Carol Thompson, a primary school teacher in Sarah Palin's hometown of Wasilla, Alaska, has been galled by the mainstream media's infatuation with the governor's rugged yet glamorous Danielle Boone persona. "What amazes me is the fascination with her back story, when Alaska is filled with women who have much more interesting stories than she does," she said. "She's one of hundreds of thousands of very fascinating Alaskan women who hunt and fish and ski and build their own houses. I was living in a tent when I had my child!"
Thompson pointed to the woman next to her, who lives in Palmer, a town about thirteen miles from Wasilla. "Bridgette was hiking on a glacier two days before she had her child, and picking blueberries a week after she had her baby. And that does not qualify us for being Vice President."
The two of them were so horrified by the prospect of a Palin presidency that they drove nearly an hour to Anchorage on Saturday to join a rally called Alaska Women Reject Palin. Evidently, despite the governor's popularity among Alaska's tiny population, many others feel the same way. According to a policeman on site, the rally drew between 1,500 and 1,700 people, an astonishing turnout by Alaska standards. Philip Munger, who blogs at Progressive Alaska, said it was the biggest demonstration he'd ever seen in Anchorage. To put it in perspective, according to official estimates, 1,500 people turned out for Palin's first Anchorage campaign rally Saturday morning, an event where, according to the Anchorage Daily News, the governor was "treated like a movie star." Marianne Spur, an occupational therapist who out of curiosity attended both rallies, insisted that there were many more people at the anti-Palin event.
Most of the signs were homemade: women affixed banners to hockey sticks saying "Hockey Mama for Obama," or carried placards asking "What's the Difference Between Sarah Palin and George W. Bush? Lipstick." Little girls held posters saying "Don't Ban My Books" and "I'll Need Reproductive Rights One Day." After two weeks of non-stop Palin hype that kept her local critics feel isolated, anxious and, many said, insomniac, it was a giddy relief to find they weren't alone. "She is not who they are portraying her as," said a woman who was collecting names to form an anti-Palin PAC, but who said, given Palin's record of vindictiveness, that she was afraid to give out her name. "She really does not have the experience. I lay awake at night just dreading the possibility of a Palin presidency. It just makes me ill. I can't sleep."
To be sure, Alaskans are, in general, pretty excited about Palin, but the opposition to her is not inconsiderable. Last week, twenty-five Wasilla residents stood on a street corner in the rain with Obama signs and American flags; they were subject to plenty of screams and curses, but also a surprising number of supportive honks. On Saturday evening, progressive radio personality Ed Schultz hosted a live town hall meeting in an auditorium at the University of Alaska, where, for three hours, hundreds of people clapped and cheered as locals lined up at microphones to air all the reasons why Palin has no business being a heartbeat away from the White House.
Leslie Cornick, a Wasilla resident who teaches marine biology at Alaska Pacific University, drove to Anchorage for the anti-Palin rally, and planned to canvas her neighborhood for Obama the following day. "My husband works with a lot of people who grew up with her," she said. "Interestingly, they support her, but they also acknowledge what a liar and a hypocrite she is. Pit bull is really the appropriate reference for her, and that's not who I want running my foreign policy."
As Cornick noted, Palin, an anti-abortion opponent of sex education with a pregnant daughter, has cut funding for programs to support pregnant teenagers. "She's completely regressive on everything that women's rights stand for," she said.
"I hear all this talk about how everybody wants someone just like them in the White House. I'm sorry, I have a PhD, and I still want someone smarter than I am in the White House," Cornick added. "I want someone in the White House, or next to the White House, who has some finesse, who has some critical thinking skills, who has some ability to synthesize information rather than just knee-jerk react to everything. And that's her tendency. As more and more Alaskans tell people in the rest of the world what this woman is really about...I just have to hope that as the truth comes out about her, people are going to think twice when they get in the voting both."
It takes some courage to speak out against Palin in Alaska right now. As word of the anti-Palin rally spread, local right-wing radio host Eddie Burke gave out the names and phone numbers of the organizers on air, calling them "a bunch of socialist, baby-killing maggots." They reportedly received threats, though it didn't deter them.
Burke showed up at the rally, as did a few dozen other Palin supporters. A stocky, bullet-headed bald man with a goatee, he barreled through the crowd with a little posse of lumbering men, but if they were trying to start a fight, they failed. Chants of "Obama! Obama!" drowned out whatever they were trying to say.
"We need everyone to know that Alaska is not just terribly full of enthusiasm," said Thompson. "We do have people up here who can think for themselves, and not get caught up in the excitement of trying to elect a beauty queen to Vice President."