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Dear Governor Ducey,

Here we are, into week three of the government shutdown. The roads in the city are getting plowed but the ones on the reservations, not so much. We have electricity still. The grocery stores are open. Perhaps this is a great way to show how we don’t really need a federal government! The toilets are backed up in the National Parks and garbage is everywhere, but if that is the nature of Americans and the way they treat their parks, so be it. The border, which is supposedly so important to secure and patrol, is lacking federal agents. I suppose you, Governor Ducey, who are so committed to keeping people out, have probably diverted funds to help increase state-funded “security.”

There’s a great meme going around that says the real wall in our country is between the right and the left, not the country to the south. One side hears the word “security” and feels warm and safe knowing the government is keeping people out of their country, making them feel like their country is worth sectioning off and compartmentalizing from the rest of the world. The other side hears “security” and pictures little kids being pulled away from their mothers, sent to sleep on cold concrete floors, contracting pneumonia. But then another side hears “security” and thinks the government should be hands off, let them have as many guns in their house to protect themselves from this very powerful government big enough to erect walls across 2,000 miles. Another side imagines security as background checks and bans on semi-automatic weapons because as many bad guys exist inside the wall as do without. This side sleeps better knowing their neighbor doesn’t have an artillery weapon in his basement. The other side sleeps better knowing they have enough weaponry to stave off marauding soldiers—even if they only have so many hands with which they might hold a gun.

Perhaps things used to be mushier. In the late ‘80s, when I was listening to anarchist music, I remember songs like “Fight Wars, Not War,” and the idea of peaceful resistance, how we are just the system’s slave “from birth to school to war to death, from the cradle to the grave.” A healthy skepticism of government seems right, for the most part. But there seems to me to be a difference between skepticism and disdain. I don’t know that the Pentagon should be funded at a trillion dollars a year while people sleep outside on the streets. I don’t know that some people should have access to the best experimental medical trials because they have great insurance while others can’t afford to see a doctor at all. I don’t know that Congress should be getting paid right now while the government is shuttered, but, as annoyed as it makes me, I still feel some agency. I can call Mitch McConnell. I can write letters to Ducey. The small act of resisting confirms my belief in government. It’s still a big and overwhelming thing, but I’ve seen the small acts make some dents in the behemoth. The Red for Ed movement generated promises for teachers’ salaries that I hope you keep. The Affordable Care Act was saved by millions of phone calls and the act of one defiant Arizonan Senator. Then-Senator Flake vowed not to approve any judges until legislation was passed and signed to protect the Mueller investigation.

Arizona comes up with crazy ideas for laws—ones that say people must show their citizenship papers when they’re pulled over for traffic tickets; ones that suggest teachers will be punished for explaining politics, even in history or social studies classes; one that says hunting camels is prohibited. Some of these laws haven’t yet made it out of committee. Some are old and dumb. Some, like SB 1070, are overturned by cooler heads. Most of the really crazy stuff doesn't make it out of committee.

But what has become scary to me is not the crazy laws. It’s the erosion of people’s belief that government matters. The shutdown, two weeks in, doesn’t hurt everyone. Yet. It mainly hurts people like my brother-in-law who works in fire management. Sure, January, it’s safe for him to be home. But if he’s not working in May or June, walls and guns won’t protect us from fires. One nice thing about fires is that there are no sides—no one wants their house to burn down. And although my house in the forest is more at risk, even desert brush can burn.

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Nicole Walker is a professor at Northern Arizona University, and is the author of Quench Your Thirst with Salt and a collection of poems, This Noisy Egg. She edited, with Margot Singer, Bending Genre: Essays on Creative Nonfiction, and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment from the Arts. The thoughts expressed here are hers alone and not necessarily those of her employer. For more letters, visit


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