Wednesday, 28 Jun 2000

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.

I’ve been waiting for this day for nearly five months. This morning I slept until noon.

Alex, Eric, and I spent the night at Dean and Denise’s house here in Minneapolis. Dean and Denise are comedians. Their daughter, Lisette, works for Rep. Bruce Vento’s (D-Minn.) office in D.C. We met her two weeks ago when she was helping us coordinate our press conference on Capitol Hill. Vento is the man who introduced the Morris K. Udall Wilderness Bill (HR 1239) which would protect the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge as wilderness.

When Lisette caught word that we’d be in her hometown in a couple weeks, she offered us a place to stay. So here we are at her parents’ house.

Two weeks ago was the morning of our official arrival in Washington after our bike trip:

The rain is still coming down as we crawl out of bed at 6 a.m. This is not the kind of weather we had hoped for. If it keeps up, this rain will keep our attendance down. But no sense in worrying. We can change politics, but we can’t change the weather.

Alex and I on a sunnier day — still thousands of miles from D.C.

Photo: Arctic Quest.

The skies are overcast as we bike down to the rendevous point. But the streets are dry. We arrive at Franklin Square and meet more than 30 supporters with their bicycles. It’s a far cry from the 1,000 bikes we had envisioned, but it doesn’t matter. We have enough enthusiastic supporters to make a scene parading down the three-mile route to Capitol Hill

As we gather at the park, a young man in a shirt and tie stands in the distance taking notes. We soon find out he’s been sent out to observe our event and report back to his boss, Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski (R).

Murkowski has become our nemesis on this journey. Back in March, as we crossed the west Texas desert, he introduced an Arctic Refuge drilling bill. One month later, he introduced a drilling provision into the national budget bill. That proposal was thrown out by the joint budget committee, but now he’s at it again. This week as we finish our journey he is introducing his energy package which includes a proposal to approve oil development in the Arctic Refuge.

Sen. Murkowski — hope we made him nervous.

Murkowski is unrelenting in his drive to drill in the Refuge. He’s promised to kill any Arctic Refuge wilderness bills that come through his Energy and Natural Resources Committee, despite their unprecedented support in the House and Senate. This morning we’re flattered to know that Murkowski is taking our mission seriously.

Our forces gather in the park, then the excitement begins. With lights flashing and sirens chirping, several motorcycle cops escort our procession to Capitol Hill. We’ve heard it’s not easy to get a police escort in D.C., but here they are, blocking traffic at intersections as we parade through red lights and past curious observers. Driving the Prius, Alex leads our parade.

In the shadow of the Capitol — finally!

When we arrive at the Capitol Building, we are greeted by five members of Congress, numerous reporters and TV cameras, and Granny D, the 90-year-old woman who recently walked across America in support of campaign finance reform.

An enthusiastic crowd of over 100 supporters chant “ARCTIC QUEST!” as Alex and I step up to the podium to speak. We share some of our experiences along our cross-country journey and call on Congress to do the right thing — block the short-sighted proposals to develop the Refuge and give it the full wilderness designation it deserves.

“America wants to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and we have the letters to prove it!” Alex exclaims.

What’s a press conference without an inflatable moose?

We are followed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Reps. Steve Kuykendall (R-Calif.), Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.), Earl Blumenaur (D-Ore.), and Edward Markey (D-Mass), then Granny D. It’s an overwhelming moment for Alex and me — surreal, even. Murkowski’s spies lurk in the background.

Unfortunately, one very important member of Congress couldn’t be here with us. Bruce Vento, who sponsored our event today and sponsors the Arctic Refuge wilderness bill we’re promoting, is home in Minnesota undergoing medical treatment. Vento is fighting his own battle with lung cancer.

Though we bemoan the absence of our hero Vento, Alex and I consider the event a success. Several of our respected colleagues express disappointment that we didn’t attract the national media coverage we deserve. But it doesn’t matter to us. There is a lot of big news happening on the Hill today and we still managed to draw media attention and support from Congress, and that’s what really matters. Congress will decide the fate of our last great wilderness.

Now our real work begins — gaining support for the wilderness bills. We have appointments with over 20 representatives and senators scheduled for the next week. Tomorrow morning we have our first congressional visit.