Sunday, June 22, 2014

The National Zoo closes their invertebrate exhibit. A new WPA could have kept it open.

(WPA workers constructing a sea lion exhibit at the Buffalo Zoo. Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

The National Zoo recently closed their invertebrate exhibit, citing lack of necessary funds to upgrade and maintain it. A lot of people are upset (see, e.g., "Visitors furious over National Zoo's decision to close invertebrate exhibit" and "Save the invertebrates at the National Zoo").

During the New Deal era, many of the unemployed were hired to modernize zoos across the country. For example, workers in both the CWA and WPA performed extensive work at the National Zoo. (See the Living New Deal, here and here, for examples of New Deal projects at the National Zoo.)

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are still 3.4 million long-term unemployed Americans. And, of course, we know that this figure only barely touches on the problem of un- an under-employment in America (see, e.g., The National Jobs For All Coalition). We could hire un- and under-employed Americans to upgrade the National Zoo, just as we did during the New Deal era. But, of course, right-wing politicians, pundits, and Internet comment-makers are too busy casting the unemployed as "takers," "moochers," "lazy-good-for-nothings," and "unskilled parasites," to consider the possibility. Also, unfortunately, most Democrats are too weak to propose a new WPA (when the late-Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) proposed a new WPA several years ago, he received very little support from fellow Democrats).

(The description for this 1940 photo reads, "View of Monkey Island, constructed by the WPA, in the San Francisco Zoo." The San Francisco Zoo reports that its "first major exhibits were built in the 1930's by the depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA) at a cost of $3.5 million" (that's about $60 million in today's dollars). Photo courtesy of the National Archives and the New Deal Network.)

All around us we are seeing services cut, the dumbing down of public architecture, and rising taxes, tolls, fees, and fines at the state & local level (where the middle-class and poor get hit). And, as these things are occurring, the super-wealthy keep adding millions and billions to their personal fortunes, which are sometimes secreted off to tax evading bank accounts in foreign countries (see, e.g., "Big Credit Suisse’s Sweetheart Deal").

The National Zoo's invertebrate exhibit, like the American middle-class and poor, is a victim of plutocracy, austerity, trickle-down economics, white collar crime, and the Tea Party-fueled government shutdown of 2013 (see, e.g., "Smithsonian Faces $65M Cut in Congress' Budget," highlighting, among other things, how the National Zoo was financially harmed by the Government shutdown).

The National Zoo needs another New Deal and the long-term unemployed need a new WPA. Unfortunately, all they're going to get is a punch in the gut from the political right. Meanwhile, we've spent billions upon billions of dollars destabilizing Iraq, and now some war hawks want us to double-down on that spending. Isn't that pathetic? When are we going to focus on our own country's problems--deteriorating infrastructure, unemployment, stagnant wages, underfunded medical care for veterans, dwindling public services, etc.--and stop policing (i.e., destabilizing) the world and demonizing the less fortunate?

(WPA poster, courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

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