My Turn: What's right is not always popular

Posted: Tuesday, February 18, 2003

I would like to thank Don Smith for his editorials of Friday and Sunday, concerning Kim Elton and the non-binding Patriot Act resolution before the Assembly, respectively.

In his editorial about the Assembly and the Patriot Act, Mr. Smith said, "It is inappropriate to place our Assembly members in the role of adjudicators on an issue that only the federal government can change." In other words, local organizations have no business telling the big guys and gals in Washington what to do. If Mr. Smith were to follow his own statements, wouldn't the Juneau Empire only report local news? Who cares about Iraq and France and North Korea and global warming? If the Assembly shouldn't care about it, then the people of Juneau shouldn't care either. Mr. Smith forgets that different levels of government (federal, state and local) serve as a checks and balances system. "Think globally, act locally."

Mr. Smith said "The ideals of liberty and freedom rest in the eye of the beholder." My government teacher put this big responsibility on me to know the U.S. Constitution and to interpret it literally, but is Mr. Smith saying I don't need to do that? Mr. Smith said resolutions like this one have been passed in communities that are mostly liberal. Mr. Smith is attempting to put this issue into a convenient system of "conservatism vs. liberalism." This is hardly the case. This issue transcends political labels. Fairbanks, a town he failed to mention, recently passed such a resolution, and that community is very conservative. This issue is about direct interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and the balance of powers.

Mr. Smith said, "Mayor Smith set a poor precedent by failing in her charge to keep order. Was she being a good patriot or not? You be the judge." Reading that, I have come to the conclusion that Don Smith was not actually at the Assembly meeting. Mr. Smith failed to point out in his editorial how the mayor kept order during the meeting. When the audience booed and hissed an Assembly member who wanted to stop the applause, she very powerfully told them to stop. She kept order, but Mr. Smith omits this from his editorial so he can call her unpatriotic. I am afraid that Mr. Smith consistently misrepresents events to push forward his own agenda.

Mr. Smith also wrote an editorial concerning Kim Elton's dissenting vote on a resolution telling Congress to take action in ANWR. Mr. Elton was the sole voice against the non-binding resolution. Smith said "Elton's vote on the ANWR resolution could have been an opportunity to build bridges and show support for Alaska's most important economic driver." What is the message here about power? We can only get power when we agree with others?

Again, Mr. Smith is being inconsistent. In both editorials, he addresses two resolutions, one before the Legislature, and one before the Assembly. Both resolutions are non-binding opinions for the federal government to hear. Why would he say different things about these similar situations? Local assemblies should not have a voice in federal issues, but state legislatures should? Don Smith lacks objectivity.

I feel like Mr. Smith is trying to teach me a lesson, through both editorials: When I disagree with the masses, I lose power. If I am the one voice that disagrees, it's better to stay quiet. It's dangerous to take a stance. It's "divisive." Federal issues have no place in local politics. There's no point in trying to change anything. I have no power.

Parents and educators, your charge is to purge this attitude from our community. Tell your children and students that their voice matters. Teach them to shed all bias before they come to opinions. Tell them to observe the world. Tell them to speak out, to scream out. Tell them "what is popular is not always right, and what is right is not always popular."

Michael James is an actor and student leader in his senior year at Juneau- Douglas High School.

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