A friend of mine posted a question on Facebook the other day: What if Mexico just builds stairs on their side of the wall?
It's a humorous question. Nevertheless, it aptly demonstrates the ineffectiveness of this "security" strategy. If a national security plan can be counteracted so easily, even on Facebook, why do it? What does this say about leaders who would shut down the government to fund an ineffective, easily countered, "security measure?"
The government shutdown says to Americans that some leaders are willing to forsake hardworking peoples' lives of dignity in exchange for a monument to fear, power and selfishness. The wall says to the world that we will forsake our global communal duty to be good neighbors, to care for one another, or to respond with compassion when crises threaten other people's lives of safety and dignity.
As I pray with this harsh reality, the parable of the rich fool echoes in my head, like a movie reel stuck on replay. The rich man builds a structure, not to keep others out, but to enclose his riches and hold all his blessings unto himself, as if he earned all of them. After he builds his wall around his wealth, God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?" Jesus teaches us that this is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not generous in the ways of God (Luke 12:18-21).
It is really quite simple. The Creator in you is the same Creator in me. So, when we forsake others, we forsake ourselves. That is why we are our brothers' and sisters' keepers.
This government shutdown tears down our national family. It has already created fear and uncertainty for hundreds of thousands of people who work for the government.
At Network, we have heard from suffering people all over the nation. Debra (pseudonym) wrote to us to tell of her family member who works in the federal public defender's office in a small Midwestern city. Her position is designated as essential, so she is working without pay.
There is also a married couple that works in that office, now trying to raise a family of four with no income from the Department of Justice. Debra wonders why good, qualified people would choose to work in government service in the future. Another excellent question. The losses and interest incurred while they await the just wage that is owed them may cause irreparable harm to countless families.
Tragically, anything that causes harm to anyone will always cause even greater harm, more rapidly and irreparably, to those who suffer from poverty. The shutdown impedes public services that help those who were barely hanging on, prior to the shutdown.
I spoke to my friend, Daughter of Charity Sr. Julia Huiskamp, serving in East St Louis, Illinois. She created several after-school programs for children who live in the various housing complexes in that community. Julia relies on federal funding to feed the kids an after-school snack. It may be last time some of those kids will eat on any given day. If that money runs out, her programs are in deep trouble.
In addition, she recently told me, the local Public Housing Authority was barely surviving on its reserves. When the reserves are gone, the full-time salaries for the workers — many of whom are members of nearby communities — will also disappear. Other potential employment in East St Louis consists largely of selling drugs or your body at one of Larry Flynt's "GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS" peek-a-boo taverns.
Over two million Americans utilize Housing Choice Section 8 vouchers. The housing choice voucher program is the federal government's major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly and the disabled to afford decent, safe and sanitary housing in the private market. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is part of the shutdown; their funding, approved before Dec. 22, 2018, was set to run out in February 2019.
Private landlords across the nation were forewarned that, if the shutdown continued, they would not receive their federal subsidies after Feb. 28, thereby creating another group of people who would be severely impacted by the shutdown. For those who live in poverty, uncertainty of future landlord payments immediately limits the options for those prospective Section 8 residents who waited for years to get to the top of the list.
And what happens to maintenance of homes without income? I previously worked as a public housing attorney in southern Illinois. I witnessed the marginalized Section 8 housing conditions that exist in the best of times. Some landlords regularly failed to repair water issues, holes in the roofs or electrical hazards. Failure to pay their rent subsidies and diminished access to housing caseworkers will not improve conditions.
A cold, snow-laden winter is upon much of the country. If the shutdown continues — or resumes — funding for food, housing services and other basic necessities for all vulnerable citizens will run out, creating a whole new class of persons who are driven further to the margins. This is a real, life-threatening crisis, and our leaders have created it.
Let's urge Congress and the administration to find a solution to this shutdown situation that does not forsake the ways of God and our duty to others.
I ask you to pray with me:
God, give us leaders! A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Women and men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Leaders whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Leaders who possess opinions and a will;
Leaders who have honor; who will not lie;
Leaders who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall leaders, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty and in private thinking;
For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,
Their large professions and their little deeds,
Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps,
Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps.
God, please give us leaders.
—Adapted (to be more inclusive) from a poem by Josiah Gilbert Holland
After 35 days of uncertainty and escalating national anxiety, on Friday, President Donald Trump agreed to sign a few temporary, limited funding bills. It's a step in the right direction. Nevertheless, if our leaders fail to come to a more permanent solution by February 15, the madness and suffering resumes. American families cannot peacefully live on a political roller coaster. We must do better than this. God send us leaders.
[Mary Ellen Lacy is a Daughter of Charity and a grassroots mobilization specialist with Network, an organization inspired by Catholic sisters which advocates for justice. She works to build relationships with Catholic sisters and Network members across the country to educate, organize, and lobby for the common good. She has served as a public housing attorney in East St Louis, Illinois, an immigration attorney in Alabama and New York and is a registered nurse, nursing home administrator and a healthcare attorney in Illinois.]