If We Are the Government, Who Dares to Shut Us Down? Why We Should Care

Sep 29, 2013 | Updated Nov 29, 2013

So what's there to worry about? The U.S. government may -- or may not -- shut down. October 1 state exchanges for the Affordable Care Act open, but most Americans do not understand them. Scientists release a report with overwhelming evidence that human beings are causing Global Warming, but it's a beautiful day outside.

When issues are immeasurably large and my daily life is what's real to me, what do I dare worry, or care, about?

Friday afternoon my husband and I drove twenty minutes down the Mississippi River from Dubuque to Bellevue, enjoying the early fall beauty of the bluffs. After indulging in a dark chocolate ice cream cone we wandered up the main street. I noticed a woman sitting in a chair in the street -- well, at the edge of the street. "What's this about?" I wondered, until I spotted other people standing across the street. "There must be a parade coming," I thought. I love parades! I asked the woman what time it would start. "Shortly," she said.

We stayed. We joined in the Homecoming Parade, cheering on the Bellevue football team, the coaches in their lead car, the school board in theirs, the band, the king and queen. Then came the juniors' and sophomores' floats and even one carrying the middle school student council. We clapped even louder. Some moms, on their feet cheering, offered us their folding chairs. We became part of their community. Life was real and very local last Friday, even though we had been strangers an hour before.

Friday night The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to secure and destroy Syria's chemical weapons stockpile.

President Barack Obama spoke by telephone with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in what was the first communication between the leaders of the two countries since the Iranian Revolution in 1979. Afterwards Obama said, "Resolving this issue [Iran's nuclear program] could serve as a major step forward in a new relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect."

That phone call took place Friday afternoon, about the time we were cheering on young people we didn't know marching in a parade in Bellevue. We and they may have had more to cheer than any of us knew at that moment. Potential for the future, for all the world's youth.

So what do we dare care about?

A week earlier my husband and I drove about twenty minutes north from Dubuque, this time into Wisconsin. We entered a store and commended the shop keeper for her "No guns allowed on the premises" sign on the door. I asked what reactions she had received and she replied that some people never noticed and some people laughed. Laughed? Saddened, I reiterated my appreciation and told her of our fledgling Culture of Nonviolence Coalition in Dubuque. The next day in Dubuque I told a shop keeper about the sign and asked if she had considered one. She said, "It wouldn't do any good. Gun laws won't change in my lifetime."

Resignation rather than daring to care and caring enough to change. Government shut downs, global warming, mass shootings. This is the new normal. President Obama, speaking at the memorial after the Naval Yard mass shootings: "I fear there's a creeping resignation. That these tragedies are just somehow the way it is. That this is somehow the new normal."

Both the cause and the result of resignation to the new normal is, "Just take care of yourself." I expect the government to be there for me, until I personally am inconvenienced. I expected I could go about my daily life locally, safely, until one day I was not safe. Rather, what if I thought, "I need to care about the ongoing threat of government shut-downs and refusal to raise the debt ceiling for the sake of the rest of the people, including the world's people."? And, "I need to sign up for health care -- and get a flu shot -- for the sake of my neighbor."

The disconnect between the personal and communal, between the local and global leaves us sitting in the street alone. We are the government. We are the human beings called to be stewards of the environment. In our lifetime, we can change things. We are actors in or own drama, participants in our neighbor's parade.

One small group of obstinate people cannot really shut down the government any old time they want to if we claim in the words of the Declaration of Independence, that "WE hold these truths..." and really do mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor."

Clearly, we care. The question is do we care enough. I think we do. I think those middle school student council members riding in the Homecoming parade do. How can we help them and all of us really be "we the people," that no one can shut down?