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It was a late afternoon on October 13 when my parents and I decided to take a drive to the beach. This wasn’t a day to wade in the ocean or lie in the sand, but to have a last look at the beach before the frost of winter took its hold. Since I’ve recently started driving, it was decided I would make the journey to Jacob Riis Park in Rockaway.
I was rolling our car towards the parking lot when I saw a sign blocking the way. I walked over for further inspection, only to be greeted by a brief and apathetic message from our government:
“Park Closed Due to Government Shutdown Do Not Enter.”
It was at this moment I realized Jacob Riis Park is a federally run park, and because the government was shut down, so too was the beach.
It was difficult for me to fully take in the reality of the situation I’d just encountered: I couldn’t go to the beach because of a disagreement between politicians miles away from me. It was my own government—one that preaches personal freedom and wages wars with countries that infringe upon it—who politely reminded me that I was not allowed to go where I pleased.
I didn’t go to the beach that Sunday, but there are other beaches in the Metropolitan area that aren’t federally owned and operated. Having just one beach closed because of the shutdown seemed horribly unjust, but at least only a few people would be affected. It wasn’t until I got home to research the meaning behind this restriction of freedom that I discovered every single national park was closed. Some of the greatest landmarks in America couldn’t be enjoyed for the entirety of the shutdown. Even the Statue of Liberty, the most obvious symbol of American freedom, was off limits.
This denial of leisure begs the question: how can America be a proud democracy with a two-party system that so vehemently opposes one another? It is known that Republicans, primarily from the House of Representatives, initiated the government shutdown in order to protest the implementation of the Affordable Healthcare Act, more colloquially known as Obamacare. The larger motive was the intention to put pressure on Democrats by upsetting those who were negatively affected by the shutdown. Unhappy citizens would complain and ask for the government to be operational again so that they could resume their lives in absolute freedom. Republicans likely intended to rush the Democrats into a compromise they may not fully agree with.
There is nothing wrong with seeking compromise and diversity of opinion between the two parties. In this case, the minority –– Tea Party Republicans –– were assertive in the implementation of their beliefs in a tyrannical manner. Moderate Republicans who were frightened by this action ran and hid from their responsibility and allowed for an extremist group to have power in the government. It is the fault of those moderate Republicans who did not step up and oppose the radical movement in place.
My inability to access a park may not have been catastrophic, but a debt default would have been. We nearly got to that point. What will it take for our government to truly act for Americans on the shared aspirations of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?