Unlike Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and other members of Congress who publicly refused to forgo their paychecks during the government shutdown, the man performing routine maintenance around the national monuments won’t accept a dime.
Chris Cox, who became a worldwide sensation after tourists spotted him mowing the lawn outside the Lincoln Memorial, says many concerned citizens have offered to tip him.
“I can’t take any money,” Cox said in a recent interview with ABC News. “If I do that, people are going to see me as a profiteer. Even if it’s $5 I need for gas … I’ve got to stand on my own two feet.”
After a brief hiatus that began when park police ejected him because of liability concerns, Cox was back on the National Mall Tuesday, emptying the area’s overflowing trashcans.
The Mount Pleasant, S.C., native says he believes the federal government’s neglect of national parks is “unacceptable.” Armed with a rickety orange dolly, a push lawnmower and his home-state flag, Cox has taken over the duties normally performed by now-furloughed U.S. Park Service employees.
“I just want to send a message to the government,” he says. “They can close our monuments down, but they think we’re just going to let them go down the drain? No. We’re going to take care of them.”
Although he urges bipartisan cooperation, Cox insists his motivations aren’t political.
“I’m not here to point fingers,” he says. “I just want to try to get Americans to rally behind these parks. Forget about the party you’re in and who you voted for and come together as Americans and make a difference.”
And despite congressional approval ratings as low as 5 percent, Cox remains positive that the country will bounce back.
“I think that we have the greatest, the most resilient government in the world,” he says.
Although they’re not officially allowed to condone his actions, Cox says, park police have reacted mostly positively.
“They got kind of an off-the-record glad I’m doing it,” Cox says. “They’re not allowed to tell me, ‘Good job.’ They’re not allowed to really sanction it. But they obviously got to be happy that somebody’s doing it.”
Admirers have come from “all over the world” to help him keep the parks looking presentable, he says. Even if they can’t make it to Washington, however, people can still use this time to have a positive impact.
“I want to encourage people to get back out, and make a difference,” he says. “You don’t have to clean up a memorial; clean up your street, go to a local park. Just do something.”