I estimate that 98% of my work life was spent either in government or with a nonprofit so I think I know a thing or two about both kinds of organizations. I have been thinking since the election in November that government workers, bureaucrats, civil servants and nonprofit organizations will be the ones to save our democracy. The two actions that have gotten the most attention thus far are the State Department’s dissent memo with over 1000 signatures and the Alt National Parks websites. And employees in other agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and NASA are also acting by just doing their jobs and setting up alternate media sites through which they can release information. So I was interested to come across this story expressing a similar point of view.
I had just come home from Boston where I had picked up a print copy of the Globe and I started reading the Magazine and began laughing. In his Perspective essay, Dear civil servants: Keep it up. No, really., Scott Helman begs the nation’s civil servants to keep doing their jobs.
Good day, Mr./Mrs./Ms. Servant.
I ask humbly: May I approach your coffee-splattered desk? I promise this won’t take long. It’s only the survival of the republic that we need to talk about. I’ll speak quietly. I can even sing my plea lite-rock style, so it blends in with the tunes from your clock radio. Better not to arouse your supervisor’s curiosity.
Let’s clear the air first. Listen, it’s true. For years you’ve been a punch line. Admit that sometimes you made it easy, with your interminable cigarette breaks, your surly manner, and your dawdling pace — unless there was only one glazed cruller left in the box.
Wait, wait, wait — come back! You’re right. Sorry. Really sorry. Old habits, you know?
Seriously, though: You, my friend, are the most important person in America right now. A nation turns its jittery eyes to you.
As the political churn reaches your cubicle, I ask of you this: Smile, nod — hell, bake a Bundt cake if you need to. And then: Continue on your merry way. Keep doing your thing.
Please continue producing non-biased, fact-based reports and stats on global warming, federal deficits, health care coverage, and whatever else comes across your desk. Go where the science or the numbers lead you, not where someone above you wants them to go.
Please speak up if you’re asked to do something unethical, and blow the whistle if you see something wrong.
Look, I know you can’t buck every political decision. Elections have consequences. I get that. Maybe you even welcome the change, unlike those cheeky chums from the national parks who started shadow Twitter accounts.
But this is bigger than politics or party. We need you to protect that bedrock as if our lives depend on it. Because they might. You are but a cog in a massive machine, yes. But the machine cannot run without you. Exercise your judgment and talent and authority wisely.
I know it can’t be easy. When I was working in Virginia state government, the Governor appointed a new agency head who was not all that competent. (I learned years later from him that much of what he did was at the direction of the Governor’s Office.) At one point an employee moral survey was conducted, but the results were not released. A couple of us got hold of the results and leaked them to the Washington Post. To this day, I’m not sure any one except us leakers knew who the source was. We knew we were taking a risk, but in the end, some changes were made, changes that impacted all State employees. So I know that civil servants can act against the powers that be. Helman ends with
One more thing. Don’t let anybody tell you that pushing back against a sinister agenda is somehow un-American. To the contrary. It’s the most American thing you can do.
Photograph: Nick Adams / Reuters