Iconic Alaska civil rights fighter Diane Benson has been in the news these past few days. A lot. Even the Anchorage Daily News, which has largely been ignoring her as candidate or libeling her as graduate student over the past seven years, carries a compelling article in today's edition about one of the most painful aspects of her youth.
Yesterday evening, KTUU-TV carried, in their story about Don Young's Wednesday congressional speech about his unconstitutional changes to the 2005 Omnibus Transportation Bill, after the bill passed and had been signed, Benson's straightforward reminder that back in September, she had been the first public figure in American life to request that the U.S. House's ethics body investigate Young's illegal changes.
Since that time, as notice to her request, and the early coverage of the changes by Joshua Micah Marshall's web site Talking Points Memo Muckraker began to gain traction, Benson's second campaign against Young gathered added resonance, inside and outside of Alaska, after her having given Young a near-death experience. Her underfunded 2006 congressional campaign's bloodying of Young attracted the head of Alaska's Democratic Party, Jake Metcalfe, and former Alaska House of Representatives Minority Leader Ethan Berkowitz, to challenge her in the 2008 Democratic Primary. Neither campaigned for Benson in 2006, even though she was their party's nominee. The primary will be on August 26.
Metcalfe even held back Democratic Party funds from the 2006 Benson campaign, on the advice of Democratic Party eminence grise, Illinois Representative, Rahm Emanuel. Interestingly, Emanuel has now become - by far - the biggest backer of Ethan Bekowitz's campaign, with Emanuel's PAC appearing to be on track to donate more to Berkowitz than it has to any other Democrat running against another Democrat in a primary contest. Progressives should find it interesting that both Metcalfe and Berkowitz have such high regard for a politician regarded by liberal luminary Jeff Cohen, as a major obstacle to progress. Last month, at the Alaska Journalist Club's annual conference, Cohen told me, "Emanuel isn't really a Democrat, and doesn't have a remotely progressive agenda."
As details of the slime attack on Ethan Berkowitz by a Metcalfe campaign worker began to emerge last week, Diane Benson was the sole candidate intimately involved in the Democratic Party's response to the underhanded politics of the weird fake web sites. Her own campaign had a press release out within minutes of the Party's similar statement. Both condemned sleaze and dirty campaigning. Neither Berkowitz - the target of the attacks - nor Metcalfe, have issued statements decrying such tactics.
On Cary Carrigan's KUDO-AM talk show this morning, Metcalfe sounded totally hapless, as he was confronted by Anchorage Press reporter Brendan Joel Kelley, with the revelation in today's Fairbanks News-Miner, that Metcalfe's former Campaign Chairwoman, Dana Krawchuk, has come forward as the person who overheard Metcalfe's acceptance of the idea of the creepy web sites last fall.
Last month, within a day of the Conoco-Phillips Denali gas line development plan's issuance, Benson released what is still the most comprehensive set of critical questions to the company on the impact of their plan on the Alaska economy and labor force.
Yesterday, at an Anchorage conference about violence toward Alaska Native women, which featured a panel of members from the law enforcement and justice community, Diane Benson gave some of the most powerful testimony from a group of women who have been victims of violence and sexual abuse. Interestingly, the conference was held the same day Clear Channel Radio - you're welcome to harden the boycott, dear readers - let those two racist scumbag California idiots with eighth-grade minds, back on the air.
Lisa Demer's article on the rural justice conference in today's Anchorage Daily News, is compelling. Demer states, "The Daily News usually does not identify victims of sex crimes, but the women on the panel said the paper could use their names. They did not want to be quiet or hidden."
Diane Benson's story, as reported by Demer, was this:
She told the crowd in the Hilton Anchorage ballroom that she was repeatedly sexually abused in Alaska foster care, that when she was a young teenager and went to the police, a Ketchikan officer not only didn't pursue charges but said he wanted to get in on it, and that she was raped three times by age 20. She didn't even try to report those, she said.
[Benson] said she's talked publicly about her experiences for a dozen years at [confidential - see note below] victim conferences around the country, though the rapes might be news to people in Alaska. It's not the kind of thing she'd bring up as a campaign strategy, she said. She talks about the worst times of her life to offer hope to other women, she said.
"If I can be a person who can get out there and do what I do, after this violent, neglectful and abusive kind of history and still demand my dignity, find my self-respect, after all of it, so can somebody else," Benson said.
Lisa Demer's article goes on to describe the testimony of other Alaska Native women. The panel, which included Alaska Attorney General (and soon-to-be Lieutenant-Governor) Talis Colberg, U.S. Attorney for Alaska, Nelson Cohen, and Alaska Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan, was peppered with questions from the audience. The questions had to do with the totally inadequate funding in Alaska to address an array of problems associated with both Native communities, and urban problems.
One thing that was interesting about the testimony, was that though the panel was talking about villages, most of the testimony involved experiences these women have undergone in non-village settings. Study after study, conference after conference relates that most violence against Native women, both in Alaska and in the lower-48 states, is perpetrated by white men, and goes unpunished. Most instances, as Benson's testimony yesterday so poignantly related, go unreported.
Amnesty International's 2007 study on this issue has largely been neglected in the Alaska press. Last Sunday's extremely ill-informed (at best!) ADN column by sock puppet Dan Fagan is only one more of many examples of how media outlets like the ADN exacerbate this problem - which is actually growing, not diminishing - by giving such people as Fagan credibility to distort and pollute the public discourse on this important issue.
The vibrancy of Benson's lifelong courage, her persistent campaign to bring new civil rights ideas forward, her devotion to our veterans, her demands for integrity, haven't yet sunk into the narrative in Alaska's media. Perhaps the resonance of her voice is seen as a threat to the rooting out of our now nationally notorious levels of institutionalized corruption.
But, as the campaign for Young's seat continues to attract nationwide attention, and the realization inside the Mark Begich campaign deepens - it is already there - that Benson's 2006 performance was outstanding in precisely the parts of the state that Begich needs most, to beat Sen. Ted Stevens, we're likely to see a profound change in the recognition her life-long, winning battle against gigantic odds brings.
the author of this article volunteered for and donated to the 1978 and 1980 campaigns of Rep. Don Young (he was then a Republican), volunteered for and donated to the Alaska Democratic Party when Jake Metcalfe was chairman, has volunteered for and donated to Diane Benson since July, 2006; and has donated to the current Jake Metcalfe and Ethan Berkowitz campaigns.
note: as Diane Benson related on KUDO-AM radio this morning, none of he participants in yesterday's Building Momentum Conference were told that press members were present in the audience when they gave their testimony.
Update - 3:00 p.m. Thursday: Dennis Zaki reported, calling in to KUDO's Shannyn Moore, that Bill Scannell has stepped down from his job with the Jake Metcalfe campaign.