The Federal Government Shuts Down the Lively Experiment

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The picture at the top of this post is of the barricade that the National Park Service has presumably placed across the entrance to the parking lot of Roger Williams National Memorial in Providence, Rhode Island, as part of its nationwide effort to make Americans feel the pain of the (very) partial shutdown of the federal government.  Following the link on the memorial’s name while the shutdown remains in effect brings one to a notice that “all national parks are closed and National Park Service webpages are not operating.”  A call to the park’s phone number brings one to a message that the memorial is closed for “the duration of the government shutdown.”

The national Democrats and their allies have been working to present the Obama Administration’s decision to blockade and evacuate land that the government owns and to actively disrupt American life in other ways as the fault of Congressional Republicans who won’t approve full funding for the federal government unless the Affordable Care Act (commonly known as ObamaCare) is at least delayed.  For their part, Republicans have been presenting proposals to fund individual parts of government that have immediate and emotional consequence, like the funding of cancer treatment trials for sick children, which Senate Democrats have blocked.

The political question, then, which is at this point a litmus test among those who are politically engaged, is which party is currently holding the American people hostage.  The barricades to the Roger Williams parking lot give an important bit of context: If withholding of funds is the problem, which is the only thing for which Republicans can conceivably be blamed, then the consequences should be the sort of things that happen when one has no money.

If parks aren’t being cleaned, that is a consequence of not having money.  If people start getting flat tires because the government cannot sweep scenic overlooks along highways, that is a consequence of not having money.  Paying guards to physically push people (who are leaving anyway) out of park memorials is not a consequence of not having money.

In fact, trespass a few yards onto the federal memorial land in Providence, and one finds a light turned on, illuminating the noontime pavement:

Leaving the lamppost aside, the question of “who is to blame” is bigger, still, expanding to the breadth of political philosophy.  A cached version of a Web page on the National Park Service site explains that “National parks are special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage.”

There are many ways for the American people to accomplish its objectives, whether preserving land, investing in research, making their neighborhoods safe, or developing a safety net.  The preservation of memorials and historic sites is a good example of how government can become the first resort because it can be the most expedient: utilize government to buy the property, declare it “ours,” and leave it to political process.

What the American people are learning, during this shutdown, is that government purchase of land does not make it the people’s land, but that of whoever controls the government.

Trespass a bit farther onto the land that Roger Williams once purchased from the Narragansett tribe, and you’ll see the following plaque, proclaiming the colony to be “a shelter for persons distressed,” where (in his famous phrase) individuals would engage in “a lively experiment” in community living.

A shelter is a place.  A community is a group of people.  The fact that we all vote for some small portion of the employees of the government, and the fact that it is empowered to take money away from us in order to fund itself does not make the government and the people the same thing.

It’s a moral that Rhode Islanders and Americans of all ideological persuasions and political parties should take to heart now, because the lessons can and will become much more painful.



  • Warrington Faust

    As I speak with TV news viewers (as opposed to Internet news viewers) I am amazed at the number who believe these theatrics are actually necessitated by the shut down. And then, of course, there is NPR. For them, this is even worse than the "sequester".

  • It is amazing. A family member was watching one of the 3 local networks, which was covering the shutdown. For local flavor, they went with Sheldon Whitehouse's nonsense from the floor of the Senate, after which they showed the RI statehouse. This Barrycaded park is right down the street.

    Wouldn't it be the job of a news media to make this local connection for Rhode Islanders? At least to explain, "Hey, this is why those barricades are up."

  • Phil Spadola

    Who has time in the middle of a work day to go to a park?

    "This Barrycaded park is right down the street."

    Things are going well for you, though …new home, new wardrobe, new picture, and now new words. I wonder where you got that one?

  • Mike

    I didn't think it was possible for Phil to get meaner or smaller–I was wrong.

  • Phil Spadola

    It’s always interesting to see which keyboard coward runs interference for Katz. There is usually two of them so it’s a coin flip. Heads or tails.

    • Mike

      Wow Phil….even smaller and slightly more pathetic….

  • Max D

    I guess US parks are only off limits to it's citizens.
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2013/oct/8/np

    "And even as the agencies argue they have blanket policies, the administration has made some exceptions. An immigrant rights rally was allowed to take place on the Mall in Washington on Tuesday, despite it being park property that is supposed to be closed to the public."

    "House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, who followed Mrs. Ros-Lehtinen, defended the president, thanking him for making an exception to the shutdown and “enabling us to gather here.”

    Go figure.

  • Mike

    By: Phil Spadola…"Who has time in the middle of a work day to go to a park?"

    You should go to Boston and witness the thousands (yes, thousands) of workers taking their lunch break in Boston Common or Post Office Square. I recommend Post Office Square; you can eat your lunch and hear a barber shop quartet or other musical acts. http://www.flickr.com/photos/dmhergert/803811495/

  • Dan

    "Who has time in the middle of a work day to go to a park?"

    When I worked at the AG's office, I used to eat lunch in that park every day.

  • Otherwise engaged today, but Phil's first comment is just strange. The media clearly have time to get to a park in the middle of the day. It's how they collect news. (And really, they wouldn't have to go in the middle of the day for their stories, pictures, or footage.)

    And I don't have a new wardrobe.

  • Warrington Faust

    Dan: ""Who has time in the middle of a work day to go to a park?"

    When I worked at the AG's office, I used to eat lunch in that park every day. "

    That park was previously a privately owned, and cheapest, parking garage in the area. The government had other ideas. Amusing bit of history if you have time to search the archives. Almost as good as all of the dirt which disappeared when they built the garage under Boston Common. The newspapers reproted that workers were taking it home in their pockets. 25 years later it turned out that a judge had used the excavated dirt to build a marina in South Boston. Of course, by that time he was "too old to prosecute".

  • Mike

    Warrington –

    Dan was referring to the Roger Williams National Memorial. I was referring to Post Office Square. But you are right regarding the garage – the new underground parking garage at Post Office Square is referred locally as the "Garage Mahal", and when we go have lunch there during warm months we usually say "Let's have lunch over the Garage Mahal".

  • joe bernstein

    Obamacare:It's the law of the land.Says the Democrats.True enough and I say let it sink or swim on its own merits.
    Tile 8:It's the law of the land governing immigration-"not so fast" say the Democrats and some Republicans.
    Lawmakers catering to lawbreakers is kind of disgusting,especially at this time and on a "closed"National Mall.

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