Democracy requires involvement

Many young Alaskans don't bother to vote. The excuses are endless, like those offered by school children that didn't do their homework. There wasn't time, the issues are too complicated, it doesn't affect me, politicians are crooks, one vote doesn't matter anyway.

Gov. Tony Knowles and Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer want to change this.

“It's important for young people to be involved,” Ulmer said.

Knowles has proclaimed Oct. 14 through Oct. 19 Alaska Democracy Week.

The proclamation cites that an important goal of public education in democracy is preparing students to be involved citizens.

Ulmer, Sen. Johnny Ellis and Reps. Andrew Halcro and Ethan Berkowitz, along with Alaska Municipal League president and Buckland Mayor Willie Thomas, joined University of Alaska Anchorage student government leaders in the Campus Center Den on Oct. 12 to announce ADW and discuss voter apathy among young people.

Ellis, the youngest state senator at 41, related his experience in becoming involved in public life. As a freshman at UAA in 1978 and 1979 he became concerned about the condition of the Consortium Library and, he says, the lack of beer and wine in what was then the Campus Pub.

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“I had a lesson in public participation at a young age,” Ellis said.

Halcro reiterated the importance of young people's involvement in the political process. Young people need to pay attention to what lawmakers are doing and where money is being spent.

“We're building schools and roads…young people need to look at policies like mental health, education and see where money is spent,” Halcro said. “There's ways you can tailor your own personal subject.”

Berkowitz included non-voters of all ages.

“Sept. 11 jolted the slack out of the system,” said Berkowitz.

He sees the unity of the nation since Sept. 11, with people purchasing flags in record numbers, but says the polls show something different.

“Spectator citizens are not real patriots,” he said. “If you're not voting you're not helping.”

Berkowitz knows that in Alaska every vote counts. He won his first election by 28 votes.

“Every vote matters here,” he said. “You can't have an impact if you haven't tried. If you want Alaska to look a certain way, you need to be a part of it.”

Thomas is working to get youth involved in the AML.

“Being in politics is something we shouldn't be afraid of or ashamed of,” Thomas said. “We have to get rid of drug and alcohol abuse and dealers in communities.”

Halcro is discovering youth will become involved when there is an issue that directly affects them. He has spent time discussing the closed campus dilemma with students at Dimond High School.

The legislators are planning to visit as many schools in their respective districts as possible during the week to discuss the importance of participation in the public process.

“I'll try to get to as many as I can get to,” said Berkowitz. “I'll finally be taller than somebody.”