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'..not part of the scenery.'
-Alaskan native and tavern owner, referring to the people of Alaska

Rev Antonio Hernandez

I have often thought about the positive points that have been made by secessionists and militant groups, here in the U.S. I’ve tried to put myself in their shoes, and see America and its government as they do. Re-reading the writings of the Founding Fathers, and especially the Federalist Papers, has brought home a powerful point: these separatists really do have something vital to say.

After viewing an interesting crime documentary, it struck me for the first time that bigger issues are at stake than just the murder of an elderly Alaskan man in 1994. The murdered man was Joe Vogler. He founded the Alaskan Independence Party (the only true third party in the nation), and was getting dangerously close to presenting a possibility of the secession of Alaska from the United States. Many Alaskans want their state to be a free, sovereign nation, and one cannot blame them.
I learned from this simple documentary, and from Mr. Vogler, that Alaskans who want sovereignty are not militant, racist, hateful screw-heads. They are, in fact, exactly as I have always imagined our Founding Fathers were. They are sick of being plundered by Corporate America and its asinine government officials. If it seems revolution is in the air, it is exactly the type of revolution Thomas Jefferson predicted might occur if any state’s people felt themselves to be under tyranny.

We are fortunate: people who legitimately feel tyrannized are granted the right to rise up to fight the tyrannical government, if necessary. Again, thanks to Thomas Jefferson, there is a remedy. Alaska doesn’t seem to want conflict; Alaskans, with Mr. Vogler as their statesman, approached secession and independence as intelligently and thoroughly as anyone could possibly hope. The cherished cause was carried all the way to the United Nations in Mr. Vogler’s careful arms.

But in the mid-1990s Joe Vogler was shot down, and Alaska worried while a fruitless search was made for his body, then mourned him when they learned the truth. The going would be hard without good old Jim. Too many resources abide in Alaska; the Alaskan Pipeline is a household word; environmentalists don’t want their distant utopian dream to be fouled by "enthusiastic" Alaskan freedom fighters. At the same time, jobs and money go right out of Alaska to other states. Mr. Vogler spoke long and tirelessly about this and other problems Alaskans have to face. We may ask, "But they are just separatists, aren’t they? Rabble-rousers, and obnoxious ones at that! They are ingrates…" These thoughts sound a lot like the British sentiments of the 18th century. In the Electoral College, Alaska has the fewest votes of any state, having the fewest representatives in the House. It seems Alaska has quite the legitimate axe to grind.

Alaskans have proved their worth, and their sincerity. They should at least have the chance that our Founding Ancestors had. What they all really want is what any American wants: security, resources, freedom-- and the right to self-government. Sadly, they have found little of any of those things in the America of today, and they have the courage to say so: Alaskans as American citizens have been betrayed by the United States government.

A man is in jail for the murder of Mr. Vogler. It is said the murder was a burglary gone bad. Very few Alaskans believe it. The former lieutenant governor has said of the murder that "it is the cleanest take-out" job he had ever heard of; and he’s not the only person in high places asking questions. The murder went unsolved for just over a year. Patently absurd? Perhaps. Why would our government approach a self-described "street person" with a rap sheet, to assassinate a 78-year-old man over the Alaska Question? The murderer, Manfried "Cartoon Freddy" West, was sentenced to 80 years in prison for second degree murder; Jim Vogler, who is missed sorely by many Alaskans, has become the first true martyr in a modern cause for separatism-- no matter why he was killed.

But just as often as I think about separatists, I think about their motives. We were very close to ending up like Canada back in 1776-- indeed, a vast number of Canadians are descendants of Americans who fled the Colonies because they weren’t up to revolution. Canada must have received a substantial second exodus after 1787, when Congress ratified the Constitution, establishing a federal government. Canada has experienced tiny American exodi ever since, especially during American wartimes.

Just as there were Americans who wanted no revolution, there were those, afterward, who wanted no federal government. Once the American Revolution was won, they reasoned, why not stay with the tightly-knit confederation of sovereign states? These people, wary of "Big Brother" (and big government) as far back as 1787, were able to foresee problems such as the present Alaskan Question. Even Franklin and Washington were nervously disagreeing with a federal government. They voted for it, anyway. They asked, back in 1787 and for years prior, "What if a state is unhappy, later? What if a state desires to secede?" They reasoned, "Surely civil war would result." These fears were silenced by retorts that anarchy would result without federal government. But the fears about federal government were right, and fear is growing that they may prove to be right once more.

Still, most of us feel that "this is America: love it or leave it!" I agree, but only to the extent that our government is functioning as best it should; I do not think that is the case just now. "Corporate" America is America, and no one illustrates that point better than the downtrodden good people of Alaska.

We may feel a certain twinge about Canada. Robin Williams joked that Canadians are our quiet, nerdy "upstairs neighbors". Is there more than a hint of envy in that joke? After all, how bad does the quiet upstairs neighbor really have it? We may have ended up like Canada, if not part of Canada….

But Canada we most certainly are not -– we are supposed to be democracy itself, at least in theory. At the end of the day, we should all recall our duty to uphold that freedom and democracy. We should hearken back to the worries of our ancestors. We should be decent enough to recognize Joe Vogler’s work, honoring his memory and at the very least give Alaska a chance to be heard.

© Rev Antonio Hernandez - August 2002

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