October 2, 2013

Misty Watson: Government shutdown affects many people

Misty Watson

— When we arrived at the Jefferson Memorial, a barricade had been removed.

So the huge herd of 13-year-olds, of which I was a part, flooded into the memorial only to be greeted moments later by the sound of an officer on a bullhorn telling us to leave.

Of course, being a bit overly dramatic, I had visions of all of us being handcuffed and taken off to jail for trespassing.

You see, it was just after Christmas in 1995, the last time the federal government shut down. And a government shutdown affects more than you may realize at first glance. It means all national parks, including the National Mall, are closed to visitors.

We had looked forward to our eighth-grade trip to Washington, D.C., the entire time we were at Bagley Middle School. It is an annual trip the week after Christmas. The government shutdown that year meant our entire trip had to be rearranged.

There would be no visit to the many monuments on the National Mall — I don’t remember how we ended up there in the first place, maybe to look at the monuments through barricades? — and no trips to the Smithsonian. I’m sure there were other changes in the schedule, too, but since this was 18 years ago, I’m bound to forget something.

Sure, I remember plenty about the trip. We got to go to the Capitol, the White House, Monticello, Mount Vernon, Arlington National Cemetery, Ford’s Theatre and many other sites. We also got to stay in a hotel room with our friends, ride a bus for 15 hours (or whatever it was) with our friends, go bowling, eat and drive the chaperones nuts. There was one chaperone, whose name I won’t mention, that earned a reputation for bolting out Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” constantly. I honestly don’t know how Tim Howard has maintained his sanity after planning and going on this trip for so many years.

It was on that trip I realized how much I loved photography. I later realized I could combine the love of photography with the love of writing and work toward a career in newspapers.

I was fortunate enough to get to go back a few years later when my sister was in eighth grade. So I did get to visit the memorials and the Smithsonians I missed first time around.

But many others on that trip in 1995 never returned to D.C.

I wonder how many people have been excited for a trip to D.C. and now don’t get to see “The Fonz’s” jacket or The Spirit of St. Louis or the Lincoln Memorial.

It may seem small in the grand scheme of things to be upset that a government shutdown ruined a vacation. But when you’re 13 and haven’t traveled out of the South before, going to Washington with all your friends is a big deal.

You don’t realize a government shutdown means thousands of people are out of work, not knowing if or when they’ll get their next paycheck. (Last shutdown all employees were paid retroactively. Still, who’s going to miss a house payment in the meantime?) You don’t realize that a long-term shutdown could affect other federally funded programs, such as the Veterans Affairs Department, which would mean no hospital services or pension checks for veterans. And there’s many other potential problems because of the shutdown.

I’m seeing jokes and comments online about the government shutdown. Of course, I have a completely inappropriate sense of humor and laugh at things most others don’t. But one comment caught my attention last night: “The government doesn’t do anything productive anyway. Who’s going to notice if it’s shut down?”

Well, I noticed, 18 years ago. And so did a lot of other then 13-year-olds.

Murray County native Misty Watson is a staff writer and photographer for The Daily Citizen. You can contact her at mistywatson@daltoncitizen.com; facebook.com/MistyWatsonDCN or on Twitter, @mistydwatson.