News & Politics

A Government Shutdown Won’t Affect the March for Our Lives

Photograph by Evy Mages

That thing where Congress and the White House teeter on the brink of allowing government funding to lapse is happening again, with President Trump‘s issuing a threat Friday morning to veto the omnibus spending package the House and Senate approved late Thursday. The most recent federal shutdown, in January, was a three-day lesson in, well, nothing. But if another shutdown begins at midnight, it could play out against the backdrop of Saturday’s March for Our Lives, which is expected to bring between 500,000 and 1 million people from across the country agitating for stronger gun-control laws in the wake of a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, last month that left 17 students and teachers dead.

Government shutdowns always bring the threat of the cancelation of activity on the National Mall and other property managed by the National Park Service. But even if Trump makes good on his threat and triggers a shutdown, the march will go on unimpeded. That’s largely because the demonstration is taking place over a nine-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue, which is almost entirely under the jurisdiction of the DC government. Since 2014, the DC government—whose budget is subject to the federal appropriations process—has been inoculated from the effects of funding lapses, meaning that the city stays up and running if and when the feds bungle it.

Because the March for Our Lives is taking place on a city street, then, DC agencies like the Metropolitan Police Department and the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency will be in charge on Saturday, with federal bureaus playing supporting roles, says Sgt. James Dingeldein, a spokesman for the US Park Police. (In the event of a federal shutdown, law enforcement like the Park Police stay on the job.) Moreover, Dingeldein says, is that the people flocking to Washington for the event aren’t likely to change their plans at the last minute over Congress and the White House’s failure to adopt a federal spending plan. The 2018 Women’s March, for instance, drew thousands of protesters to the Mall the morning after government funding lapsed. The Parkland survivors planning the march seem to be ready for either contingency:

But one very strong potentiality if Trump issues a veto is Congress reconvening for a weekend session, which could result in some marchers following up the main demonstration with a trip to Capitol Hill. Moreover, members of Congress and their staffs might simply have a tough time getting to work. While the march itself will take over Pennsylvania Avenue between Third and 12th streets, Northwest, dozens of streets in the immediate area will be closed, possibly forcing members of Congress to wade through hundreds of thousands of pissed-off teens to get to their offices. Though perhaps that’s exactly what those elected jamokes deserve.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.