Citizens of Juneau are all too familiar with the question of how to improve access to government. But what does it really mean to have access to our democratic process? Who should decide which issues are addressed and when access will be available? From how far outside our community should debate originate? How do we as a community engage in a discussion with our government in Washington, D.C.?
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Alaska is many miles, hours and dollars away from the nation's Capitol. Three people represent us in Congress. Their unique challenge is to listen to us, their constituents, everyday people spread out over a land area that stretches to yet further horizons. Juneau's isolation and relatively small population don't command Congressional visits here, especially if we don't express a collective desire to participate in the work we elected them to do.
No doubt that there are more issues to address and groups to meet with than our delegation could ever find time for. So who decides which voices get heard, and on which issues - them or us? If we readily accept that only the issues affecting Alaska warrant permitting our participation, then maybe we don't deserve a voice on national issues.
America started a war three years ago with little debate in Congress. Their debate now, such as it is, comes too late for the 2,300-plus soldiers who will never return home and for the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilian victims of this war. Still, the debate about the Iraq War is vital to Alaskans and our way of life; it must continue.
In February, Sen. Lisa Murkowski granted an audience via video technology to a small group of her constituents opposed to the war. We asked her to come to Juneau and allow the community to engage her in a discussion on this issue. She expressed a sincere interest and intent to do so, and although she has yet to find a date on her schedule, we are hopeful that she will begin to define a new level of access to our national government for all Alaskans.
What we must present to Sen. Murkowski is an opportunity for her to hear an intelligent, well informed community engage in a civil discourse on a serious issue with dignity and with respect for all voices. Otherwise, why would she listen to us.
Perhaps we can prepare for her visit by turning away from the condescending tone that too often seeps into and dominates the discussion. If we express views that reach beyond the simple rhetoric and righteous declarations, then we might begin to hear the questions and concerns that are driven by the passionate search for truth and meaning.
Let's recognize the common thread that appears in our letters to the editor; no one has claimed to prefer war over peace. If we agree that peace is the ultimate goal, we should start there and try to reach toward a more meaningful community dialogue that prioritizes genuine listening ahead of speaking as if we know the answers.
Today, the prospect of Iran's nuclear ambitions has ushered in a new debate that might be the precursor to another war. Long ago, James Madison wrote, "Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other." If he was right, now more than ever, we, as citizens, are obliged to ensure that our democratic principles remain healthy by modeling for Congress a respectful but vigorous debate on such an important issue.
Is Juneau worthy of being listened to? We think so. Sen. Murkowski has graciously offered to open a new door for Alaskans to participate in the workings of Congress by listening to and considering what we have to say regarding the status and future direction on the Iraq war.
Please join us in this extending this invitation to her. Let's show Washington that the people of Juneau have something to contribute not only to the possible ways to peace, but to the very idea that everyday Americans can be meaningful participants in our democracy, a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Rich Moniak is a Juneau resident and active member of Juneau People for Peace and Justice.
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