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Chelsea Green Blog

Two Alaskas: Which One Are You Reading About?

Want to know more about what’s really happening politically in Alaska? Don’t go to Sarah Palin. Go to Riki Ott. (photo from LA Progressive.com) From LA Progressive:

By design, Sarah Palin has been all over the national media in the last couple of weeks, since the publication of her book,  Going Rogue: An American Life (New York: HaperCollins, 2009). Since her nomination as John McCain’s running mate, Palin has had a major impact on the public consciousness. In the process, she has given many people from the Lower 48 their first serious look at our 49th state, and their first chance to watch a talented Alaskan woman in political action.

Another Alaskan woman, a contemporary of Palin, provides a fascinating counterpoint to the story Palin tells. Riki Ott, perhaps a decade older than Palin, came to Alaska as a young adult in the mid-1980s, while Palin was just a toddler in 1964 when her parents brought her. Ott. with a doctoral degree in marine toxicogy, settled in the fishing town of Cordova and took up the fishing life. Her book,  Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill (White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green Publishing, 2008), is the story of how that 1989 spill tore her community apart, and how the people of Cordova fought back over 20 years. While Ott focuses her entire book on the struggle for justice in the Exxon Valdez case, Palin devotes just four pages (59-62) to the entire 20-year saga, though she claims that it crystallized her resolve to enter public service. Ott tells of the community’s struggle; Palin tells us about hers. Palin’s political story spans the same years as Ott’s, but you would hardly know that they were talking about the same place. Both tell of disillusionment. Ott started out accepting Exxon’s assurances that “not one drop” of oil would spill in Prince William Sound, only to learn of gross negligence and determined avoidance of responsibility. She gave up fishing and lost her marriage in order to use her education and leadership skills in service to her community. […]
Read the entire article here.


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