In recent weeks, friends have been asking about my experience with the government shutdown. I’m feeling and experiencing a lot, living in DC, or “America’s lightning rod” (thanks to Katharine Weinmann for this language from a recent comment).
I look to everyday life for direction, where emotional outbursts and conversations hold potential. Here’s what I mean:
Throughout the day—waiting for an MRI, shopping at Trader Joe’s, and riding the metro—folks are talking about the shutdown. The question is not whether it’s impacting you, because it’s impacting everyone in some way. Instead, questions include:
- How are you doing with the shutdown?
- Do you have anyone furloughed?
- I worry about my brother or niece or best friend. How could I support them better?
- If this goes on much longer, we’ll be looking at ________. Do you think that could happen?
Fear and uncertainty hang in the air, as do the potential for connection and collective action, as people are talking to each other in spaces typically limited to small talk.
We see our neighbor and her large dog in the elevator. We typically talk about and to the dog, but today’s different. “How are you impacted by the shutdown?” she asks. We share our concerns and discuss how she and many in our building have weathered other shutdowns. Still, she’s worried about her contract work, which feels precarious. The elevator opens, and we head into our apartment, thinking about the worries held behind each apartment’s closed door.
In a short walk (only a few blocks), I pass two white men—both wearing suits, both yelling into their phones. One is furloughed and seems to owe money. The other seems to be speaking to colleagues about a tense work situation. Both are full-on yelling and cursing on the sidewalk. I instinctually pick up my pace, walking by quickly, but I keep thinking about whiteness and masculinity and the entitlement to take up space. How are these men experiencing this moment of white supremacy shutting down their lives?
During Trump’s televised address, I’m in bed, trying to distract myself with a silly show, though tense and fully aware of what’s happening. Suddenly: “Boom!” The skies have opened, and our building (and presumably much of DC) is engulfed in a heavy downpour with gale-force winds. Perhaps the storm will knock out the power and stop the speech? My mind begins reviewing all the public services involved in providing electricity, monitoring weather, and responding to crises. I realize how easily the power could go out for good when elected leadership won’t ensure continuation of these public services.
I share these scenes because mundane moments feel important, but there are so many more stories. There’s so much more to write.
Many museums and landmarks are closed. National parks—and people, animals, and the environment connected with these parks—are hugely impacted. Custodial, food services, and other “low-wage contract workers” are out of work and especially hard hit. The longer the shutdown continues, the more that access to housing, food, and other basic necessities is straight-out denied to the poorest people. And people are literally dying from the denial of social services and collective responsibilities—like snow-plowed roads for first-responders to use.
The government shutdown is highlighting unmet responsibilities. As such, it has the potential to mobilize change if we do more than simply ride it out.
This moment asks us to understand and work within precarious conditions. To acknowledge our individual and collective responsibilities for ensuring human rights. To critique the nation-state’s undermining of those rights. And to commit again to justice, which means saying this shutdown (and the government in its current form) is wrong.
Like the storm that burst through Trump’s address, may we raise our voices in a sounding “Boom!” May we turn fear and uncertainty into solidarity and commitment.
This post is written by Beth Godbee for Heart-Head-Hands.com. For more posts like this one, you might try “My Heart Hurts on Election Day” and “Countering Resistance Fatigue with a Both/And Approach.” If you appreciate this site, if you connect with the storytelling, or if you use any of the recipes or resources, consider making a one-time or sustaining donation. Please also consider subscribing to posts and liking this blog on FB. Thanks!