Nearly 2 miles of Mall separate the Lincoln Memorial from the western foot of the U.S. Capitol, and this weekend a Montgomery County couple did their best to tidy up a few acres.
Armed with a rake, rolling trash can and rubber gloves, Phillip and Molly Feliciano spent Sunday removing litter that has piled up since the federal government shutdown. They are among a number of people who have taken it upon themselves to keep the area around the nation's monuments and memorials looking orderly.
"It's our property," Mr. Feliciano said. "It's our park."
Making their way along 17th Street Southwest, just yards from the "Million Vet March" at the National World War II Memorial, the two scoured the grass for garbage.
Gesturing to the half-full green trash can her husband was carting, Mrs. Feliciano, a 61-year-old nurse, said the pair was picking up anything and everything, whether it was cigarette butts or bottles.
"We have had some people say thanks," she said, just before a small group of passers-by stopped to toss their coffee cups into the can — and offer their gratitude.
While the federal government shutdown has furloughed hundreds of thousands of office employees, the two-week closure has also extended to national museums, parks and the maintenance crews that keep those sites clean.
D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray pledged the city's help in picking up trash at some of the smaller federal park property around the District, but not the Mall, known as "America's Front Yard."
But it's not entirely clear whether gestures of assistance like the Felicianos offered are legal.
The Antideficiency Act, which in part governs federal behavior during a shutdown, prohibits federal employees from accepting or performing volunteer services unless the "safety of human life or the protection of property" would be compromised while the government remained shuttered.
The issue came to the fore Wednesday when Charleston, S.C., resident Chris Cox was spotted mowing the lawn around the Lincoln Memorial.
Dubbing himself the "first member of the Memorial Militia Group," Mr. Cox encouraged private citizens across the country to help clean up and protect monuments and memorials.
"I'm trying to encourage Americans all over the country to help fortify the boundaries of our national monuments, our memorials," Mr. Cox said in a video interview with Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Eventually, police asked him to move on.
Mr. Feliciano, a 63-year-old lawyer, said he had followed Mr. Cox's story.
"I saw this guy taking one affirmative step in the right direction," Mr. Feliciano said. "I said 'I can do that.' "
Other people and advocacy groups have followed suit. On Saturday, Mr. Cox was joined by more than 200 people who showed up on the western lawn of the U.S. Capitol to take part in a "Fix Up DC" day of service organized by the conservative non-profit organization FreedomWorks and the Tea Party Patriots.
Jenny Beth Martin, co-founder and president of the Tea Party Patriots, said the group did not encounter any problems. She said organizers had a permit for the gathering near the Capitol, which was issued in April and was honored by U.S. Capitol Police.
"We held on to the permit in case we wanted to do something," she said. "We knew it was for the week and a half after the fiscal year was supposed to start."
Ms. Martin said the decision to do a cleanup was to show that "even without the government we can still take care of property being paid for by taxpayers."
Accepting responsibility is the message Mr. Feliciano said he hopes his fellow Americans get when they hear about volunteers pitching in.
He said while most people who passed he and his wife Sunday offered encouraging words, others just stared.
"Stop looking for others to do your work," he said. "We have an obligation to this country."
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