Furlough: Day 1

01 Oct 2013
October 1, 2013
Jeff Gates:

Stating my case on the way to work.

I’m a Federal worker, working for the Smithsonian as a new media producer. And like all federal workers we have been furloughed because Congress has not appropriated any funding for this new fiscal year. This morning we were supposed to go into work to clean up, create “out of office” emails, and close up shop.

It’s often hard to describe what it’s like working in Washington, DC. We are at the center of politics and everything that goes with it. It permeates our daily work lives. And, of course, these things don’t always stay in your cubicle when you go home for the evening. So, I have been following the House goings-on with both a political, a creative, and a personal eye. As many of you know, for the last three years I have been commenting on the rancor that is so prevalent in American political discourse through a series of remixed WW II propaganda posters under the guise of the Chamomile Tea Party. Last year, just before the election I bought ad space in the Metro and posted two of these posters.

But when I woke up this morning and found that the government couldn’t get passed their politics I felt I had to do something more. I like thinking outside the box and I like to think I’m not your typical bureaucrat.

So, I wore this sign. As I walked to the Metro I got a few looks and the guy handing out newspapers at the subway entrance was the first to comment: “Nice poster,” he said. Waiting for the train, I got a fistbump and more comments of support on my way downtown. Every day we sit anonymously on the subway, not thinking too much of our fellow commuters. I felt a bit uncomfortable standing out. But it was of my own doing.

This is not the first time I’ve done this. In 1969, as a junior in at Michigan State University, I was subject to the military’s first Selective Service Draft Lottery. Every man eligible for the draft participated. Every day of the year, including February 29, were thrown into a hat and picked one at a time, the order of which would become the order that we would be drafted. September 14 was the unlucky first number to be drawn and September 14 was the last. Mine came up on the 93rd draw. A bit too high for comfort. True, I had a student deferment but no one knew how long these would last.

Back then I felt I had to do something too. So, the next day, as I went to my classes across the very large campus, I wore a sign, much like the one I wore today. It’s said “I’m 93.” No other explanation was necessary. Everyone understood the context. At the end of the school year I was surprised to see that someone had taken a photo of me and printed it in the yearbook. I went looking for that book but it’s probably hiding in the attic with the rest of my previous life.

Many years later, once again I felt it was the perfect way to express myself. This time, I had my wife document the event for Facebook. I just might wear this sign wherever I go during the government shutdown. Despite the bad rap Congress spouts about us Federal workers (as well as trolls on the net), we do a great job and many of us love public service. I like to think that wearing this sign is my own public service announcement.

I’m going to think of this unscheduled forced time off as a practice retirement (not that I’m ready). I call it my “Furtirement.” And, you can be assured I will make the very best use of my days. I’ve got a lot of stuff rattling around in my head.

1 reply
  1. judy gelles says:

    love the sign…

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