Alaskan women demonstrate against Sarah Palin

Sue Katz looks beyond the lipstick and the sound bites to unravel the real Sarah Palin. In this extract from her new book, {{Thanks But No Thanks: The Voter's Guide to Sarah Palin}}, she examines the critical response from Alaskan women to the next possible US vice-president

October 12, 2008
8 min read

A couple of women were sitting around in Anchorage, depressed by the widespread impression in the United States and around the world that Sarah Palin was thoroughly supported by Alaskans, especially women. These particular women not only objected to Palin’s political views, they didn’t like the way the image of Alaskan women was being turned into a caricature.

A ‘Welcome Home Rally’ was being held for Palin at Anchorage’s Den’aina Center the morning of 13 September. The women, over their coffee, decided to put together their own rally, two hours later at lunchtime. They called it ‘Alaskan Women Reject Sarah Palin.’ Michelle Goldberg, a journalist who attended, whom I later had the chance to interview, reported on the relative numbers:

‘According to a police officer on site, the rally drew between 1,500 and 1,700 people, an astonishing turnout by Alaska standards … To put it in perspective, according to official estimates, 1,500 people turned out for Palin’s first Anchorage campaign rally Saturday morning, an event where, according to the Anchorage Daily News, the governor was ‘treated like a movie star.’ Marianne Spur, an occupational therapist who out of curiosity attended both rallies, insisted that there were many more people at the anti-Palin event.’

Another person who attended the demonstration was the now well-known AKMuckraker writing at Mudflats (Tiptoeing through the muck of Alaskan politics), who was blown away by the demonstration. The emphasis is AKMuckraker’s:

‘Never, have I seen anything like it in my 17 and a half years living in Anchorage … This was the biggest political rally ever, in the history of the state … This just doesn’t happen here.’

Socialist, baby-killing maggots

The organisers had decided to publicise the event using email and a press release. Anchorage right-wing AM talk radio creep named Eddie Burke had received a copy of the release and decided to do a little unprofessional releasing of his own. He read out the names and contact phone numbers of the women who had signed the press announcement on the air. As if that behaviour wasn’t bad enough, he also called them ‘a bunch of socialist, baby-killing maggots.’ Their phones started ringing and they were forced to report some of the nasty calls and threatening messages to the police.

Burke eventually received a little love slap on the wrist. His station manager, Justin McDonald suspended Burke for a week with no pay, but made clear that his own affection for the radio jockey with maggots coming out of his mouth remained intact.

It is tough to be anti-Palin at any time in Alaska and now that she has been nominated for vice-president, people are particularly nervous. The organisers worried about trouble, especially after being targeted by Burke. Despite those threatening messages, they persisted, courageously, in passing the word around to their friends and networks.

The rest is Alaskan and feminist history

Burke brought along his right-wing cronies to crash the event, but they numbered less than 100. Whenever he tried to spew his attacks on these ‘socialist, baby-killing maggots,’ the crowd of women, children and men just drowned him out with chants of ‘Obama, Obama.’

As footage of the rally shows, there was a charged atmosphere of noisy comraderie, almost a giddy sense of relief in finding each other. No one had imagined that there were so many Alaskan women willing to so publicly reject Sarah Palin. The police had anticipated a few hundred demonstrators at the most and the organisers hadn’t expected even that many. The 1,500 plus demonstrators brought their own signs, as they had been encouraged to do, which made for a colourful and witty protest quilt. Afterwards, one person produced a YouTube montage of some of those signs5, while writer Karl Vick put together a list of them for the Washington Post, some of which I’m reproducing below:

‘Palin: She Be Failin”

‘Jesus Was a Community Organizer’

‘Palin: Thanks But No Thanks’

‘Smearing Alaska’s Good Name One Scandal at a Time’

‘Candidate To Nowhere’

‘Rape Kits Should Be Free’

‘Voted For Her Once: Never Again!’

‘Community Organizers are the Real Patriots’

‘Give Palin Your Vote AND Your Draft Age Child’

‘Coat Hangers for McCain’

‘Sarah Palin, Undoing 150 Years of American Feminism’

‘Hockey Mama for Obama’

In the same Washington Post piece, one of the initiators talks about her personal motivation. ‘The whole thing grew out of frustration,’ said Charla Sterne, one of the organisers, who like several people at the rally declined to say where they worked (several said they were state employees and feared retribution). ‘Last week this was just ten women sitting around talking about this perception that all of Alaska supports Sarah Palin. We apparently hit a nerve and started a movement,’ Sterne said.

Another woman in Vick\’s article, Maia Nolan made fun of the Republicans’ glorification of common attributes by wearing a sticker that said, ‘My Mom for V.P’. ‘My mom is from Alaska. She’s a working mother. She’s good looking,’ said Nolan. ‘So she seems to be qualified to be vice president.’

We know that Alaska is among the least populated states, right in between South and North Dakota. In comparison, if we compare this to California, the state with the highest population in the country, 55 times that of Alaska, an equivalent demonstration there would have over 82,000 singing, yelling opponents to Palin.

While it was an ad hoc event, not the product of an existing movement or organisation, it certainly has fired up progressive people. The progressive blogs in Alaska were getting a lot of hits. Emails and video clips about the demo dropped into my inbox at a breathtaking rate.

I asked the journalist Michelle Goldberg if she expected women in other states to mount similar demonstrations about all the excitement. ‘For the Alaskan women there is a special incentive to demonstrate because of Palin being presented as embodying their values, which is so galling to them. Moose-hunting is being talked about as something so fantastically gutsy and an actual credential, but it’s something they all do … The Alaskan women’s demo was a repudiation of everything she claims to represent.’

In fact, according to subsequent polls, these women represent a mainstream view held by women and men throughout Republican Alaska. Surveys show a large majority pick Joe Biden over Sarah Palin when asked ‘which has the background and experience to be a good President.’

Thanks But No Thanks

Sarah Palin has also changed the face of national politics. She has subverted the feminist agenda, running as a woman and mother, but neglecting to look after the needs of women and children. She has subverted the notion of experience, turning the PTA into a major qualification while ridiculing Obama’s three years of community organizing with poor people. She was nominated as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, but she became the campaign headliner.

Those who know her best, her fellow Alaskans who have lived under her leadership, give her mixed reviews. But the women who reject Palin have injected the missing element of street activism into the mix, clearly saying Thanks But No Thanks.

Read Sue’s blog here:

Sue Katz: Consenting Adult [www.suekatz.typepad.com

->www.suekatz.typepad.com]

Book blog: http://palinvoterguide.blogspot.comSue Katz’s Thanks But No Thanks: The Voter’s Guide to Sarah Palin is

published by Harvard Perspectives Press

Author, journalist and blogger, Sue Katz’s passport shows more wear than Palin’s; she has lived and worked on three continents, teaching martial arts, promoting global volunteerism and writing, editing and teaching. A rebel with a newfound interest in electoral politics, Katz continues her lifelong commitment to social justice activism from her home outside Boston


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