This post is contributed by LWVJ member LaRae Jones.
Various scholars and social scientists remind us that our middle class is eroding, along with our roads, our bridges, harbors, and – most alarmingly – schools. Some see the solution in renewed isolationism that reduces the huge budget drain of foreign wars and arms races. The more down to earth folks at the League of Women Voters adopted national positions on “Meeting Basic Human Needs” in 1971. At that time they cited “Income Assistance”, “Housing Supply”, and “Transportation” as the key elements to meet basic human needs. The League Position simply says, “The League of Women Voters of the United States believes that one of the goals of social policy in the Unites States should be to promote self-sufficiency for individuals and families and that the most effective social programs are those designed to prevent or reduce poverty”. While this too may seem like isolationism, getting these things done in many other nations would surely strengthen the middle classes, improve roads, bridges, harbors, and schools globally. These thoughts lead one to wonder, “How could a reasonable person disagree with such noble goals’.
Since the 1990’s, a common saying has remained in our national and global consciousness; “It Takes a Village to Raise a Child”. This is an analogy that can apply to systems of governing, “It takes a community to make and keep a democracy”. Abraham Lincoln immortalized this idea at Gettysburg in November of 1863, “… and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth”. Why, you may ask, and how do these ideas relate to Juneau and Alaska in this national election year? Our state ferry system is in great need of repair and new investment. Our state finances are going through huge change from oil to diverse income sources. The generous state financing of Alaska schools and teachers – thanks in most part to rich oil revenues – is no longer available. Much has been started and the growth rates of many innovative revenue sources as well as energy conservation measures are accelerating as we think about these sobering challenges. Alaska has led the nation, if not the world, in sustainability of our rich fishing industry. We have developed an amazing system of local community public schools which include thousands of young Alaskans with developmental and behavioral disabilities. Many of these are small schools in remote villages. We are increasing both public and private investments in the most challenging goal of prevention of all types of child abuse and family violence. Without really bragging, we Alaskans have done a great many things to make and keep our state democracy.
The experiment in democracy known as the United States of America, faced similar grave challenges from 1929 through 1945. One of the best definitions of ‘democracy” was penned by E.B. White (beloved American writer) on July 3, 1943. “Surely the Writer’s War Board knows what democracy is. It is the line that forms on the right. It is the don’t in don’t shove. It is the hole in the stuffed shirt through which the sawdust slowly trickles; it is the dent in the high hat. Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half the people will be right more than half the time. It is the feeling of privacy in the voting booths, the feeling of communion in the libraries, the feeling of vitality everywhere. Democracy is a letter to the editor. Democracy is the score at the beginning of the ninth. It is an idea which hasn’t been disproved yet, a song the words of which have not gone bad. It’s the mustard on the hot dog and the cream in rationed coffee. Democracy is a request from a War Board, in the middle of a morning in the middle of a war, wanting to know what democracy is.”
Our imperative now is about how a community is needed to make and keep a democracy. Our history, though tarnished with cultural discrimination, toxic oil spills, and numerous other human mistakes, supports a vibrant statewide democracy. Our Alaskan forebears made that democracy – and we must keep it.