By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
EVERETT – Thirty-five students from a Catholic school in Everett came face-to-face with the federal government shutdown in Washington, D.C. And they went around it.
When the eighth-graders of St. Mary Magdalen School encountered barricades at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial last week they walked around them to reach the wall on which are etched names of those who paid the ultimate price for their service.
“I felt like we had the right to go and see it,” Dan Haub, 14, of Mukilteo, said Monday.
They committed their quiet act of protest again at the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
“At first it felt like we were breaking into something,” said Alexi Obillo, 12, also of Mukilteo. “But then there were other people there so it didn’t seem that big a deal.”
As students returned to class Monday, the partial shutdown of government entered its second week with no sign of ending. The U.S. House continued to insist that defunding or delaying the federal health care law be part of any negotiations with the Senate on a measure to fund government. Majority Democratic senators and President Barack Obama are unwilling to negotiate on the fate of the health care law as part of a deal.
Meanwhile civilian employees are getting called back to work at military bases in Washington state, and throughout the country. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel determined that an emergency law to pay military personnel, signed by Obama last week, covers many but not all, of the workers.
The Washington Military Department on Monday began notifying more than 700 furloughed federal technicians to return to work starting today. There remains roughly 80 furloughed employees, according to a press release. Federal funding is still not available for operations and maintenance, as well as to conduct regularly scheduled weekend drills of the Washington National Guard, the release stated.
The shutdown didn’t throw as much of a monkey wrench as feared into the plans of students who raised money for a year leading up to the five-day trip. The excursion, organized by school activities director Jolene Johnson, also included 15 parents and two teachers.
“Before we left I was thinking I hope it does not hurt our trip too much. It really didn’t,” Haub said.
Barricades and burly guards prevented them from getting close-up pictures of the Lincoln Memorial or wandering through Smithsonian Institute museums on the National Mall. Instead they wound up visiting the privately run International Spy Museum and the Newseum, which is a museum of the news business.
“We didn’t talk a lot about the shutdown because we were too busy doing other fun stuff,” Alexi said.
In another change in itinerary, U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash. provided them an extensive tour Friday of the U.S. Capitol. It included stops in Statuary Hall and in the gallery of the U.S. House of Representatives.
During the shutdown, the general public isn’t allowed inside the Capitol except to sit in the galleries. Tours are canceled unless a member of Congress is conducting it.
When Larsen brought them in through a side door, they passed by dozens of people sitting on the steps who could not get in.
“Everybody glared at us,” Johnson said
Inside, Larsen and the 53-person group were pretty much alone for nearly two hours. At one point House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, passed by and gave them a wave.
“It reminded me of a pop star waving to the crowd,” Alexi said.
Johnson couldn’t say enough about how it turned out to be an unforgettable trip for the students and the adults.
“We saw the best of the government and the worst of the government,” Johnson said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org