Disclaimer: The thoughts represented on this blog are my own. All mine. I am on an unplanned, unpaid furlough-induced vacation (or ‘furlough-cation’) and, given that I have this extra time, I decided to write out my thoughts.
I have been a federal employee for nearly 7 years. I have served my country and my community as a public health worker and scientist for more than a decade. I never witnessed a level of chaos greater than what I am experiencing this week and I am, frankly, embarrassed and disappointed.
I went to work on Monday and everyone was in a frenzy. Those externally may not know, but there are strict procedures on how the government ‘shuts down’. There were union communications, cancellation of external partner meetings, and many conversations about how the shut down with affect contract negotiations and work. It is literally against the law for me to access any government system or equipment during a shut down. Cobwebs will grow before I am able to go back to work…according to the Huffington Post. But, I held out hope until the last minute that you would get it together and agree on a FY14 budget in order to avoid a shut down.
Unfortunately, I woke up on Tuesday morning to a forward counting ticker on CNN and an internal notice from personnel letting me know that I was furloughed. I had a range of emotions in those first hours:
- 7:30 a.m. Blank Stare. Are you kidding me? You shut down the U.S. government? How much power does one portion of congress have that they can literally shut down the government and furlough nearly 800,000 employees? Is it really that easy? Like my fellow co-workers, are our families simply casualties in the face of grandstanding and ideology? I felt really powerless….for a hot minute.
- 10:10 a.m. Bureaucracy is a misunderstood and essential beast. At one point, I had to stop watching the news and following the conversations on social media. Listening to the rhetoric of what some believe is “non-essential” government is comical. In this shutdown, I have learned that some have an unashamed ignorance about what the government actually does – and why it is such a critical part of our society. Besides the obvious – like managing the postal system, Medicare/Medicaid, national parks, national security, and Library of Congress archives, or conducting innovative research that will end or stop the spread of cancer and Alzheimers disease , and leading public health prevention to make sure you stay healthy even when the person next to you isn’t – the government has affected each of us. Speaking only of health, if it were not for the government, millions of children would not have access to vaccines that prevent outbreaks that at one point threatened our country, we would not have fluoridated water (and our teeth would show it), nor would we have seen the changes in smoking cessation that we have today (read more). On a personal note, I have worked hard over the past few years to help ensure that the millions of dollars appropriated for HIV prevention goes to those who are highest at risk – not just padding the pockets of those who may not need it; and just scored a major victory to bring more attention and funding for African American communities – who are sicker from and die at higher rates from heart attacks and strokes. Having started at the local level of public health, the federal government makes it possible for many health departments and community based organizations to help your friends, neighbors, and constituents deal with outbreaks (like the H1N1 outbreak or a food poisoning epidemic from your favorite restaurant), train the nurses and doctors that care for you when you are ill, and reach indigent populations with critical health information because ‘big business’ may not see them as important.
- 11:00 a.m. Things were getting too heavy so I decided to go and work out. I went to a Zumba class at the Camp Creek L.A. Fitness. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I tout this location above all the others. Zumba at Camp Creek is like sorority meeting, church, and the club all rolled into one. It’s definitely a stress reliever, it gives me the false hope that I can dance, that my butt is big and plump, and that I am on my way to a size 4 – even if only for 55 minutes. The beautiful thing about my community and this fitness center is that it brings together young and old, mostly African American Women – with different ideals, incomes and life experiences – together to laugh, smile, and let go of stress for just a moment. Congress, you need a Zumba class and we would welcome you with open arms in southwest Atlanta.
- 12:30 p.m. I realize that it is just 12:30 and I have the entire day ahead of me. I showered, went to the grocery store, and made some tuna. No thrills, just real life…without a paycheck.
- 2:05 p.m. Many people that I care about and admire find strong personal identity in their public service positions. On social media, I have been most surprised by the hurt felt by my colleagues who I respect and admire. I work with them and know that they are great at their jobs, but there is something more here. These federal workers love what they do. They have committed their lives to civil service and have taken this shut down personally. This is not fair to the nearly 800,000 furloughed workers and their families. Please put an end to this shut down.
- 3:30 p.m. I decided to be productive and attended a graduate seminar at my local university. I enrolled in a Ph.D. program in Communications when my daughter was young and am nearing the finish line. I have chosen to be a part-time student so that I can dedicate my career to civil service – was that a good judgment call on my end? Today makes me question that. Ironically, we had a panel discussing political communication across the disciplines. How timely – don’t you think? It only reinforced that there is so much rhetoric and blame occurring in Congress that you are not focusing on the essential business of government. I left feeling frustrated, but enlightened, and went to get my hair done (I got my weave tightened) – I may not be receiving a paycheck, but I will look good. Damnit.
- 6:30 p.m. President Obama better stand his ground. As I settled in to my unplanned vacation, I began to accept that this conversation is not about me. As a health communicator, I see the intent of a small few – To create so much chaos on October 1 with a government shutdown, that you dilute the only message the media needed to be sharing today, “The insurance marketplaces are now open. Everyone has a human right to adequate healthcare.” Unfortunately, this attempt at chaos does not erase a simple truth – the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is the law, a law that was upheld to be constitutional by the Supreme Court. For the 48 million uninsured Americans (and countless who are underinsured), this train has to keep moving. President Obama please don’t give your baby up because the bullies came knocking.
- 8:00 p.m. I found myself back in another Zumba class at the Camp Creek LA Fitness. I needed the camaraderie and simplicity of my sisters (and one brother) bonding in our church/club/sorority meeting. I settled in at home later and realized that the thing that I despise (at times) about my job is the same thing that keeps us functional and accountable. Bureaucracy is needed to keep the checks and balances. I went to bed that night wondering what happened to our system, and how did we get so out of control.
#Dear Congress, sometimes it’s easy to ignore or refuse help to others because you are not the one in need. Unfortunately, that philosophy is selfish and unacceptable for someone in a role to serve the public. I only hope that you are not one day in a position that you have forced millions of Americans to be in on this day.
- Please end this madness and allow us to get back to work
- Until you do that, please donate your paychecks back to the national treasury; and as soon as we can get back to business…
- Please vote (unanimously) to grant back pay for the time we were furloughed. My mortgage company doesn’t care about your opinion or this ridiculous shutdown.
- Champion Obamacare, because it is here to stay.
- Lastly, please standby, 2014 elections are coming.
Until the shutdown ends…