The Statue of Liberty is open, and Bryce Canyon, and even Claude Moore Colonial Farm over in McLean, so why not Glen Echo Park?
Near the spot where the old trolley used to let Washingtonians off at the amusement park, Montgomery County officials on Tuesday morning demanded that the renovated venue, now an artist’s colony, open by Friday.
Or else? They’ll personally storm the barricades.
“The government needs to get out of our way,’’ declared County Executive Isiah Leggett, employing a phrase new to the lexicon of Democratic politicians. Or “we will move into civil disobedience, whatever the potential consequences.”
At stake, he said, is that “we are losing money every day and that is not acceptable. . . . Yes, I’m prepared to move the barriers.”
“This government shutdown is an insult to democracy!” thundered the County Council member Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda), who added that it “has left millions of victims, none more innocent than this park,” where painters are locked out of the Yellow Barn Studio and the Adventure Theatre has so far canceled 16 performances of “Goodnight Moon.” The swing and salsa dancers are hoofing it elsewhere, but the Puppet Co. has nowhere to rehearse “Peter and the Wolf.”
Well, power to the puppets; right on. It’s not a stretch to say we bought our house across the street from the park on the strength of our attachment to their sweet productions of “Pinocchio” and “The Nutcracker,” along with the restored 1921 Dentzel Carousel and the tango lessons I was going to take but haven’t.
Only, what about the idea of shared sacrifice? What about the strategy of not reopening the government piecemeal so as to preserve the bargaining power of the Democratic Party the community overwhelmingly supports?
Leggett said he understands that argument, but it doesn’t apply to our very own park, for heaven’s sake: “They’ve already made exceptions,” he said of the government, and reopened the Statue of Liberty. “We’re simply saying we should be part of the exceptions, so that argument doesn’t hold in my opinion.”
But doesn’t everyone think that about the programs closest to home?
In Glen Echo, which like Takoma Park designated itself a “city for peace” early in the Iraq War, rules and regulations are revered; zoning is practically a religion in our village of 255 souls, the smallest in Maryland. Yet when it comes to the shutdown, prioritizing the common good is for other people?
Though it’s on federal land patrolled and maintained by the National Park Service, the park is a public-private collaboration operated by the Glen Echo Partnership, a nonprofit organization created by the county. As such, says the group’s executive director, Katey Boerner — “Not like [Republican House Speaker John] Boehner,” she makes clear — it should never have been shuttered in the first place.
Park service personnel “do trash collection and the occasional historical tour, but they’ve contracted out grounds maintenance.” Why should Glen Echo be shut down just because the adjacent, and far less popular, Clara Barton Historical Site is closed? she asked, maybe being just a little bit unneighborly to the late Miss Barton and the park rangers.
Mired in shutdown politics as a member of House leadership, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) sent an aide to the Tuesday morning event, assuring constituents that “he’s working the big picture, but also on this.”
The locals ready to storm the ramparts near the carousel would never be confused with the crowd at Saturday’s rally at the World War II Memorial, at which Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin spoke, protesters carried “Barry-cades” from the Mall and dumped them in front of the White House, and one man waved a Confederate flag.
No, at Glen Echo, nobody blames the president; on his way to the podium, the head of a pottery arts program joked, “We need a [Sen. Ted] Cruz puppet.’’ In presidential years, the local polling place typically goes 70-something percent Democratic — and then what everyone wants to know is who all those secret Republicans are.
Glen Echo Park’s nonprofit groups serve some 450,000 people each year on a shoestring budget, said Boerner. In the past two weeks since the shutdown began, they say they have lost more than $300,000, with glassblowers and silversmiths furloughed, five weddings relocated and a show called “Wearable PINK: Cancer Journeys in Jewelry” on hold.
With a 13-month-old at home, Jordan Bruns of the Yellow Barn can’t paint at home, so he has fallen behind in preparing for Art Basel in Miami in December. In a desperate effort to keep her drawing class together, one art teacher has had her students sketching a live model — not nude, alas — on a nearby sidewalk.
And the Glen Echo shutdown even took out my fence the other day, when a dad with small kids in the car, befuddled by the barricades blocking the park entrance, tried to turn around, knocked down my nice white pickets and didn’t stop until he hit the rose bushes. (Sen. Cruz, are you on your way over, I hope, with a hammer and some nails?)
My $480 problem is hardly on par with the pre-kindergartners who might soon be locked out of Head Start, or with the already struggling nonprofit arts groups across the way. They’re artists, not defense contractors.
Still, I’m not sure asking for an exemption for the park is in keeping with a view of ourselves as upright upholders of a communitarian ethos, in a little town by the C&O Canal or anywhere else in America.
Unless we put principles over puppets, I don’t know how that’s any different from the tea partiers who want the memorials they like opened, and the programs they favor funded, while the rest remain closed.
But whether we’re agitating for veterans or zydeco, that’s not how “E pluribus unum” works.