A Mount Pleasant resident's single-handed effort to prop up a broken government hit some government red tape Wednesday, but he's not giving up.
Chris Cox, a professional chain-saw artist, has been working in Washington, D.C., on some commissions lately. He was dismayed to see trash piling up around the Lincoln Memorial before the Million Vet March on the National Mall this weekend.
Grounds crews have been furloughed because of the government shutdown, and things around the mall were looking pretty bad, he said.
“The trash was piled up,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday. “It was blowing in the memorials.”
Cox decided to help. A little more than a week ago, he told park officers he wanted to start a movement called the Memorial Militia to clean up the grounds.
A sergeant sat him down for an interview and said go ahead, Cox said.
“I moved over 200 trash cans in just a day and a half,” he said.
He posted a video on The Post and Courier's Facebook page.
He said rangers thanked him, and other people kept stopping by to thank him.
He bought a lawn mower and a gas-powered leaf blower to do more work. A resident named Sally Schwettmann spotted him mowing with a flag of the Palmetto state Wednesday morning. She posted the tweet with the caption, “Spotted outside Lincoln Memorial — random dude mowing.”
The tweet went viral. News stations from around the country started calling.
Somebody put up a Facebook page called “Lawn Mower Guy for Congress.”
Sounds great. Now for the red tape.
A big oak tree had fallen across a path. Cox said he saw joggers climbing over it and veterans in wheelchairs trying to get around it. He got his chain saw and started cutting it up. Pretty soon a park officer he hadn't met before told him to stop or he would confiscate his equipment, Cox said.
“This was after eight days, for 10 and 12 hours a day working, cleaning up trash, sweeping up cigarettes, washing windows,” Cox said. “I thought he was making a mistake.”
Cox was contacted too late Wednesday to get an immediate response from the Parks Service.
Cox said he put away his power tools, but he's not stopping.
“I'm going back out there,” he said. “I think it was one guy with a chip on his shoulder. I'll be back at it early. I'll be armed with a rake instead of a blower. I'm not going to be able to cover as much area, but I'm going to stay out there and finish what I started.”
Cox said he hopes others follow his lead.
“I want to encourage Americans to support and stand shoulder to shoulder with the U.S. Park Service and instead of showing up with a picnic basket, show up with a rake and a trash bag, because they need our help right now,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Mark Sanford of Charleston said he saw Cox in front of the memorial Wednesday morning, the state flag on his lawn mower, an hour or so after park rangers told him to quit mowing.
“I'm impressed, Chris embodies what it means to be not just a South Carolinian, but an American,” Sanford said in an email. “He saw a job that wasn't getting done and decided to take care of it. We are not a nanny state, and when government in this case chooses not to do something it's in keeping with the American tradition to ask, 'What can I do to fix the problem?' Chris's example is one we could all learn from in Washington, and accordingly, I applaud him.”
Reach Dave Munday at 937-5553 or follow him on twitter @dmunday.