As the government shutdown drags on, federal agents are taking out frustration on ordinary American citizens. But the people are fighting back in acts of civil disobedience.
It's been widely reported that World War II veterans stormed the gates to visit the war memorial dedicated to them on the National Mall that was locked up by park rangers. But other countless instances of resistance to federal surliness across the country are getting less attention. Here are a few I found.
At one padlocked restroom on the Mount Vernon bike path that snakes along the Potomac River in suburban Virginia, two bicyclists expressed their disgust at Washington gridlock by letting it fly on the outside wall of the building. "This is a urination protest," one of the bikers said. "Maybe it'll catch on." On the nearby door to the shuttered bathroom was a sign stating, "Because of the federal government shutdown, this National Park Service facility is CLOSED." For extra emphasis, the word "closed" was bolded and underlined.
All along the 17-mile Mount Vernon Trail, frustrated taxpayers are moving barriers and cutting yards of "Caution: Police" yellow tape to park their automobiles in lots shut off to the public due to the shutdown. "We just want to push our baby along the waterfront on this sunny afternoon," one parent told me.
The authorities aren't letting such behavior go unpunished. One of the officers on the scene at Belle Haven Park told me that motorists leaving their cars in closed National Park Service lots were being given $95 tickets for illegal parking and evading a police roadblock. "We don't like doing this, but we have orders," she said. "Those barricades are filled with water, so someone had to unplug them to let the water out to move them out of the way of the entrance to get in here. That's a serious offense."
One of ticketed parkers was outraged. "I'm just here to go jogging, and I end up with a hundred-dollar fine," he said. "I thought Michelle Obama wanted us to all stay in shape, but the cops just threatened to tow my car. It's ridiculous – regular people are not the problem." Another park visitor said, "I just saw somebody flash a badge and drive right on out of here; do they have plain-clothes undercover cops patrolling parks to make sure nobody is picnicking illegally?"
At nearby Jones Point Park, two National Park Service patrol cars blocked the vehicular entrance. On normal days, these lots are unstaffed, and in most cases entrances are ungated. During the shutdown, barricades have been trucked in and erected to block off lots and armed police stationed there to bust offenders. According to the Office of Personnel Management records, U.S. Park Police officers make between $52,020 and $155,500 a year. Congress ought to hold hearing investigating how much is being spent to barricade and police empty parks and parking lots and who gave the orders to lock down so many sites.
Without a congressional inquiry, information is hard to come by. Call the Park Service public affairs office, and a recording says, "Due to the government shutdown, this voice mail inbox will not be monitored." Do a Google search on a national park and the response is, "Because of the federal government shutdown, all national parks are closed and National Park Service webpages are not operating. For more information, go to www.doi.gov."
That link leads to a landing page that informs, "Due to the lapse in appropriated funds, all public lands managed by the Interior Department (National Parks, National Wildlife Refuges, Bureau of Land Management Facilities, etc.) will be closed," which sends the Internet surfer to yet another webpage carrying bureaucratic contingency plans for a shutdown.
On Tuesday, the feds furloughed about 800,000 bureaucrats deemed "non-essential" but have kept more than 80 percent of the 4.1 million federal workforce on the job. Apparently one of the essential duties of government is to harass taxpayers who are out for a little recreation in the waning days of Indian summer. It's a waste of precious resources for a government tapped out of money.