I have been through four inaugurations as a farmers market vendor in the DC metro area; nearly twenty years of trekking south on Sunday mornings. Despite the cursory Civics and American Government classes in high school and college, my weekly dose of the District taught me more about how the nation’s government works firsthand from the people actively involved. Most of all, I learned there is a huge difference between an administration, the work force, and a political party. These last four years have driven home this distinction solely by my weekly interaction with market customers, many who have worked diligently for the federal government over multiple administrations regardless of what party was in power.
My knowledge about customers is limited to their weekly transactions, mostly for the same items. I try to learn people’s names and greet them accordingly, but every now and then they show up in the New York Times or Washington Post, on Twitter, or CNN. Another tip-off to VIPs are their security detail following close behind. They try to be discreet, but when one walked behind my stand peering into the fruit crate than hides my cash box I got a little nervous. “It’s ok, he’s just doing job,” my customer assured me. Honestly, no concealed weapons—just money, a spare Square reader, and a crow call to catch the attention of customers who walk away leaving their products, coffee, or credit card behind.
I’m shocked at how many people think that the workforce of the federal government turns over completely when a new president takes office. Employing over nine million people, the federal government accounts for nearly 6% of all jobs. We don’t get a new military or postal workers every four years. The same goes for many others in administrative, legal, research, and accounting positions, many concentrated in the mid-Atlantic region.
Market customers are a veritable vegetable soup of government agencies, many devoting their entire careers to federal service. These last four years have been like none other as I’ve at times felt more like a therapist than a farmer as customers have poured out their concerns and heartbreaks each week.
During the federal government shut down more than one stopped by to say Hi, admitting to rationing their purchases so they could be certain to make their mortgage or rent. I may be one person, but I did my best to make sure no one went hungry. Others shared with me how no one had been appointed to administrate their department, leaving them twiddling their thumbs for weeks, months, even years. Worse, others shared the insanities of their sections being gutted, talent that had been cultivated for decades now lost to private enterprise. There were the ones who sadly said goodbye when their divisions were relocated to remote parts of the country. The worst were those who shared horrors of their newly appointed bosses being more concerned with having an office with a good view than they were of the operations of the agency. “We’ve spent six months moving our offices instead of doing our jobs,” lamented a worker at an agency tasked with keeping our food supply safe.
It wasn’t just the federal workers caught up in the collective angst. Journalists tasked with reporting facts shook their heads in wonder at the sheer insanity of false narratives and conspiracy proliferation. A university professor admitted to their elderly parents falling under the spell of Q, which we hold on par with Big Foot and aliens.
And speaking of being taken seriously, market customers from NIH and Walter Reed are already breathing a collective sigh at the mask mandate on federal property. “About damn time,” one texted to me as I was writing this blog.
I have always loved market day the Sunday prior to the inauguration because so many out-of-town guests show up, obvious by their pins, hats, shirt, and other assorted adornments. They are jubilant and chatty. The atmosphere is downright festive. The pandemic squelched most of that last Sunday leaving mostly the regulars and residents, still apprehensive from the attacks on the Capitol the week prior now turning most of DC into a Green Zone (and by that, I don’t mean an ecodistrict).
To be honest, it was kind of nice watching the festivities from the comfort of my living room instead of squished into a crowd of thousands in the freezing cold, but somehow it just didn’t hold the collective excitement. The best I could do was raise my American flag over the pasture and offer a small noon toast of champagne on a workday. As the speeches, prayers and poems spoke of unity I was again reminded that we all eat at the same table.
But for me, the best part of the inauguration was Vice President Kamala Harris’s coat. I’m all about that purple.