Last winter, while Alaska's fiscal future kind of went off the deep end, the legislative process ground into an ugly gridlock, and it rained everyday (this last might be an exaggeration -- but it might not), I had the opportunity to spend a few of my free hours photographing the young women that work in Alaska's capitol building.
If you’re not from the state, let me just say: Alaska's legislature is not known for being a friendly haven for young women. In fact, it’s notorious for a history of corruption and being a "boy's club": in 2006 (six months before a guy named Barack Obama declared his candidacy for President), dozens of FBI agents raided the State Capitol building. They led sitting lawmakers out in handcuffs, in a scandal that hasn’t yet begun to fade from institutional memory. Some were indicted; some were cleared: either way, the FBI warrant specifically authorized the seizure of any of their clothes or items monogrammed with the letters CBC — their self-assigned nickname, the Corrupt Bastard’s Club.
Two months after that, Alaska's first female Governor won her seat by campaigning on a platform promising to stick up to Alaska’s "Good Ol’ Boys," a phrase now ubiquitous in state politics. You may recognize her -- she grew up playing basketball on the Wasilla High court, and “Palin” was stitched above the 22 on her jersey. There are few fairy tale endings in politics: you already know how that one goes.
My grandmother called me on Thursday, this week, after the election. She was sad. She marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma in 1965, for Civil Rights. Her mother died when she was young, and she was raised day-to-day by a black maid in Oklahoma. Now, close to 89, she volunteers at the Arizona State Museum, where she organized a show for Hopi quiltmakers. When I first graduated from college and started working on a campaign, she called to tell me that she was proud of me, and that politics was “the ultimate reality.”
This week, she said me that she thought she’d live to see a female President — but no longer believed that. As my throat closed up, she said she’d actually just called to check in on me: she wanted to know if my boss had been re-elected, and if I still had a job.
In two months, I’ll go back to work in Alaska’s State Capitol, along with many of the young women in these photos. They are Republicans, Democrats, unaffiliated, and non-partisan staffers. Some have been working in the legislature for years, others appear here on their very first visits — private citizens that have had to travel here by boat or plane just to stand in front of tables of legislators and speak publicly on issues near and dear.
They have more than a few things in common, besides being young women — for instance, they all work like hell. And from Anchorage, Wainwright, Dillingham, Juneau, and more, they’ve chosen to spend their twenties and early thirties working to improve Alaska. None of them were elected. They receive little to no public recognition for the work they do every day. But each is surrounded by a small group of people — legislators, coworkers, friends, and colleagues — who are immensely grateful to them, and would have trouble getting through those same days without them.
Concurrence is about them, named for the process by which the House and Senate reconcile different versions of the same bills that pass through each body. It's hard, contentious, frustrating, and necessary.
The Alaska State Legislature gavels in on January 17th, 2017.