The special session at Wasilla Middle School was disrupted by protesters Wednesday morning. Protesters sat at the desks arranged in the school’s gym for the legislators, shouting and chanting while Sen. Mia Costello, R-Anchorage, tried to open the session.
“We’ve been doing actions/rallies all week, and we decided it was time to escalate,” Justina Beagnyam, with the Alaska Poor People’s Campaign, said in an interview. Beagnyam said that she and fellow “passionate citizens” decided to travel to Wasilla from Anchorage in order to protest the legislators in Wasilla.
“We decided to take over the chairs of the legislators,” Beagnyam said, referring to the desks. Protesters urged the legislators in Wasilla to “return to Juneau, to do their jobs,” and that “it’s not okay to have a PFD at the cost of people dying,” Beagnyam said, noting the cuts to social services that would occur if Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s vetoes are allowed to stand.
Other protesters chained themselves to one of the doorways of the gym, but left the main door open. No arrests were made and Beagnyam said the police on site were “very polite and understanding” and gave some of the protesters water.
Unable to be heard over the shouting of protesters, the legislators ended their session early.
A press release from the Alaska Republican Party Wednesday said that, “threatening, shrieking Democrat protesters and their ancillary leftist accomplices disrupted a peaceful session of Republican legislators.”
Beagnyam said that one of the legislators invited them back Thursday for a peaceful dialogue, though she did not recognize the legislator.
For the first time in Alaska history, the Legislature is meeting in two places at once, with dueling sessions in Wasilla and Juneau.
The Wasilla contingent believe legislators in Juneau are ignoring the law by not convening the session where Dunleavy called for it, in his hometown and conservative base of Wasilla. Dunleavy said the change of venue would be good for lawmakers who could not finish their work over five months in Juneau this year. Lawmakers in Juneau previously rejected Dunleavy’s call to go to Wasilla, citing their right to determine the location and venue for legislative sessions. The bulk of lawmakers are continuing in Juneau, the state’s capital and seat of government, and conducting business as usual.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.