Protesters take over Wasilla special session
Protesters against Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes took over the floor on the third day of the special session at the Wasilla Middle School.
As a handful of lawmakers made their way into the room, more than a dozen people sitting in the bleachers flooded onto the gym floor and sat in lawmakers’ seats.
The legislators moved to the other side of the room, where the protesters quickly moved to fill in those seats.
“Forty-five to override,” they started shouting. A press release listed Defend the Sacred AK, Alaska Rising Tide, Fireweed Collective, Alaskans Take a Stand, Native Movement and Poor People’s Campaign as groups participating in the protest.
Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, tried to begin the session, but could not be heard over the shouting. Several officers with the Wasilla Police Department and at least one Alaska State Trooper lined the wall.
Costello called for a prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance, unlike the past two days. Rep. Sharon Jackson, R-Eagle River, stepped to the microphone and began to sing Amazing Grace.
The crowd quieted briefly for the hymn, with some protesters joining in the song.
“I follow my spirit and my spirit just, I was just guided just to start singing and hoped to touch their hearts so we could get prayer done,” Jackson said, adding later that she felt the presence of protesters was rude and took away any opportunity for dialogue.
Costello then tried to start the Pledge of Allegiance when other protesters yelled, “Indigenous prayers on Indigenous lands!”
“We are here supporting the Constitution,” Costello tried to shout over the crowd before adjourning.
The lawmakers quickly filed out of the room to the smaller gym behind closed doors.
Costello said she supported the protesters First Amendment right to be there.
“I think people are passionate for a reason. I’m passionate also, and so are my colleagues about are Constitution, about the future of our state," she said.
Protesters continued chanting on the floor long after legislators left. Many took turns at the podium, talking about their reasons for protesting.
Natasha Gamache said she was upset at the funding cuts for education and programs that would impact seniors and children.
“Our governor is trying to balance the budget on the backs of those who can least afford it,” she said.
Gamache urged the lawmakers in Wasilla to go to Juneau to get the work done on the budget vetoes and the Permanent Fund dividend.
“I get the people want to get their PFDs and hey, I want mine just as bad. But I’m not willing to starve an elder to get it,” she said.
Shawna Larson from Chickaloon helped close out the protest with a drumming circle and traditional song that was meant to invoke peace.
“Thank you all for being here. We wanted to be here in a good way with a good heart,” Larson said. “We want our people to be able to come to a good understanding so we all have what we need to move forward in this state and be healthy and safe and strong.”
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