Structural Change is Needed to Turn Alaska Blue in 2020

Words by Michael Patterson, Anchorage, Alaska

I have learned a lot about the state of affairs regarding local politics since registering as a democrat in March. I had hoped this election would signal a progressive change for Alaska. My hope was curbed stomped on election night.  Liberals, progressives and leftists – these are not the same – in Alaska were met with stiff Republican party resistance.


What happened election night is nothing new. Oil companies spent millions of dollars to confuse, conflate and ultimately defeat a ballot measure that would have protected salmon and held corporate interests accountable. Mike Dunleavy, then, a Republican candidate, promised Alaskans a unicorn: a $6700 pfd payout. What can liberals and the Left do about it?


I was raised in Alaska, but most of my organizing work has been in the Lower 48 during the Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS). What OWS taught me is before you can win, you need two things: 1) progressive policy (power) and 2) a strong progressive movement (potent ideas). Movements function to agitate, propagate and defend those progressive polices. OWS had the movement; we didn’t have the policy. What I’ve learned about Alaska is that we have the policies and the progressives in office, but we don’t have a movement. We’re in a constant state of reaction, and if you’re reacting you’re not winning.


The Alaskan Democratic Party (ADP) needs to change and there is a lot of resistance to change. The ADP is not very diverse. It is a white political space and for people of color it’s not very welcoming. The ADP is ideologically (neo-liberalism) rigid, and some within the party are downright hostile to progressives and Leftists. The ADP needs structural reforms. The party isn’t accessible to the poor, and working class. The organization behaves in an insular manner where discourse and disagreement is seen as a threat to “unity”: and this “unity” isn’t well defined. We’ll keep losing if we don’t find a way to work toward common goals and to do that we have to have uncomfortable conversations, put aside our egos and develop common objectives.


Looking forward to 2020, we have a lot of work ahead of us. The ADP is going to have an influx of people. We have to build a coalition among liberal, progressives and leftists in Alaska. We have to create political spaces that encourage discourse and dissent within the party. Movement building shouldn’t be monopolized by political parties either. We have to be comfortable with the fact that some people, and groups, will not work within the party structure. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work with them but we should make the effort to build bridges. No one has a monopoly on progress and the democratic party is no exception.


The election was a defeat for the left in Alaska but it was a good night for us nationally. We now have a congressional check on the President. It sure feels nice to have that again. Even locally things are not as bad. The Republican majority in the state house is fragile and while Governor-elect is hunting a unicorn, it’s the Alaska legislature that has to find it and State Republicans are tasked with leading the search. Everyone elected Tuesday inherited a mess and no amount of coal, oil or cuts will fix this problem. The solutions to our problems will come through dialogue and collaboration not capitulation to oil companies and appeasing the rich.


November 6 was not a good day, but there are still many days ahead of us.


Michael Patterson, an active member of the Anchorage political world

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