Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Shutdown!

December 26, 1995, I set off on a vision quest. I had been separated (and eventually divorced) from my first wife for just over a year, and was embarking on what was to be (though I had no idea at the time) the endgame of my career as a United Methodist minister. The locale of my quest was to be Utah, more specifically the many National Parks that blanket much of that state. Given the state of my soul—I felt very much that I had been shut out of my marriage, and was beginning to feel that I was to be shut out of my vocation, as well—it seems (in retrospect) apt that I was shut out of most of those National Parks, as well, and had to find alternative wonders to explore.

And why, you may ask, was I shut out of the parks? Actually, you probably don’t need to ask, because after eighteen years, the phenomenon is back: Republicans are holding the nation hostage to their demands, and the federal government has been shut down.

I found plenty to gape at in Utah; it became, and remains, my favorite place in the world to find the perspective that comes from surrounding oneself with natural wonders millions of years in the making. But I was stunned then, just as I am now, by the audacity of a political party cramming its agenda down the collective throat of the nation even as it becomes clear the vast majority of voters is not on board with that agenda.

I am a public employee now. I teach music in a school in which more than 90% of students are on free or reduced lunches. When they go home at night, many of them are fed meals purchased with the help of the WIC—Women, Infants, and Children—program, a federal subsidy that helps poor mothers purchase food for themselves and their children. WIC is in shut-down mode thanks to the political gun the Republican Congress is holding to the nation’s head, which means those children I see every day are going hungry.

I’m fortunate that my salary is paid by a local school district, funded by the state of Oregon. National Parks employees are not so fortunate. Nor, I learned during our weekend trip to Bend (and our climb up Black Butte) are Forest Service rangers. I assume that the eventual restoration of government will mean this public servants receiving back pay, but in the meantime, I hope they’ve got an adequate fiscal cushion to pay their rent, utilities, and grocery bills—unlike Congressman Lee Terry, who has a mortgage on a “nice house” to pay, and won’t be forgoing his paycheck as a result.

This crisis started over an insane plan to accomplish through extortion what dozens of symbolic votes could not: the overturning of the Affordable Care Act, a law of the land providing millions of previously uninsured Americans with health insurance. Written to protect the absurd for-profit bureaucracy of the insurance industry from being scrapped in favor of a far more efficient and cost-effective single-payer system, the ACA is far from perfect, but it does mean that many of the working poor—several hundred of whom have children at my school—will, for the first time in their lives, be able to receive medical care somewhere other than an emergency room. It’s the law of the land, passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the President, and ratified by his reelection in 2012. And, in the minds of the Grand Obsolete Party, it must be stopped at any cost.

Words cannot contain the fury I feel over this. So I’m going to leave it here. And maybe write something more specific about the magical thinking on the hard right side of the aisle.

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