The following is a photographic essay of 21 real people — 21 of 800,000 workers — affected by the longest government shutdown in U.S. history, starting in December 2018 and continuing through most of January 2019.
A Short Documentary About the Shutdown Stories Project
Here is a documentary about the Shutdown Stories, a series of portraits produced by Kirth Bobb and Geoff Livingston to illustrate how federal workers were impacted by the Trump Shutdown. It seems like a fitting moment to publish given the impending federal funding deadline. This short documentary was produced by Metamer Productions, LLC!
On the last day of the Shutdown, DCist featured our project. One of our models was featured in the story, Jason Schlosberg.
“I hear talks of large numbers and it’s all kind of like white noise,” says Jason Schlosberg, a Department of Transportation worker who participated in the project. “We’re not just numbers or statistics. I think the media has only scratched the surface.
“There is a lot of pressure,” Schlosberg says. “We’re forced to contact all our creditors and ask for forgiveness during the shutdown. It’s affected doing simple things like paying our mortgage for the month or our children’s daycare.
“We’re all kind of at our wits end.” Schlosberg continued, “I cannot control politics. I can post on Facebook and vent, but that’s the extent of my control. I’m trying to realize I don’t have control over this. I’m just trying to do the best I can with this situation.”
Yesterday, I walked by the World Center Kitchen #ChefsforFeds food-line and resource center for furloughed and “selected” federal workers. The scene was heart-wrenching with a line that stretched around three sides of the block. It reminded some of Great Depression Era soup line photos.
It took me 24 hours to process what I saw yesterday. Here were people I knew (yes, I did know someone in line), people that I travel and work with every day brought to the point where they need assistance, or at least wanted a free meal to help them from dipping into their savings.
I was enraged by the scene.
Some people didn’t want to be photographed. They were in public getting a handout in their nice coats and polished shoes. They had been humiliated by the very government they served.
I wasn’t the only one angered by our government’s horrific treatment of the federal workforce. Jose Andres was there and said that more than 40 kitchens had turned out. But his expression and tone told a different story. You could see his eyes burning with anger, the gruffness of his tone, a tone that is ordinarily jovial when seen online.
It’s understandable. Andres usually does this work for homeless people or those that suffer some sort of a natural disaster or calamity. Here he was helping out his regular customers, trying to get them through the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. In total, the #ChefsforFeds initiative is feeding several thousand workers every day.
A different furloughed friend told me he had taken a free meal at a restaurant. He didn’t need it, but also didn’t want to dip into his retirement funds or incur a loan. He hated taking the meal, it made him feel ashamed.
This is more than a financial issue. The feeling of shame should not be thrust onto the people who serve our country, plain and simple.
Long Term Impact
Kirth Bobb and I wanted to put a face onto the press number, the 800,000 workers affected. It was wrong to treat family, neighbors and community members this way. They deserve to be remembered as the people we see in an office, on a video call, or on the metro. Our original portraits captured that, providing them with that shot they might just use for their bio or how they would like you to see them.
As we continue into month two of the shutdown, I cannot help but think of the out of touch statements made today by an Administration official and its surrogates. They told our affected federal workers to suck it up, take out loans, or get credit cards, because the wall is more important than their suffering.
This shutdown strikes me as the most amoral shameless act I have witnessed our government take in the 25+ years I have lived in Washington, DC. The Administration has abused and shamed people who for all intents and purposes are innocent and unwilling participants in this unnecessary drama.
Then there are the secondary effects. Besides all of the national impacts, the local economy has taken quite a hit. The shutdown has stymied deal flow, stunted the housing market, crippled businesses, and hamstring charities. All for a wall.
We will continue the Shutdown Stories project until this over because it’s not OK. Our photography and storytelling capabilities can help those affected.
Please contact us if you have a story you think we should share.
So why the smiles and overall pleasant demeanor? When we started this project, we did it to humanize those affected by the shutdown in the region. We had seen enough distraught federal worker shutdown stories portrayed on cable news networks, and felt they were over-dramatized and not indicative of the community members we know that have been affected by the shutdown.
Further, the affected federal workers wanted to use the shots for their own purposes. We thought utility was important. For example, if one of the subjects chooses to use the image as their LinkedIn profile picture and gets a new job, we think that’s a win.
Exposed DC highlighted the Shutdown Story on their website today. “Local photographers Kirth Bobb and Geoff Livingston have teamed up on a project to share the stories of people impacted directly by the government shutdown.” You can see the story here.
Kirth Bobb and I quietly pushed the button late yesterday afternoon on The Shutdown Stories Project website. We were and are going to push it live slowly through the weekend, but PetaPixel already picked up the story. So here is our Shutdown Stories Project as covered there. Special thanks to Jarrett Hendrix and the Creative Hands Studio for hosting us last week.