There are only so many things a girl can think about while flyfishing the Naknek or Kvichak rivers. Concentrating on casting, mending and flirting with trout can block most distraction, but I discovered the value of a little red x on the screen of my Blackberry. No contact. No email. No news. No tweets. No status.
And so the smile on my face just wouldn’t fade — even when I was knuckle-busted by my reel and the sound of line racing out was louder than the skiff engine.
I needed the break. Before I left Anchorage, I received an email from a friend. He said, “Shannyn, you take politics too personally. Have a good trip. Just fish.”
I tried. I really did. But I realized something between the coho and rainbow runs. Politics are personal. Maybe not to me every time, but most of the time.
I know why people throw up their hands and say, “Who cares? They all seem the same to me.” The intentional hijinks of politicians and the constantly convoluted processes of policy seem designed to make us shrug, walk away and ask, “What’s for dinner?”
But we dial back in when dinner becomes something we can’t afford, or the fuel to cook it costs more than the stove, or we lose our jobs or get sick from contaminated food. When it gets personal, we pay attention. Many of our problems are rooted in politics. You needn’t look very far to find similar issues in the faces of your neighbors, friends or family.
It would be great if we could elect our representatives and then get back to our personal lives. Most people in Alaska are more concerned with fish runs, hunting and gathering, filling freezers, a promotion at work or whether the Aces will win the Kelly Cup again next year. Go ACES! (Both of them.)
The truth is this: If your streets are clear of snow in the winter and dirt in the summer, that’s politics. If there’s a pothole on your street large enough to swallow a VW Bug, that’s politics. If you care about where you can hunt and fish and what the bag limits are, that’s politics. If you want to be able to marry whomever you choose, that’s politics.
In King Salmon I chatted with a man who told me he lived out there because he hated politics — but even he couldn’t escape. The proposed Pebble mine is personal for him.
Last week I read about a woman in Oregon with bone cancer and no health insurance. She was having yard sales, selling her possessions to pay bills she was afraid to open. The city she lived in said she had reached her limit of three yard sales a year and shut her down. A man in Florida, diagnosed with cancer, robbed a bank for a dollar and waited for police. He knew he could get treatment in prison. Health care is personal.
It was hard to be distracted by the drivel of public policy while giggling like a 5-year-old and making Dolly Parton Varden jokes under the big sky of Western Alaska. I thought about my friend’s advice to “just fish” and realized it wasn’t entirely possible. Having forgotten about my fear of flying as I gazed out at the unfathomably vast wild from the window of a 206, I realized politics are inescapable precisely because they are personal.
Years ago, I was protesting the Iraq war and realized I could support the warrior and still oppose the war. From my boat, watching a little pink bead for hours on end, I realized I don’t have to support the politicians to believe we have the best model for a government in the world. Politicians can’t be counted on to fix the things that are personal to us. We have to do that for ourselves.
Your interests may be predator control or music in schools or traffic calming on your street. It doesn’t matter. Just identify the biggest problem in your community — however you define that community — and start trying to fix it.
That’s politics, and it should be personal.
Originally posted in the ADN 8/27/2011