On the eve of a possible government shutdown, there is certain tension hanging in the air. Some of the dialogue is about politics, some about pointing fingers, some about getting paid, and some goes much deeper. People are talking about it in the office, at lunch, on the train – everywhere. Understandably, for many of these individuals, this debate is more than political theatre on the cable news. In some cases, people will not receive their paycheck which is serious enough on its own. There is also a degree of uncertainty which makes planning difficult. In my case, I won’t know whether I’m coming in to work tomorrow until I wake up in the morning. It seems that may be the case for a few other interns here as well. While uncertainty and lack of a paycheck is certainly a cause for concern, the people in my office had much more pressing concerns. They were concerned about their work.
You would think that the biggest concern for federal employees would be not getting paid, but this did not seem to be the case in my office. In the Voting section of the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice, if people are not allowed to come to work, the consequence will be fewer people available to enforce the Civil Rights laws in this country. The feeling I got is that this was the main concern in my office. There is a high level of passion that they bring to their work and that is why this tension is extremely frustrating. There is work to be done. Every file, every piece of paper, has a human life attached to it. The country looks to my office to ensure that any changes to voting practices or procedures are fair and non-discriminatory throughout the country. So for every day the government is shutdown, we are stuck with less diligent professionals available to defend our fellow citizens’ right to vote. In my opinion this is why the people in my office want the government to avoid shutting down. There is important work to be done here, and people that want to do it.
So it has been one full day that the government has been shut down and things have already changed around here in that short time. The enjoyment of sleeping in yesterday has been replaced by the feeling of idleness today. The streets are less crowded. The trains have more available seats. As I tried to take advantage of what I thought would be just one day off, I witnessed the extreme frustration faced by the many people visiting this city. As I walked around the closed monuments, I was able to overhear conversations by people that traveled all the way here to see their nation’s capital only to find a closed sign. Some people were here from foreign countries. I could only imagine the frustration of paying to travel and stay in DC and not be able to see the sights. I also noticed all of the hot dog stands and food trucks that were missing a large amount of their usual daily customers. There were less federal employees and hungry tourists around given the government shutdown. It really is having a ripple effect.
As I observe the dialogue on social media, it is really amazing how many people seem disconnected from the government shutdown. It seems as if it is not happening in their world. But the truth is that it is real, and that it is happening, and many people are suffering. The federal employees, the people awaiting government services, the tourists, the interns, and the people selling hot dogs on the street are all hurting from these events. We’re all waiting to get back to work. Hopefully that will happen soon.
Andrew Hanson is a senior majoring in political science. He transferred to Stanford University after serving in the U.S. Marines and graduating from Santa Ana Community College. He is currently interning at the Voting section of the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice.