I just got back from a surprise birthday party for our 9 year old neighbor. The party was filled with bright, joy-filled children, much like those I see at work every day. I came home intending to do work for the graduate program I’m nearly finished with. A degree I hope will strengthen my ability to engage in my state, to do my part to make it a healthy place to live. But the thing is, I can’t stop thinking about the state of our state.
Looking out our window down the Gastineau channel at what should be a bluebird water view I instead see a sky thick with smoke from fires up north. It was 80 degrees today and it has been for days. I have tan lines and I’ve been swimming outside every day. Our ocean is warm enough to swim in. There are water restrictions on the north end of town. All of this in the Tongass National Rainforest.
Alaska is on fire, both physically and metaphorically and my fear that we aren’t sounding the alarms loudly enough is profound.
A little over a week ago our first term governor, Mike Dunleavy, took a red pen to the operating budget, vetoing $444 million in critical state services. Our university system took a 41% cut in state funding. Services to the homeless, seniors, and children were slashed. The arts and public broadcasting decimated. The list goes on.
Who makes out great in the budget? Oil companies.
They walk away with $1.2 billion in deductible oil tax credits. The rich get richer. Oil companies matter more than Alaskans. Our governor’s values are on the table. It’s as simple as that.
Who makes out great in the budget? Oil companies. They walk away with $1.2 billion in deductible oil tax credits. The rich get richer. Oil companies matter more than Alaskans. Our governor’s values are on the table. It’s as simple as that.
At the party and around town this last week conversations always drift back to the vetoes. To the hope for override. To the real and present danger of what might come if our hopes are dashed. To override the vetoes, 45 of our 60 state legislators have to agree. It’s a tall order.
I am 43 years old. I grew up in rural Alaska and I have worked the entirety my career in the capital city. What makes Alaska great is that we show up for each other. Standing next to friends and neighbors, I have raised the walls of houses, painted living rooms, filled woodsheds, and delivered more meals than I can count. Anyone who lives here has done these things, it doesn’t matter what your politics are, it doesn’t matter where you live, we’ve all done it. It’s the heart of this place. It’s what gets us through the dark and dreary winters and it’s what connects us to each other’s humanity — to our own humanity. We do all this because we value community and we understand that caring for each other matters.
Sitting here, in this old house we were lucky to overpay for a decade ago, I wonder what’s about to become of this place I love so much. A neighbor at the party tonight asked my husband and I if we plan to live out our days here. Today that question makes me think in a different way than it has in the past.
I think about the cuts to Medicaid that will eventually jeopardize my husband’s job at a behavioral health organization.
I think about the loved ones I have who will be forced to leave the state because their jobs will be lost.
I think about the homeless shelter where I serve as a board member and the reality that we will have to cut services if these vetoes go through, and the added reality that the vetoes will likely increase the number of people who need our services.
I think about how much the university adds to our communities and our economy.
I think about the arts and about public broadcasting.
I think about how I want to live in a place that values children and elders, education and community.
And I think about the billions of dollars of oil being pumped out of this place, the record setting heat, the fire in the sky, the raising ocean temperatures and the starving whales and I wonder if it will be the metaphorical burn or the real burn that will get us all first.
So, do I want to live out all my days here? Yeah. I do. This is my home. I’m dug in and I’ll fight for it. I hope you will too. Those kids at the party tonight? I want them to grow up in an Alaska where they know they and this place we live in are valued more than Big Oil.
Jorden Nigro grew up in rural southeast Alaska. After receiving her BA in the lower 48, she returned to Alaska “for a summer”. That was 20 years ago. That summer she was hired at a shelter, working with homeless and runaway teens. It changed her life direction and she’s been working in the human services field since. Jorden lives in downtown Juneau with two tiny dogs and her husband. She is deeply committed to Alaska and her community.