Fight back or surrender to tyranny? As Juneau faces this unwanted but now unavoidable choice, the path taken will undoubtedly define our character and direction for years to come.
This proverbial crossroad is not unique to either our times or city. On Dec. 16, 1773, American colonists were presented with a similar situation: Pay the required tax on East India tea and acquiesce to British tyranny or board the ships in Boston harbor to let the king know - not here and never again.
For us, it's corporate tyranny, facilitated by political enablers, that defines our times. As we all know by now, the Snettisham disaster revealed how Alaska Electric Light & Power Co. had failed to, among other derelictions, insure itself, monitor avalanche conditions and erect the concrete avalanche diverters that would have protected the transmission towers. Their shortsighted, greed-driven policies were predicated on the assumption that the rate payers of Juneau would quietly and passively bear the economic consequences of their irresponsibility.
Furthermore, they correctly counted on a pro-big business congressional delegation, state governor and local assembly to provide cover and drive the getaway car in this brazen act of grand larceny. As usual, Sen. Ted Stevens, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young were either too busy carrying water for President Bush or meeting with lawyers around their own legal and ethical quagmires to lend a hand.
Likewise, Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho and most assembly members were shamelessly ignoring their constituents' wishes and voting 6-1 to give AEL&P a $3 million loan from our budget while demanding nothing of them. But the most unforgivable of all is the heartless Gov. Sarah Palin who, while sitting on a pile of money growing larger by the day from oil revenue belonging to the commonwealth, is essentially telling Juneau to get lost by refusing disaster relief.
What AEL&P and our bipartisan political leadership failed to anticipate, though, was that the rate payers had had it. Skyrocketing gasoline prices, the declining U.S. dollar, rising food costs, collapsing home values and unaffordable health care had pushed people to the brink. Contrary to what the "AEL&P-is-your-friend-so-stop-whining-you-could-be-in-Barrow" crowd believes, the issue before us is not one of Juneau seeking "sympathy" but citizens demanding economic justice and corporate responsibility.
The mix of frustration, despair and anger created by AEL&P's callous self-interest and arrogance has led us to organize the Juneau People's Power Project in defense of our families and personal dignity. Like previous historical turning points, the May 9th protest at the state Capitol was just the opening salvo in a campaign to build a culture of resistance to corporate domination. In just one week, more than 400 people signed a declaration to engage in consumer civil disobedience by refusing to pay a penny more than the 11 cent/kilowatt hour we paid before AEL&P's inaction led to the worst economic calamity in modern Juneau history.
As this rate payer rebellion grows, AEL&P will be faced with its own dilemma of either shutting off an indispensable utility to thousands of residents in an American state capital, thereby risking serious liability and a public relations meltdown, or meeting its financial and moral obligations to run the business accountably, transparently and competently.
Should AEL&P continue to expect profit-taking in good times and consumer bail-outs in self-inflicted bad times, Juneau People's Power Project will move to place the issue of public ownership on the November ballot.
With our energy and financial crisis having now appeared on the front page of the New York Times, the entire country is watching to see how we respond. We in JPPP believe a majority of Juneau's citizens will rise to meet the same challenge faced by patriots throughout our history. Failure to do so will send the message that the people of this city can be compelled to submit to corporate dictates. The spirit of the on-going American Revolution awaits our answer as to whether we are taking orders or taking over.
With courage, self-respect and a righteous quest for economic justice, we will step forth at 1 p.m. Saturday, June 14, at the Capitol to declare, "We won't pay."
Albert Petrarca is co-chairman of Juneau People's Power Project and a Juneau resident.