Alaska Democrats Could Face Rebellion From Within


Friday night was an interesting exercise in what my old political science professors would call “interest articulation.” That’s fancy academic talk for how those in a society tell their leaders what they want to see happen.

Ever since the nationwide Women’s Marches drew impressive numbers to protest the policies of the incoming Trump administration, including thousands of marchers right here in Anchorage, it has been clear the left is stirring. That stir was also evident two Sundays ago, when a few hundred rabid lefties gathered in front of the Federal Building in Anchorage to protest and then march around downtown to voice opposition to a travel ban issued via executive order by President Donald Trump.

Most notable to me was how the crowd reacted to Mayor Berkowitz’s arrival. The progressive Mayor of Anchorage showed up, marched, and spoke about how troubled he is by Trump’s ban. Those in the crowd, however, didn’t react to his words with raucous enthusiasm, as I’ve seen happen many times when a politician throws rhetorical red meat to an assembled mob.

Sure, Berkowitz did get some cheers for what he was saying, but the larger response was a collective murmur, as though the group was asking “Ya? And?”

This is how Alaska Dispatch News reported the exchange:

Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz stepped into the middle of the crowd with a megaphone.

“Anchorage is the most diverse city in the country,” he said. “And like many of you here, I am the son and grandson of immigrants and refugees.”

“What are you gonna do about it?” yelled someone in the crowd.

“This city is going to make sure that every person here, regardless of how you arrived or when you arrived is afforded the protections of the law and the protections of law enforcement,” Berkowitz said.

What the group was asking for was a clear and passionate rebuke of the President and his policies. What they got was a vague, politically measured parsing of words intended more to avoid anything that could be used against the Mayor by conservatives down the road than to inspire progressive activism now.

The Mayor’s words did little to either satisfy the protesters.

The stir continued.

On Facebook an event popped up titled “Planning Meeting to Pressure Assembly” and the description read:

“Please join us to discuss practical steps to pressure the Anchorage Assembly to officially condemn Trump’s executive order banning Muslims and building the wall. The next assembly meeting is February 14.”

Rumors had been swirling in the days following the Federal Building protest that there had been tense discussions between elected Democrats and protest organizers over how far the politicians were willing to go with their anti-travel ban rhetoric.

The description of the Facebook group seemed to echo those rumors.

They want to “pressure” the Assembly to take an official anti-Trump stand? The Anchorage Assembly is led by a majority of progressives, chaired by one of the most progressive Assembly people in modern memory, and serves alongside perhaps the most progressive mayoral administration in the Muni’s history. Yet the Assembly, not Alaska’s Governor, or legislature, or congressional delegation, is the target of this group’s “pressure”?  

I admit I was intrigued. Ok, I’ll go further and admit that while I told myself it was my inner political scientist that wanted to go and see how this group was forming, what was driving these activists’ visceral passion against Pres. Trump, and how they planned to turn that passion into policy outcomes, in reality, the baser elements of my character just enjoy watching an all-American political shit-show.

The meeting was to take place at the Alaska Center, formerly The Alaska Center for the Environment.

As I walked to the door I was immediately greeted with a sign that tickled those baser instincts of mine:

The medium-sized conference room was overflowing with mostly young, almost exclusively white faces. There were no press, no politicians, and maybe 2-3 representatives from groups involved in this fight, like the ACLU. It was almost exclusively activists. There were probably 50-70 of them there in all.  

In fairness to those who attended, I won’t mention any names, but there were a few in the room I recognized from campaigns of years past. Not many, but a few.

I went in, sat down, and immediately heard the guy running the meeting talk about how he isn’t running the meeting, and doesn’t want to run the meeting. He went on to run the meeting for the next two hours. I’m maybe more amused by that than I should be.

The group split into subgroups to talk about what issues folks thought the group should work on and what might be the best way to go about that. Suggestions were made to target the Mayor’s office, the Assembly, and the Alaska Attorney General in order to get them to commit to noncompliance with the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

What really came across, however, wasn’t the talk of policy or action, it was the visceral rejection many in the room had to any talk of the practicalities of politics.

One segment of the room wanted to pressure the Mayor and Anchorage Assembly to openly and aggressively declare Anchorage a “Sanctuary City,” and dare Trump to cut off federal funding to the city — a notion Mayor Berkowitz bristled at on The Midnight Sun The Podcast.

One woman from the Mayor’s office stood up and talked about how the Mayor wasn’t willing to go that far, but she had known him and his wife for 20 years and could assure everyone in the room he will stand up for the rights of all immigrants. A young man sitting nearby followed up, saying people who have known politicians for 20 years are the problem. His comment drew a round of snapping from the room (that’s how cool-kid progressives register their approval).

Others in the room who had spent a minute or two working in politics explained that such a move is highly risky. It could elicit major blowback from the right and threaten the safety of recent immigrants and Muslims, they said.

That was really, really not what many in the room wanted to hear. Speaker after speaker made it clear any sort of political calculation aimed at protecting anyone at election time was the kind of insider politics they were tired of.  

This group, at least a large portion of it, wants to fight for a cause and win an argument, not campaign and govern. These activists see anyone offering a more moderated or politically viable position as the problem. That includes elected Democrats. Especially elected Democrats.

That vibe, born of multiple rounds of progressive uprisings, from Occupy Wall Street to Black Lives Matter to the Women’s March to the candidacy of Bernie Sanders, is clearly more electric since progressives have watched Tea Party movement politics take power, making policy positions like repealing Obamacare, national right-to-work, and eliminating the Department of Education genuine possibilities.

After listening to this group for a few hours I didn’t quite know what to make of their energy. I needed some time to reflect.  

Is the hardheadedness of youth and inexperience destined to bog this movement down in its own hubris, the way each of those other progressive movements had?

Or is it the beginning of a new normal in progressive politics — a hunger for a progressive Donald Trump, someone who will speak plainly, seem uncalculating and act unashamed in taking unpopular policy positions from the fringes of mainstream politics? The anti-Berkowitz, perhaps?

I would love to trash this group and its progressively pompous attitude as so outside the mainstream and so delusional in thinking it can get anywhere by making targets of its ideological allies that they can’t be relevant, but we’ve all seen that precise strategy work for the Tea Party and Donald Trump.

Maybe right now what wins in American politics is the power and credibility of conviction. If that’s the case, maybe this small group of outside-the-mainstream, rhetorically-militant progressives can win even in red state Alaska.

If this group represents a building wave among progressives and not just the whims of the few who made it on a cold Friday night, Democrats would be wise to take note. When the Tea Party rose, it wasn’t President Obama or the Democratic Party, but mainstream Republican officeholders who first felt their wrath, even ones behind enemy lines in deep-blue states. 

The group has now taken to calling itself the Anchorage General Assembly (Sadly, “Anchorage Assembly” was already taken) and are planning more meetings and activities. You can check them out on their Facebook page.

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5 Comments on "Alaska Democrats Could Face Rebellion From Within"

  1. Casey Reynolds is just another political cunt looking to aggrandize himself in any manner he can. Tired of mechanisms of politics he slithered into “talk radio” where ridiculous assertions garner the attention of the stupid. His snide, condescending style speaks only to those already full of hate. He’s another Trump-lackey who doesn’t understand that the grassroots isn’t interested in his politically-proper mechanisms … he doesn’t understand what a movement of people is unless it’s been astroturfed by the power structure unto who’s teat he is fully latched. He proclaims his standing to share an opinion by promoting that the local Arts and Entertainment weekly, famous for it’s progressiveness awarded him the “best blog” award.

    Woohoo, his blog is good. Irony is something with which he is entirely unfamiliar and his writing sniffs of graduation from a community college. How many fat fucks like him have we seen carry the defunct, divisive banner of fascism in Anchorage? All of them … every single retarded sputum spewing moralizing Nazi in Anchorage has been obese. It’s telling that all these Bernaysian propagandists are fat asses … the left has Ashley Reed (more interested in money so he stays behind the scene) and this pig and his kin on the right. Keep suckling on the status quo Casey, it’ll serve your basic interests for a while yet. But when real change comes, you’ll be shoved outside into the cold and never allowed back in. You’ll at least have some fat stores to sustain you, briefly.

    • Wow – Donald. I think we might fall on the same side of the political spectrum – but you’re not doing the progressive community any favors with this drivel. Let’s avoid personal attacks and just actually talk about the work that needs to be done. I for one am glad that this work is getting attention from this blog. I think it’s disappointing that Casey resorted to slapping an inflammatory headline on an otherwise fairly objective article.. But that’s the nature of media — now it’s on us to bring more people in and continue this work.

      • Objective? The entire tone of the article is condescending. He’s done nothing here but demean a group of people who are trying to find their way to make a positive impact in a world full of hate spread by Casey Reynolds and his ilk. It’s time for progressive people to wake up and abandon this “play nice/play fair” ethos which the reactionary assholes laugh at. They’ve divided up the people … that cannot be changed with glad-handing. It’s time to stand on the side we’ve been assigned and play the fucking game to win it. Not for a stinking tie. And so yes, it means down in the dirt ugly; because the dirt is where the grass’s roots thrive.

  2. Well I think that Mr. Reynolds has a bit of a point. During the caucus process, there were a lot of young Bernie supporters who were rather combative, which was a bit of a turn off to older Dems. I do admire the enthusiasm and energy that these young people bring. I do not enjoy their excessive swearing, and I do not embrace an “it’s our way or the highway” approach to the Dems who have been volunteering and working their butts off for decades. They are not the enemy, not even close! The point that I get from this article is, that the Democrats could be in danger of blowing themselves up, just like the Republicans did by letting both the Evangelical Christians and the Tea Partiers get all out-of-control crazy, which pretty much caused the extinction of the Moderate Republican. And which has led to this horrible partisanship that has led to complete gridlock in Washington. We Dems need to work together and try to find candidates who have wide appeal, and here’s a hint on the presidential front, for some of us older Dems, we’ve known and liked Bernie for a long time, but he isn’t our dream candidate, so please lets work together and find someone that we can all get behind.

    Also, Mr. Reynolds, the Women’s March just really was not “a Bernie thing”. It was started by a grandmother, and attended by women of all ages, but I’d have to say that where I marched, the average woman was probably in her fifties. My own Bernie-supporting daughter was traveling with her college group and it wouldn’t have been that easy to march, if they’d been so inclined. But the next day, almost every single one of their mothers, girls and boys alike, sent them pictures of themselves marching and they all got a big kick out of it. I have been on my daughter’s case ever since, telling her that she needs to get involved, and I predict that if they hold another Women’s March, that there will be many more than the first time. To me, the Women’s March is the reaction of mother’s and women of all ages who have just finally had enough. And we don’t like what we are seeing with the Republican War on Women. Yes, it’s a war……..old white men are trying to take control of our bodies again and get us back in the kitchen, which is pretty obvious when they accidentally say things out loud like, “And tomorrow they’ll all be cooking breakfast for their husbands”. I had to work with these same a-holes throughout my career, and there’s no way that I want my daughter to have to put up with the “pussy grabbing” woman-despising Donald Trumps of the world like we older women did. I also have a son, and I will not send him off to another idiotic Republican-started war. So no, I do not lump the Women’s March in with Bernie or the Occupy Wall Street groups, but yes, I definitely saw a lot of concern about discrimination against women, the disabled, and “brown people” so I would go ahead and partner us up with Black Lives Matter. The other things that seemed to be on women’s minds (and their signs) was reproductive rights, sexual assault, and climate change. I imagine that another march (or a strike) will result in more topics, now that we’ve actually seen how truly awful Donald Trump’s agenda is. And I hope that it will remain a “women’s march”, not in the sense that men are not allowed, because where I was, I’d say 10 percent were men. But keeping this thing female-centered will keep it nonviolent, and then Trump and his jack boots will have nothing to complain about and no reason to bomb/nuke/shoot us, because even Steve Bannon probably realizes that it would be a PR disaster to sic the National Guard on a bunch of women in hand-knitted hats. As far as the young people, I do think that it is excellent that they are getting involved in local government, and I hope that they are convincing as many of their friends as possible to register to vote. And they are doing a fabulous job of trolling Donald Trump and his sycophants, though I do know quite a few women in their fifties and sixties who have joined Twitter, etc. and are doing the same! I truly believe that we could well be headed for war right now if it wasn’t for the visible resistance to Trump that the world is seeing from our American young people and our women. It is rather amazing to me that the young, who have supposedly not had much schooling in civics, seem so much more aware of the authoritarian threat that our newly elected fascist wannabe dictator is to the world. Keep up the good work!

  3. If anyone is wondering if there is a building wave, see:

    or Jason Chaffetz’s townhall in Utah- over 1,000 mostly angry people

    Ask Lisa Murkowski and the rest of the delegation when they will hold a public town hall instead of making sure their schedules are too packed when they deign to go out into Alaskan communities.

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