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Visiting MLK Site in Atlanta, Secretary of Interior Jewell Warns of Impact of Budget Shutdown

Secretary of Interior Jewell

Secretary of Interior Jewell

At a public service volunteer event in Atlanta to beautify the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell warned today that the site and others would have to shut down if Congress is unable to pass a budget by Tuesday.

Jewell was at the King site, one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, as part of the 20th anniversary celebration of National Public Lands Day.

 “It doesn’t get any better than this and I tell you right now it’s really therapeutic to be here, to recognize the value of our public lands, because it doesn’t feel that valued right now with what’s happening with our budget,” Jewell said before she got to work repainting parts of the site.
The Senate yesterday approved stopgap spending legislation to keep the federal government open without gutting President Obama’s health care law, but House Republicans and Speaker John A. Boehner have refused to compromise with their Senate colleagues, putting the government on course to a shutdown at midnight Monday.

“This is it. Time is gone,” Democratic Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, warned after the Senate vote. “Here’s a president who less than a year ago won election by five million votes. Obamacare has been the law for four years. Why don’t they get a life and talk about something else?”

After the vote, Obama said Republicans must stop “political grandstanding” on the health care law and accept the Senate measure to avoid government disruptions.

“Over the next three days, House Republicans will have to decide whether to join the Senate and keep the government open, or shut it down just because they can’t get their way,” he said Friday at the White House. “This grandstanding has real effects on real people.”

Jewell, joined in Atlanta by a host of luminaries and volunteers, including Grammy Award-winning artist CeeLo Green, who has been extremely involved in the environment as the founder of the Greenhouse Foundation, talked this morning about the real effects the president mentioned.

“Places like this will shut down; we will have to close our doors [if a budget agreement isn’t reached]…I think that a lot of times it is isolating to be there (in Washington) and it is important to get out in resources like this, to appreciate what the American people expect of their government,” said Jewell, the former CEO of retailer REI who took over her post in April. “Sites like this are things people see, maybe they planned their vacation and they will be impacted by that, but I will say there are so many parts of the federal family you don’t see that are also impacted. I will remain optimistic that our elected officials will do the right thing and keep the government operating, but we will feel it at a number of levels if that’s not the case.”

Today marks the 20th anniversary of National Public Lands Day, which is expected to draw more than 180,000 volunteers to 2,200 park sites around the country today helping to restore and beautify the public lands. Officials estimate the one-day event adds $18 million in value to communities around the country.

Cee Lo at King Center

Cee Lo and his sister pose with kids at King Center

At a ceremony marking the occasion at Atlanta’s King Center, the birthplace of the civil rights icon, CeeLo was swarmed by young people, many of whom spent the night at the King Center in what has become an annual event called the Urban Campout, held the night before National Public Lands Day.

The kids stayed up until 2 a.m., listening to live music, dancing, eating S’mores and watching a movie. At one point they were joined by  Jewell, who danced and sang songs with them.

Angelou Ezeilo, founder and executive director of the Atlanta-based Greening Youth Foundation, which connects urban youth to the environment and environmental careers, said the campout provided most of the 52 young people who participated with their first camping experience.

The group pitched tents on a grassy knoll next to the King Center parking lot, as park rangers helped out by cooking burgers, setting up a big screen so the kids could watch the Jackie Robinson biopic “42”, and roaming the perimeter of the site so no outsiders would disturb them.

“We took children who may not have experienced being out and hearing nature sounds and eating S’mores,” said Ezeilo, whose organization every year sends dozens of urban students into internships at federal parks around the country. “It was really beautiful; it was a really clear night. They got into the moment and appreciated the stillness. We did actually hear nature sounds—though they were interspersed with ambulance sirens! Everybody was very well behaved and excited. They got to bed at about 2 a.m. and were up by 7 to do yoga — and only 3 of the 52 kids had ever experienced a yoga class.”

CeeLo, taking a break from his work as a judge on NBC’s “The Voice” to do volunteer work at the King site, said he was “proud and privileged” to be there working alongside his sister, Shedonna Alexander, who helped the artist launch his Greenhouse Foundation last year to make “green education” more accessible to students in underserved school districts.

“I want to encourage environmental education and the adaptation to a new way of life,” he said. “I’m passionate about service and committed to the cause. We’re here, standing right beside you to do the work.”

Jewell was asked if she had encouraged  Obama to do volunteer work at a park today.

“The president’s been really busy lately so no, I didn’t try to get him to volunteer,” she said with a grin. “But I can tell you that I know this president would be very happy to volunteer and get out in the great outdoors. He does appreciate it.”

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