the call to action, the need to do something. Where is the long-term vision for Alaska? Who has a vision for Alaska that will work for 50 years, for 100? The oil is going to run out. When the budget reserves are spent, and the Permanent Fund is a distant memory … then what?
We know the job facing our governor, senators and representatives isn't an easy one. Their position is not enviable. But we ask our leaders to have courage. Be accountable to your own values, but don't forget to consider the needs of all of your state's residents. Show each other respect. Cooperate with one another, and don't forget to compromise when appropriate.
Most importantly, we ask that our leaders have a long-term vision for Alaska, one that looks beyond petty partisanship, election cycles and balancing the budget one fiscal year at a time. We want our leaders to work toward a vision that will sustain us into our future and our children's futures. This is the Alaska we are going to inherit, and Our Alaska is going to do what we can to help.
For now, you are at the helm. Steer us right.
Warren Jones, Andrew Cutting and Camden Yehle are members of Our Alaska, a volunteer, nonpartisan coalition of rising-generation Alaskans collaborating on a shared vision and progress toward a better future for Alaska. www.ouralaska.us
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