It all started with an email invitation. My reaction after opening this message swung from excitement and serious tingling, to disbelief and suspicion. I could not imagine what I had done that was wonderful enough to earn an invitation to the White House for a party. Our team had an event every week, I faithfully listened to briefing calls from our state and national leaders, we had been involved in some innovative projects – but a holiday party at the White house was over the top.
I had fantasized about meeting the President, when he was in the SF area, shaking his hand, mumbling something coherent and trying not to pass out. Going to Washington DC, being able to attend an event at the White House with the President and Mrs. Obama was way beyond anything I had ever imagined.
Then that dark voice that lives in my head began to emerge. I kept looking at the part of the invitation that asked for my social security number and date of birth. Was this just a clever scheme to steal my identity? Drats… I called the number on the invitation but it was an answering machine. I wrote to my Regional Field Organizer asking her if she knew anything about it – Nope. I wrote to another volunteer asking if she had received an invitation, Nada…
After several days I wrote to the California Field Organizer and 4 days later she wrote back.
“This is for real and very well-deserved. Apparently Stacy nominated you way back in September and then didn’t hear anything more until now. I hope you can go. This is in honor of all your hard work. The people I know who have been invited before had a wonderful time.”
I still couldn’t believe it. I sent in my information in, and received an email with instructions on when to arrive. Later that day the State Leader who had nominated me, sent an email saying I was on a list of folks who had not RSVP’d and I had to do that right away or I would loose my spot. Yikes – I called the White House switchboard and they transferred me to the Office of Public Engagement. Feeling a bit like a country bumpkin I asked him to verify my attendance, and miracle of miracle, I was told my name was indeed on the list and I could go to the party.
After confirming my ticket – I turned my attention to the issues that really matter, a hair appointment and finding something to wear. My hairdresser got me in the next day and then I began the search for an outfit that is flattering to a short middle aged woman with big hips. I ended up going to Macys in Union Square (SF) and after 4 grueling hours emerged with 5 possible outfits. I headed home for a consultation with my daughter Jennifer and my guest Shirley. Fortunately they both agreed on a winner.
My daughter Jennifer was not satisfied with my buying just a “party outfit”. She insisted I get a new coat for the cold DC winter, new shoes, and makeup. This was turning into a “Cinderella goes to the ball” event and I was starting to get excited.
We left for DC on Dec 11th, and spent the 12th as tourists. We toured the Capitol in the morning, got tickets to the House gallery and saw them debating the budget bill. This was truly a historic day since this congress hardly ever passes anything. I saw Chris Van Hollen, Keith Ellison, John Lewis and heard a Congressman from Michigan who said “shame on you for cutting off Unemployment at Christmas”. We also saw the Fasting for Families Tents. I have so much admiration for those folks.
Next we took a trolley tour to all the DC monuments, went on the Georgetown tour. By then we were exhausted and chilled to the bone. It is really cold in Washington compared to California.
The next day was the day of the party. We had a briefing at the Eisenhower Executive offices from 9 – 10:30. What a beautiful building. It was huge, ornate, and filled with architectural details that folks out here in California just don’t see. After going through extensive security, we found ourselves wandering around the 4th floor and finally found the magnificent “Indian Treaty Room”.
We say back and listened to Brad Jenkins from the Office of Public Engagement, Esther Olivarria – Immigration, Jessica Shahin – SNAP program, Aviva Aron-Dine – Economic Policy, and Melissa Rogers – Director of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
I left the briefing with several impressions.
1. The folks who work for these agencies are smart as a whip, extremely dedicated, and deeply respect President Obama.
2. These issues are more complex than the news media and general public realize
3. These folks will continue to plug away at problems while the media and Republicans spew their nonsense. At the end of the day smarts and persistence wins every time.
I have a little confession to make. At the end of the briefing they took questions. There were a few folks who were all moan, groan and complain – especially about the ACA website. I was a bit perturbed so I raised my hand – my comments were “Here is what OFA can do to help you and here is how you can help us be more effective. Our most meaningful events have been the ones here we shared personal stories, so help us by put a face on the SNAP cuts, folks who loose Unemployment Benefits, and Immigrants. In return we will work every week to get these stories out. We are a slow and steady group. We do something every week – pass out ACA info, call about immigration and register voters. Just remember, we won’t quit until the President quits.”
That last sentence choked me up. It was so embarrassing to cry and sniffle at a meeting. I was in the front row so many folks may not have seen the tears but my voice cracked. I think at that moment I finally realized I was in DC, I was talking to folks who worked with the President, and I was going to the White House and the President and Mrs. Obama would be there too. After lots of blinking and a little sniffling, I was back.
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Shortly after that the briefing broke up, I got a hug from Jessica @ the SNAPs program and a lot of smiles from the panel. Brad Jenkins commented it was nice to end on a positive note. If I ever go to a briefing again I will try and be a bit more composed. I wonder if it ever gets easier, it just seemed like such a “big deal”.
Next we were back at the hotel to do some serious “primping”. It is amazing what a girdle, lots of makeup and a curling iron can do. Shirley and I were doing our best to “clean up nice” and I was talking to myself about not crying and streaking my mascara.
We lined up to go in and after lots of security checks of our IDs, being sniffed by a sweet German Shepard, and a trip through the metal detectors we were at the Southeast Entrance to the White House. Even the gate and the door are decorated.
The White House is so beautiful at Christmas I would recommend visiting and taking the tour if you can. This is a beautiful home any time of the year, but adding holiday decorations really made it special.
Once we were in the White House it was pretty overwhelming. We entered on the first floor where these repeating arches were the perfect spot for a picture.
From here we visited the Library, the China room and the Mural Room. The ladies powder room is also pretty amazing.
Our final destination was the second floor where we were greeted by the Marine Band playing Christmas favorites. We wandered through 2 ballrooms, the Red Room, Blue Room, and Green Room. It was a lot to take in. Each ballroom had food, drinks and tables so we were able to sit down, and meet folks from all over the country.
The food was superb, lamb, beef, shrimp, quiche, event the green beans were delicious. The dessert table was my favorite stop with a praline cookie, peach cobbler, and toffee pudding that were just scrumptous.
I had been wondering when the President and Mrs. Obama would be arriving and how we would know what room they would be in. Fortunately we ran into a young woman who knew the schedule. They were due to speak in the foyer at 4pm. We headed that way and it was already packed.
Every once in a while you realize how short you really are – this was one of those times. We managed to squirm our way into a spot where we could see them walking down the stairs. I was about 3 rows back from the front so I did a lot of peeking over shoulders and squirming my way forward whenever anyone moved.
Promptly at 4pm the Obamas arrived to cheers and applause. The President spoke for 30 minutes, he was funny, warm and very grateful for all the folks who had helped him during his Presidency. He thanked OFA twice, told everyone to have fun – but not too much since the house was a rental and they were hoping to get their deposit back. He also let us know that we could take napkins but that they counted the silverware. He is very thin in person. Mrs. Obama is just radiant, her skin glows. I would love to know how she does it. She wore a cream colored beaded sweater over a cream skirt. They both have infectious smiles and were very kind and gracious. I was able to get glimpses of the Obamas during the speech, but it required a lot of standing on my tip toes and bobbing and weaving as folks shifted position.
After the speech the President went to the part of the room where we were and began to shake hands. I squirmed my way to the front of the line and was able to shake hands with Mrs. Obama and then the President. It was a mad crush and as soon as I turned around someone else took my place. My only regret was that Shirley was not able to get to the front, and the pictures we have of the Obamas are shaky at best.
After the Obamas left we saw Brad Jenkins from the briefing that morning. He was very kind and we posed for a picture taken by one of the President’s speech writers. I also saw Aesif Mondi from the Daily Show, in the ballroom and was able to shake his hand but did not get a picture.
It was a magical day, the memories will last a lifetime. I will always be eternally grateful to the members of our OFA team in Sonoma County for all their work and support. Alsolet me give a shout out, to the wonderful folks at the Obama Diary who keep my spirits up everyday.