All-I-Saw in Wasilla

This is the post I know some loyal Siren readers have been waiting for … my take on the Sarah Palin situation. But I suspect that you already know what I’m going to say — choosing the Alaskan governor for the Republican VP nom does not mean she’s a feminist. And any woman who would go vote the McPain ticket just because there’s a woman on it, well, she probably isn’t a progressive anyway.

Here’s the facts:

  • Palin is not a Republican revolutionary. She defeated a corrupt incumbent without the blessing of the Alaskan Republican Party establishment. You know who she was running against? Former Sen. Frank Murkowski (think: Yucca Mountain nuke dump site), who stepped down as Senator and put his daughter in his place so he could run for governor and buy a “governor’s jet,” among other things. The idea that it was revolutionary that Alaskans, even the very conservative ones of a conservative state, would be down with Murkowski’s antics and NOT pick the new-comer is an insult to Alaskans.
  • She isn’t squeaky clean either. See: the investigation into her (alleged) abuse of power.
  • She’s a creationist, believing it should be taught in the classroom along-side evolution.
  • She’s anti-choice. She is against abortion, even if the woman is raped.
  • She’s against teaching sex ed in classrooms. And you can see how well that turned out for her. (Incidentally, she used a line-item veto to slash state funding of a program that helps unwed teen mothers have a place to live.)
  • She’s also pro-censorship, at one time floating the idea of banning certain books from the Wasilla library.
  • And last, but certainly not least, she thinks community organizers don’t do anything. Yeah, I guess Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. were such lazy chumps. Who would want to be like those guys?

And, hey, since she brought it up, let’s talk about her small-time hometown. Cause it’s easy to talk about a place that very few people have ever been to, or would even have the chance to drive through for that matter. Unlike most small towns in America, Alaska small towns aren’t exactly “on the way” to where you’re going. And I can tell you from personal experience that it takes 2-4 days (depending on your lead foot and need for sleep) to drive just from Seattle to the border of Alaska. So, yeah, Alaska is really, really far away from the Lower 48.

Well you’re in luck folks, cause your humble Siren blogger lived in Wasilla, Alaska! No joke! I lived there from 1985 to the fall of 1991 when I moved to “the big city” of Anchorage.

So let’s talk about what it was like to live in Wasilla, Alaska in the 1980s and early 90s. Granted, I was young during those years and don’t claim to be a political historian, but I can paint you a picture of what it was like to grow up in one of MY hometowns. And I have plenty to compare it to since I also lived on a farm in Southern Illinois and a handful of mid- to large-cities across the Midwest (the biggest being Kansas City) BEFORE I moved to Wasilla. (What can I say, my parents were a ramblin’ folk.)

When I lived in Wasilla there was something like 3 or 4 traffic lights in the whole “city.” Like many towns in Alaska’s Matanuska-Susitna Valley (Mat-Su for short), it was formed from a combination of mining interests and farming. It is indeed in a valley, surrounded by mountains and woods everywhere. The best I can compare it to in Southern Nevada would be Tonopah, except the distance to Las Vegas is more like Pahrump (before the growth boom in both cities).

In fact, there is a great expanse of uninhabitable and undevelopable land between Anchorage and Wasilla known as “The Flats.” The Flats are an expansive, kind of marshy area where nothing can grow. They came about after the big 1964 earthquake in Alaska. The area of the Flats, essentially flattened, where the ground sunk below the water table and everything instantly died. The Palmer-Wasilla Highway (which goes between Anchorage and, you guessed it, Palmer and Wasilla — because there are so few highways in Alaska that none of them are called by their numbers, just where they lead to) travels through the Flats and you get the eery since of gloom as you do. All the trees are still in the Flats, just a petrified forest of white birch trees. Pretty creepy.

But I digress. So let’s get back to Wasilla, back in the time that Sarah Palin was making her ascent from PTA “hockey mom” to Wasilla town councilmember and on to mayor! Back when I lived in Wasilla. On the current City of Wasilla website, they list the city’s population as 5,500 and that at one time in the 1980s/90s it was considered the fastest growing city in America. Well, that seems highly unlikely to me since I was living there in those days and believe me, my reception as the new girl in school was something like a visiting oddity at the zoo. My sense is that Wasilla is about twice as big now as when I lived there as a kid.

When I was living there I remember one “mall,” which was anchored by a grocery store. One movie theater. One roller-rink. A library. A post office. One high school. One junior high (and I was in the last class to go through while it was still a junior high!). What I remember of Wasilla was that there was a sort of centralized town hub with a couple of grocery stores, city buildings, post office and the like and that most Wasilla “residents” lived a ways outside of the town proper out in the wooded hills. Yes, my post office address said I lived in Wasilla, but I didn’t have much in the way of neighbors and it took me an hour to get to school on the bus because folks lived so far apart from each other.

My experience growing up there was that nearly everyone commuted into “the city” (Anchorage) to go to work and that if you wanted to buy anything nicer than an Orange Julius, you had to drive into “the city” to go to the mall that had a JC Penney AND a Nordstrom. High style!

But Alaska itself has changed dramatically since I went away to college in 1994. Consider this: Until the mid-1990s no national big-box stores over a certain size were allowed to operate inside Alaska! So my childhood in Alaska was unblemished by the likes of Walmart, Kmart, Target, Barnes & Nobles or national grocery store chains. Indeed, not even national restaurant chains! My husband and I were trying to remember what fast-food places where around growing up (he was born and raised in Anchorage). We came up with McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. We might be missing one, but we’re pretty sure that’s it. And to my memory, Wasilla only had McDonalds. Not that any of those are great, but it gives you some perspective.

And Alaska’s independent spirit means that most people try to avoid the big-box place over the local stores (see: Kmart’s failure in the Alaska market). A lot of my friends who grew up in Alaska have the same experience as kids of that time. We had to use mail-order catalogues to get stuff delivered form The Lower 48 (if they delivered to Alaska at all). You saw commercials for national restaurant and store chains on TV but would never get a chance to go to them. (But I must say it was with some disgust that I saw a TGIFridays and a Chilis in Anchorage on my last trip home in June!)

So why do I go into all this detail to explain Wasilla and greater South-central Alaska? Because it’s all about context! Sarah Palin said that she got stuff done as a mayor (because mayor’s get stuff done, not community organizers). But what a town to get stuff done in! So now there’s a Walmart and soon-to-be-opened Target in Wasilla. Is that progress?! Is that leadership? And if so, what does that tell us of her budding leadership leading to the Alaska Governor’s mansion and — please no! — the White House?

For those who don’t know, Alaska as a whole is an extremely isolated place from the Lower 48 and much of its politics. It’s a state that vies for least populated amongst all the states with Wyoming each year. And while I dearly love Alaska and the beauty it contains, the politics there can be attrocious! It is probably one of the most conservative, anti-government, pro-libertarian, gun-loving, anti-choice, anti-gay, crazy kind of places in America. There’s a political party in Alaska who’s platform is succeeding from the US! And even as Alaskans have universal sense of all being in it together, in the vernacular of the locals is embedded an automatic distrust of the rest of the country. We call everything not in Alaska “Outside.” And not in the geographical sense. But, “I have to go Outside to visit my grandma soon. I’ll be glad to come back home. I hate it Outside!” We have words for newbies “Chichacos” and the seasoned old Alaskans, “Sourdoughs.”

So, as someone who is still an Alaskan at heart and spent her formative years in Wasilla, I can’t be more AGAINST Sarah Palin as a choice for vice president. Even though I won’t be voting for McCain anyway, I would still hope that the Republicans would have more sense and respect for the office to select someone with more experience.

And before all the pro-small-town folks write me nasties, let me just say that this isn’t about hating a small town person. As I said, I was born in a farm town in Southern Illinois, myself. Nearly all of my family still live in that community! I have great respect for small towns and the people in them. But a small town in rural Illinois is a FAR CRY from a small town in Alaska! Let’s put it this way, when my aunt wants to go to a mall, she gets in her car and drives two-and-a-half hours to St. Louis. She could also drive two or three hours in any other direction from her home and get to some kind of large town. That’s just not possible in Alaska! You drive two hours in any direction from Wasilla and you hit a couple other small towns and a loooot of woods (aside from Anchorage). And if Anchorage doesn’t have it? Well, guess you better give up or hop a plane for FOUR HOURS to Seattle. It’s just a different world up there. Small town and country don’t mean the same thing.

2 thoughts on “All-I-Saw in Wasilla

  1. What scares me is that the GOP has chosen two morons to save this nation.
    We have a man at the top of the ticket that was in the bottom of his class intellectually.
    And the person that is 1/2 a breath away from the presidency flunked out of 5 colleges before she received her diploma from the University of Idaho. I cant wait to see where she placed in her graduating class!
    But what else is new we elected a moron to lead this nation and look where it got us.

  2. Pingback: Alaska: It’s own country? « The Sin City Siren

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