PUBLISHED: 4:24 PM on Tuesday, August 8, 2006
The challenge of working together

Lee Leschper
"From outside you can't understand it, and from inside you can't explain it."

Down at my dear old college, Texas A&M in College Station, that's how we tried to explain ourselves.

Aggies-students and former students-realize what a unique place it is and what incredible responsibility it carries; yet struggle to explain that feeling to outsiders. Those from outside can't, and often don't, want to understand it.

We face a similar challenge in Southeast Alaska in general, and Juneau in particular.

We are unique.

Thanks to geography, heritage, government, economics and just who we are, we are not like the rest of Alaska. And we're sure not like any place down South.

It's dangerous for me, as a relative newcomer with just a couple of years living here, to make observations about our home.

But this summer introducing visitors and family members to our community has made one thing very clear to me.

It's just as hard to show visitors what Juneau and southeast Alaska are about, as it is for them to understand that our flashes of brilliant beauty are tempered in wind and rain and cold. And that our people are strong because it is tough and expensive and requires a constant commitment to make this our home.

If you don't live here, you don't get it.

Seeing the mountains or hiking the glacier or catching a salmon are all wonderful, often life changing experiences. But these experiences are akin to tasting Cr?me Brulee, and thinking you can cook-or spell-it. It's just a taste.

It's not just visitors who think that one taste gives them insight into Southeast.

Many of our fellow Alaskans from other parts of the state have a real hand in our future. We need to provide opportunities to show them what we're all about-even if they don't initially get it.

We can probably survive, but certainly not prosper, as a happy island. We have to accept the opportunity, and responsibility, to leverage our uniqueness to everyone's benefit.

Not sell out, not abandon our principles or environment or heritage, but also not write off all those who don't get it.

Right up there with the silly visitor questions and surety of bears in the garbage is another local truism: "Juneau is split right down the middle on every issue."

That's not all bad.

I'd rather live, and work, with smart, opinionated, dedicated people than a community that cares about nothing. But I've also worked in places that have gone from do-nothings to world-class communities. It's not easy. But it's not impossible.

Juneau and the entire Southeast need to work together. That will mean teamwork and also concessions. But as Ben Franklin observed, "If we don't hang together, we surely will hang separately."

Our newspaper, and our sister the Juneau Empire, can play a key role. You may have noticed the changes we've made to make both newspapers more attractive and more valuable to southeast Alaska families. We're also working to form strong partnerships with key organizations throughout the region, to focus on how we can work together.

My Aggies figured out a long time ago that capitalizing on the unique characteristics of that school were its future. That's helped it grow from a small cow college into a world-class university.

Now if they could just learn to win a football game.

Leschper is general manager of the Capital City Weekly and regional advertising director for Morris Communications Alaska. Email him at