Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Journey To The White House

When I went to DC last week, it wasn't about the sightseeing. Rather, my trip on March 14th was to live tweet the Official Arrival Ceremony of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (and Northern Ireland), David Cameron, and his wife, Sarah, to the US for their Official State Visit. This meant that I would be on the South Lawn of the White House, and afterwards, that we would head to the Executive Office Building for a private briefing with members of the administration. It sounds like a mouthful, but the bottom line is that it was one of the coolest opportunities I could even imagine having the chance to experience.

As the sun rose over the capitol, we walked to the White House to line up for the ceremony. In line, we met a woman who had worked in DC since 1988, and had actually helped to organize aspects of the Prime Minister's trip. It was a good thing we had a friendly line companion, because the line was extremely long -- yet it moved quickly, and before long, we found ourselves being greeted with "Welcome to the White House!"

We then waited with the other guests for the ceremony to begin. Not knowing who else was involved in the Tweetup (or where the ceremony was going to take place), we just scrambled for a position where we thought we'd have the best view. I wish I were taller!

After a lot of patriotic music (a stirring version of "America the Beautiful" was one of my favorite parts), the ceremony finally began. The bands even began to play some of the same music over again while they waited for the Prime Minister to arrive. We got pictures of the Prime Minister's vehicle, and when the President was finally announced, one of the people next to us fainted. So much for that moment.

When the President and Prime Minister walked around to survey the troops, I was thrilled to see them come straight towards where we were standing (behind the Red Coats, I might add). I have followed politics for so long, it was amazing to finally see President Obama in person. Yes, I had been in Grant Park on Election Night in 2008, but there were so many people there, and we were so far from the stage, we didn't even know where the stage was. Now, he was right in front of me.

With speeches coming, we moved to the top of a small hill to the right of the cameras where we were able to see the podium as the President and Prime Minister gave their speeches. The speeches, I might add, were wonderful. President Obama's speech was great. I loved the allusions to The War of 1812 - "200 Years ago the British were here under different circumstances. They were a big hit. Really lit the place up!". Prime Minister Cameron then responded with "Now I can see your defenses have been shored up. Not taking any chances this time I see!"

But the meat of the speeches was a big part of why we were here, and it was nice to hear the President lay out what both of our countries stand for. The President spoke of the importance of allowing our country's citizens to live free from fear and the beliefs the US and the UK share in terms of the universal rights of all people, and the inherent dignity of all people.

After the speeches were over, we scrambled to take as many pictures on the White House grounds as we could before we had to clear the premises. The South Lawn was beautiful - the weather was perfect, and the cherry blossoms were in bloom.

Next we were invited to the Executive Office Building for a private briefing with administration officials. I was pleasantly surprised to meet with Dan Pfeiffer, the White House Director of Communications, Brian Deese, the Deputy Director of the National Economics Council, Caitilyn Hayden, The Deputy Director of Communications for the National Security Council, James Barbour, The Press Secretary of the British Embassy, Macon Phillips, the Director of Digital Strategy, Jon Carson, the Director of the Office of Public Engagement, and more. We were honored.

With only about 80 of us in attendance, it was easy to ask questions of the speakers. I enjoyed feeling like we were in a discussion and that our views were being heard. Especially in such amazing company, I will never forget the feeling that I mattered.

Between "We the People," the White House's petition site, Twitter, and just getting to meet and talk with so many amazing people, I suddenly saw all the ways that I could interact with the government...and they were actually listening.

It was a day we will never forget.

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