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Clare Stockert, Development Director, StockertCE@muni.org
Communities don’t often take the time or the risk of looking at pressing or controversial issues and discussing them in an open environment. Often times issues are only discussed at crisis point and dialogue doesn’t occur. Looking at issues and engaging in dialogue in a supportive, neutral environment is a critical community need.
The Anchorage Public Library in conjunction with a local group, Institute of the North, initiated a series of community discussions focused on the Alaska constitution. The conversations focused on different parts of the constitution as a matter of historical interest, to see how legislation was shaped, and to look at specific topics that the community must address. Topics such as the role of state government in education are crucial to Alaska because of the number of small rural schools (many of them off the road system and with very small populations) and the fact that Alaska’s university system does not have in-state medical or law school programs. The rights of subsistence hunters vs. recreational and/or sport hunters are also a critical issue that was discussed at one of the salons.
Nine conversations have been presented; attendance has been steady or huge depending on the topic. There are more copies of the Alaska constitution in the hands of residents than ever before. People have had the opportunity to discuss face-to-face with some of the original framers of the state’s constitution.