In 2013, I remember sitting at the table with friends and colleagues working on program development and sustainability planning for STEM projects at one of my campuses in southwest Arkansas while I was working as the Education Outreach Director and STEM Teacher Professional Development Supervisor for a National Science Foundation funded project. All of a sudden our phones started bleeping and screaming to the point that we stopped to see what had happened. We were all receiving various updates that the U.S. government had shut down.
The shutdown happened while I was traveling for work as a state employee on a federally-supported program and the nature of my messages were very confusing. First, I was told to stop working. Then, I was told that I couldn’t travel (I was three hours away from home mind you). Eventually, I was released to return home, but there was so much confusion over what I could or could not do because of the nature of my position for the 16-days the shutdown drug on.
But that wasn’t the worst part.
A lot of my friends and colleagues were working in or related to the government-sector in those days and this was the first time in our lives that we were directly impacted by the federal government’s inability to come to agreement over the passage of the federal budget in a timely manner. We were all truly terrified. Here we were trying to build careers and handle our business and something completely beyond our control put all of our lives as we know them in jeopardy.
Something changed in me that day. I lost a great deal of faith in my American government as a whole. I know a great many good people who are politicians and this is not a condemnation of them because I know that they are engaged with their constituents and that they list to the needs of the people they serve. However, far too many of their colleagues seem to believe that they have the right to play with their constituents well-being in the name of philosophical agendas and I have no good words for those individuals because they are poisoning our government.
I made a choice as a direct reaction to the shutdown to form an LLC and to make certain that if I ever again found myself facing the prospect of my government failing me through the shutting down of the government that I would be prepared to earn and pay my bills if my government-related job was furloughed. I also decided that there was no way I would exclusively build a career in the government sector without massive reform taking place within our political system.
Point blank, a government shutdown is NOT an acceptable political negotiation tool. It doesn’t matter if political leadership is majority Democrat or Republican. It is completely unacceptable and irresponsible to shut the government down because our elected officials are incapable of reaching a reasonable point of compromise. That is an indication of poor job performance and it simply wouldn’t be tolerated in the business world.
What our nation should be concerned about are how many talented people are going to stop considering state and federally-supported jobs as places they want to plant and grow careers. While I am a big fan of small business and entrepreneurship, what happens when you don’t have “best and brightest” level talent working in public schools and state/county hospitals and at national parks? What happens when our brightest minds no longer see the choice of pursuing lifesaving research at public research universities as a wise career option? What happens when you have all that talent opt out of public service jobs? The private sector can’t absorb all of those potential new employees and more importantly, we NEED those people working in the public sector bringing passion and expertise in their chosen fields.
I am not angry. I am not surprised by this latest failure of responsible governance. I have not given up on working in the public sector clearly since I’m still at it. However, I am further persuaded that I was wise to have a backup plan because my mortgage people don’t want to hear that I don’t have their money due to a government shutdown. The cashier at the grocery store doesn’t want to hear that I don’t have the money to pay for the food I need to buy to eat.
Have we hit the tipping point yet? Have we ordinary, every day folks finally had enough to work together and fix what is broken in our country. Our inability to effectively communicate and negotiate to the point of amenable compromise is baffling to me. It shouldn’t take a threat of violence on our soil for Americans to come and reason together.
Marta C. Youngblood is a writer, education and social entrepreneur based in Lubbock, Texas. For more information on her current projects visit https://about.me/MCyoungblood.