Alaskans for Benson
Whale Watching Alaska | Whale Watch Juneau with Diane Benson - Orca Tours
If the whale watching Alaska tours, or the various cruise liners, haven’t brought you to Alaska’s shores, chances are Alaska is one of those ‘out of sight out of mind’ states. However, key individuals, such as Diane Benson, have elevated the Alaskan presence and voice through significant contributions and endeavors.
You may not know her from her politics, though she ran numerous times for various offices. But, her influence on policies directly impacting Alaska’s wilderness and the economy were experienced across the U.S., even if most were not aware of it. Consider that a great deal of the environmental legislation, as well as the treatment of indigenous peoples have come from grassroots movements begun by Benson and various coalitions.
“It’s all about voice,” Benson has stated. This multifaceted Alaskan has used her voice, and offered others a way to have their voices heard, in a wide array of venues. Art, theater, politics, and even a stint as a worker on a fishing vessel, and yes, even the pipeline, Benson is no stranger to hard work, or hard knocks. In a time when many politicians are very far removed from the gritty real life of blue-collar Americans, Benson has lived the life that many of those in her community have. Homeless, abused, a single parent, unemployed, addict, marginalized and a ward of the system. These all describe some of Benson’s experiences. Rising above them all she stands as an inspirational tale of how finding your personal voice allows you to overcome your adversity.
Much like the whales that populate Alaska’s waterways and draw tourists each year to whale watch in Alaska, Benson’s tenacity and ability to thrive despite adversity makes her someone to know. The first 30 years of her life were spent moving from one foster home to the next, where she often faced abusive situations. Experiencing a time when her voice was not heard, and she felt as if what she had to contribute was not valued, these early influences seem to have sparked an inner determination to succeed. Something those around her are drawn to.
She is also no stranger to loss and desperation. After the death of several of her friends, when she was a very young woman, Benson turned to drugs, and often states that she is grateful to still be present in the world. Her earlier trauma and experiences have shaped her unique life philosophies and perspectives, something Alaskans who voted for her believe in, and something her current students at the University of Alaska believe makes her approachable and real.
What’s She Doing Now?
Now, instead of election signs, Benson’s followers carry backpacks and laptops and attend her classes at the University of Alaska where she teaches several courses. One of those classes revolves around Native American Women and Violence. She particularly finds it very fulfilling to help young students who may have also experienced some form of trauma in their lives, and to help them find their own voice. In doing so, she believes, they find balance and healing.
Alaska is one of those states, because it is not connected to the main portion of the U.S., that is easy for Americans to overlook. But this would be a mistake. Many dynamic and ground-breaking change is happening outside of the contiguous states, with Alaska at the forefront. Such leaders in the community, such as Diane Benson, bring much needed clarity and voice to often marginalized populations.
She, and those like her, identify with and give a voice to, those blue-collar workers who barely make enough money to live, with the homeless whose desperation lies written but unread by most, and with all who face adversity and feel as if they do not matter. The takeaway from knowing, even a little bit, about someone like Benson, is that it is clear to see how one person can, and does, make a difference, especially when that person comes into her own voice and personal power. She, and others like her, often leave a blueprint for others to follow, and to create their own forward movement toward voice. It is this unexpected legacy that Benson leaves, and continues to create, in America’s frostiest state, Alaska.