With the launch this week of the Recover Alaska website, Program Officer Aleesha Towns-Bain writes about Recover Alaska and its work, including State of Intoxication, the year-long journalism project undertaken in partnership with the Anchorage Daily News. The news coverage has raised controversial issues, highlighted solutions that show promise, and featured brave Alaskans sharing their stories. It's raised the level of discussion - and that's the first step.
The status quo of excessive alcohol use in Alaska is intolerable: domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, suicide, homelessness, violent crime, incarceration, and death. A deeply-ingrained status quo – even one that wreaks havoc on people’s lives – doesn’t budge easily.
Recover Alaska is a solutions-focused effort to recover, reclaim, and restore the strengths of Alaska’s families and communities by getting to the root causes of excessive alcohol consumption. (See history here and here.)
In 2013, Recover Alaska joined with the Anchorage Daily News to highlight the devastating impact of excessive drinking on our state and potential paths forward. The product of the partnership is State of Intoxication, a year-long journalistic investigation of the impact of alcohol on Alaska. This series is supported by the Recover Alaska Journalism Project fund at The Alaska Community Foundation. Contributors to the fund are Alaska Children’s Trust, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority, Bristol Bay Native Corporation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Mat-Su Health Foundation, Providence Health & Services Alaska, Rasmuson Foundation, and Wells Fargo.
The State of Intoxication news series has been running since July. The coverage is statewide, with stories from urban and rural communities, on problems and solutions, local and statewide. Stories have spanned from DUIs and bar break in Anchorage to homegrown solutions in Nome. All the stories are available here.
In part because of State of Intoxication, we believe important conversations are beginning to happen – in board rooms, on the streets, in the halls of Juneau, and with everyday Alaskans. Still, discussions about excessive drinking can be painful. We can re-open deep wounds that have not yet healed—wounds caused by stereotyping, historical trauma and difficult personal experiences. Those hurts effect Alaskans of every age, color and socio-economic level.
Yet, we believe it’s through storytelling that healing is possible. We’ve been deeply touched by the individuals who have participated in the ADN’s Alcohol & Me videos, sharing their own story of how excessive alcohol use has effected their lives. As one participant said, “acknowledging these things is the only way to heal.”
Editorial independence is important in this partnership. Recover Alaska and contributors to the Project Fund have no input into editorial decisions. The coverage has raised controversial issues and will continue to do so. It will also highlight solutions that show promise and paths we as a State may choose to walk. We can all contribute by offering feedback and weighing in with our insights, opinions and knowledge. If you have story ideas for the series, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The devastation caused by excessive use of alcohol in our state is stark. And yet, there is hope and resiliency. Recover Alaska commissioned a statewide public opinion poll in September 2013 that found more than 80 percent of Alaskans agree it’s possible to reduce the harm caused by excessive drinking in Alaska. Put another way, 4 out of 5 Alaskans believe that we can make a positive change.
Through efforts like the partnership with the Anchorage Daily News, a steady drumbeat is starting to build throughout Alaska. A strong group of committed partners has coalesced, and we are seeing unprecedented partnerships and honest discussions occurring. It will be up to all of us as Alaskans to harness this energy and transform it into meaningful cultural change. The time is ripe.