I am a nonessential federal employee. This is my shutdown.
My alarm wasn’t set for this morning, but I wake up at the usual time. It turns out my internal clock is indifferent to the ongoing negotiations between Congress and the president. As the shutdown continues, I find I’m learning things about myself. For one thing, I don’t just want to laze about. Routines are important, and so is getting out of the apartment. I consume culture at a rate that’s faster than average—-I moonlight as a film critic, and can talk your ear off about the latest serialized TV drama—-yet the last thing I want to do is marathon through a show on Netflix. Maybe I see acquiescing to a couch-potato day as a flag of defeat? Hard to say, but the forecast calls for rain on Monday, so I guess I’ll find out then.
Let’s rewind. Yesterday’s day-drinking eventually took me to José Andrés‘ Jaleo, which only had a food special on offer: From 3 to 5 p.m., nonessential federal employees get a free sandwich (serrano ham, manchego cheese, and crushed tomato on a mini-baguette). I met my friend from grad school there. She’s a furloughed budget analyst, and she rode a virtually empty Red Line train from Tenleytown to Chinatown. We were catching up over sangria when I got a phone call from a producer at Al Jazeera America. She was given my contact info by a mutual friend and wanted me to talk about my shutdown experience. The producer said she was willing to meet anywhere. I agreed to be interviewed, as did my budget analyst friend.
A few moments passed, and both of us felt nervous. What if we say something we shouldn’t? I’d already seen this: At Z Burger Tuesday, a reporter talked to some furloughed feds, and they agreed as long as they didn’t mention what agency they worked for. I went further: I called the Al Jazeera producer back and made it clear I only wanted to talk about my furlough experience and how I’m spending my day. We ended up filming the segment without my friend—-aside from her initial reluctance, she had some errands to run. I was asked my name, how long I’ve worked for the federal government, whether I was affected by the sequester (I wasn’t), and where I’ve gone for shutdown food and drink deals. And we shot some B-roll, which was a little surreal and annoying.
When we were done, I asked the producer about how she’s covering the shutdown—-and, feeling a pang of responsibility, told her that a fluffy piece like the one we filmed is fine, but she should try and talk to feds facing real financial hardships, especially those who aren’t white-collar. She said she’d been having trouble reaching them, so I told her to reach out to AFGE, a union that represents federal employees. It’s kind of funny: There are 800,000 of us who aren’t working, yet for many the fear of speaking out of turn overrides any outrage or dismay we might feel.
But I bet the producer will find more feds willing to go on camera once the shutdown lasts a little longer.
Graphic by Jandos Rothstein