One morning this week, I met a friend for breakfast at a local diner. I got to talking to the man waiting on us about the federal government shutdown. He said the diner was feeling the effects of fewer national park tourists in town, especially during this busy season of foliage-viewing and the long Columbus Day weekend. This is Lowell. Imagine the impact on restaurants, campgrounds, souvenir shops, canoe rental companies, motels, and etc. around gigantic attractions like Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Gettysburg, the Statue of Liberty, and Acadia. I saw a TV news report about US Sen. Susan Collins of Maine pushing a proposal to immediately open all federal government operations. Can you imagine the loss of income in Maine with Acadia National Park closed for the long weekend? She’s trying to salvage a couple of days of tourism there, along with trying to put together the federal Humpty Dumpty in all of its programmatic pieces around Maine and the other 49 states (small business loans, services for veterans, nutrition and education programs, and the rest of it).
At Lowell National Historical Park, one of the nationally praised programs is the Tsongas Industrial History Center, an educational partnership with UMass Lowell’s Graduate School of Education. In the first week of the federal shutdown, the Tsongas Center staff had to cancel visits by 15 school groups. That’s a lot of kids and teachers left out in the cold. This week was likely the same. All those experiences lost for now. Let’s hope when the madness of Tea Party congressmen and -women gets put back in the jelly jar where it belongs, those school visits can be rescheduled. The artists at the Brush Gallery at Market Mills got locked out for Open Studios weekend because their studios are in a building leased by the feds; many of the artists scrambled to find alternative space to show their artwork. This local fallout is not good, but there are many other cases in which the impact is not just disruptive, but also dangerous. And let’s have a thought for employees in the national park service who have been shunted aside by a cluster of reckless politicians who gambled with the lives and livelihood of federal workers in a shameless bet against the president. At the diner counter was one of the organizers of high-profile festivals in Lowell. I said to him, Imagine if the Lowell Folk Festival was coming this weekend and the park was shut down. We’re just lucky this isn’t July. Lowell’s big event would not have mattered to the Tea Party.
Let’s hope everybody in the federal agencies can get back to work, where they want to be, in the next few days, back serving their fellow Americans. This contrived crisis has been a disaster forced upon us by calculating political extremists who are beyond conservatism into seething anti-federal behavior leading to obstruction of social justice. In the US, we are entitled to “hate the government” if we choose, but too much of that is corrosive. As President Lincoln said, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”