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So I Went to the White House on Monday

Yes, it is unbelievably shallow of me to first give you this — the stories behind the day — and then give you the actual meat of what I learned while I was there, but, come on, don’t we all pick up People magazine at the doctor’s office before we pick up the Time magazine?  Aren’t you shallow, flighty things like me?


Well, pretend you’re a shallow, flighty thing like me for the day, and I promise that I’m working on typing up the brilliant things I heard.

Last Thursday night into Friday morning, BlogHer asked if I could attend the Women’s Online Summit at the White House.  Why yes, I could drop editing a manuscript for the day and go hang out with brilliant people.  I knew we’d be covering topics as broad as the economy to health care, all from a women’s perspective.  Which I feared would mean the “pinking down” of information.

What do I mean by “pinking down” information — you know how tool companies put out inferior tools with a pink handle on it because they think women want pretty pink things while they repair their house?  Well, I don’t want the pink version — I want the hardcore metal tools that are going to get the job done because I am serious as all get-out about home repair.  Yes, I’m a woman, but I don’t need my tools to look pretty — I only need them to get the job done.

Which is different from tools that are made with my small hands in mind, that know that my body is built differently from a man and my strength is in my legs rather than my arms.  Tailoring a tool to a person is not the same as pinking it down.

So I was fearful that a Women’s Online Summit could be the pinking down of information, but happily realized within seconds of the day beginning that not only was the information not pinked down, but that the inclusion of the word “women” was merely a lens with which to view the same information that would be presented at any Online Summit.  Major accolades to the White House for starting these conversations with various groups, answering questions, and asking for feedback and ideas for helping disseminate information to the American people.  And what I learned transcended America because the ideology is applicable across the world when looking at women’s place in society.

But I digress from the shallow, flighty portion of this post.

So, over the weekend, I couldn’t say anything beforehand, so I was all casual with rearranging things for Monday, telling people that I had this “thing” I had to be at.  But in my head I was screaming, “That thing is the hite-way ouse-hay!” (I said it in Pig Latin because that’s in code and therefore, I wasn’t actually mentally telling them.)  Because, come on, it’s amazingly cool to get to go to the White House.  If life were a big game of Monopoly, I have already gotten one of those green properties for speaking at the Congressional briefing last year.  Going to the White House would be like acquiring another green property. (I’m not sure what the third green property would be … hanging out with SCOTUS?)  I felt a little out-of-my-body all weekend.

Josh and I devised this bat-shit-insane driving/parking plan that would enable us to drive home together out of the city.  So I started driving into the city, pausing to pee at a Shell station (the man almost said no, but he could see the desperation in my eyes), and I was nearing Walter Reed when traffic slowed to a crawl.  I was watching the clock, watching the seconds ticking closer to 8:45 am when I had to be at the White House gate or miss out on the optional tour.  I was not going to miss the optional tour.  I willed the other people to drive, drive, will you please just driiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive.  I cannot tell you how painful it is to be stuck on Meridian Hill, seeing the Washington Monument before you, and knowing that you cannot get through the wall of cars to your destination.

I was playing Green Day, which wasn’t helping (especially when the CD ended and “American Idiot” restarted, and I realized that I had gone through the entire CD while I sat in traffic), so I turned it off and did this rocking back and forth motion in the seat as my car inched ahead as if this was going to make the sea of cars part.  I finally parked the car at 8:45 am up in Dupont and called my contact at the White House who told me that I had 10 minutes to get there.

So I tried to get a cab.  The first one pulled over to tell me that he was off-duty.  WHY THE HELL DID YOU PULL OVER THEN?  It was easier to get a cab going in the wrong direction, so I hailed another one, apologized to the driver for the fact that we were going the wrong way, and begged him to get me there in time.  He told me it wasn’t possible.  I told him that I needed him to make it possible.  And like a moment out of a movie set, Khan made it possible.  The man defensively drove through the city, depositing me at the gate in exactly 10 minutes, earning double the cab fare for himself.  Worth every single penny because the group started moving the moment I shut the cab door.

We went through security and entered the East Wing of the White House.  Because we were running late, we got to keep our coats and bags with us.  It was Monday — normally a tour-free day in the White House — so it was quiet and empty of other groups.  Right when the tour began, Bo, bounced by with the grounds keeper.

We walked through the East Wing and got to see the ballroom and the library and the Vermeil room.  It was emotional to walk through the red room and touch the silk on the walls of the green room.

I got teary looking at some of the art — it is all so familiar to you if you grew up in America — and here it was, right in front of me rather than in a book.  It is mind-blowing to think about the history of the space.

After the tour, we walked over to the Executive Office Building for the actual meeting.  There were 25 of us there from various sites.  I can’t really go through the speaker list since our information needs to be unattributed, but we were briefed on the issues by an incredible group of people.  I’ll go through all of that in a later post because there is so much to chew over in the 14 pages of notes I took.  I’m obviously a major supporter of this administration, so it’s not surprising that I was happy to hear about the policy work.  But even if you aren’t a major supporter of this administration, I think it’s important to hear how they are thinking about women within the big picture.  I think they need to be applauded for that even if you don’t agree with the way policy plays out.

So, I’m listening to someone brief us on education issues (who looked and sounded so much like my friend’s husband that I was getting a little doppelgangered out by it), when the door next to me opened and the President walked in.  My body reacted involuntarily by half-standing and gasping loudly.  I plopped down in my seat and the President made a mock gasp back at me and we all laughed.  I half-stood again, plopped down in my chair, finally stood up all the way, and he told us to be seated.

And then he spoke — brilliantly — for a few minutes.  And I was trying to stay in the moment, but it’s sort of like looking at the sun.  My heart was pounding so loudly that it was placing a thump over every few words.  Finally, he wrapped up and said, “I’d like to go around the room and meet all of you.”  He shook my hand first, staring straight into my eyes, and you realized exactly why he’s the President.  Because the rest of the room melts away and he makes you feel as if you are the only person in there.  He’s charismatic and funny and low-key.  He makes you feel so comfortable and so safe.  When he said, “nice to meet you, Melissa Ford,” I could literally hear a Greek chorus of all my ancestors performing an ethereal melisma.

The President left the room and we all were giddy.  When we took a break, I seriously considered not peeing so I wouldn’t have to wash my hands (but memories of catheters past drove me to the stall).  But we got back down to business and finished the briefings and discussions.  I seriously cannot tell you how much I wish every American could have been there to hear the information.  I left the building at 5:15 pm with my brain buzzing, my mind full; already digesting the 3000 ideas that were popping around.  For the first time in a long time, I felt smart.

I got in another cab, happy to see that it was driven by a woman, and she asked me how I was and I screamed, “I just met the President!”  I mean, Khan was great to drive like a maniac through the city and deposit me on time.  But after a really great day, you want a woman to unwind with and talk.  As we drove back to Dupont, she told me in her beautiful Eritrean accent about seeing the First Lady right when they got here.

And that was possibly the theme of the day — we are all just people, moving over the surface of the earth, trying not to negatively affect others, trying to do well for ourselves.  And we come together in these strange formations — cab driver and passenger, President and writer — townspeople meeting and then parting, bearing witness to each other’s moments.

Back in 2008, I wrote about how the twins and I all voted for Obama.  I held them up so they could press the button, and then we erased it and the next one went, and I cast the final vote.  I wanted to give them that experience of being part of that moment.  And that’s what I thought about when I tucked the Wolvog into bed the night before I went to the summit.  He cuddled under his blanket and gave this little smile while he said, “have fun at the White House tomorrow, Mommy!”  And it blew my mind — the bridging of that moment from then to now.  As I shook the President’s hand, I could visualize my hand pushing that button.  And now he’s here in front of me.  And what an amazing world we live in where moments like this happen.

President Barack Obama drops by the Women’s Online Summit in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Jan. 31, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

That’s the door he walked through on the far left of the photo, and I’m sitting in the first seat on the far left.  I cannot be blamed for gasps.

Actual write-up of the briefings and a possible cool opportunity for you (yes, you!) coming soon.


1 Find My New Normal { 02.02.11 at 7:28 am }


2 C { 02.02.11 at 7:49 am }

“My body reacted involuntarily by half-standing and gasping loudly. I plopped down in my seat and the President made a mock gasp back at me and we all laughed. ”

That was so funny I spit out my cheerios into my keyboard!

3 Jamie { 02.02.11 at 8:12 am }

What an amazing experience!!

4 Delenn { 02.02.11 at 8:46 am }

Wow! You have such wonderful adventures! Glad you got to meet the President in your own unique way…and especially glad you shared it with us! 🙂

5 Gurlee { 02.02.11 at 8:52 am }

What an incredible experience! I am giddy with excitement, I can’t wait to hear about the meat of the day. Or the non-animal protein since I think I remember you are vegetarian. Too cool!!

6 loribeth { 02.02.11 at 8:56 am }

What an amazing day — not just getting to meet the President (although that’s obviously a big part of it!) 😉 but being in that historic place, getting to meet all kinds of other cool bloggers & talk about the things that matter most to women — all of it. Thanks so much for sharing it with us.

7 BigP's Heather { 02.02.11 at 9:05 am }

That is awesome! Color me jealous!!!
I can’t wait to hear more.

8 Katie { 02.02.11 at 9:06 am }

I’m incredibly jealous. Reading this post gave me chills. I can’t believe you’re making us wait to read more!!! 🙂

9 twangy { 02.02.11 at 9:14 am }

The hite-way ouse-hay! SO exciting. Great story.

10 Elizabeth { 02.02.11 at 9:16 am }

Love that last photo – I can tell by the tilt of your head that you are a supporter of the current administration 🙂

Very, very, very cool! I bet too your ancestors were doing the melisma (though I’m not sure what that is – is it anything like the macarena???)


11 Mic @ IF Crossroads { 02.02.11 at 9:26 am }

Ohmygosh. WOWOWOWOW. I’m just looking at that last photo in awe! You were in the room with the President!!!! Everyday when I drive by the White House I always long to go inside and soak up the atmosphere. I wonder what it’s like to be THERE in the moment, meeting HIM!!! (Yes, I’m an Obama supporter as well) – I cannot wait to hear more about the day and what it entails — and hearing your first hand account will be the best part of it all.

As far as your gasp-like experience – I have one of my own to share. When I moved back to DC in 2006 I applied and was hired to work at the Washington Post. As an aspiring writer, to me TWP was like the mecca of journalistic integrity and just to have the priviledge and honor to step in those elevators every morning on 15th St. made me feel like a smart and savvy chick. While I didn’t have the smarts to work on the 5th floor, I was hired to work up in advertising, but it was still glamorous nonetheless. One snowy morning as I was parking my car in the garage across the street from TWP and j-walking to the building, a large, black sedan pulled up in front of the building and a team of armed body guards flooded the space between the vehicle and the glass doors to TWP. I was caught up in the mix with everyone going through security and since TWP doesn’t have VIP elevators, I had the experience of riding up in the elevators with Mayor Adrian Fenty and his security team. Man, he was TALL! That’s all I could remember. Now I do realize that Mayor Fenty is small potatoes to Obama, but for me, it was weird because I was the only person on the elevator that wasn’t a member of his staff and he made a concerted effort to say hello, ask my name and I felt so special.
Anyway, just thought I’d share, because after I got off at my stop, I realized that I had this ridiculously stupid star-struck grin on my face from the experience. And it was *only* the Mayor.

12 Journeywoman { 02.02.11 at 9:46 am }


13 gingerandlime { 02.02.11 at 9:47 am }

What an amazing experience! I’m vicariously excited for you!

And I can’t wait for your next post. What a great thing, that this administration is taking women seriously and not “pinking down” the information.

14 Josey { 02.02.11 at 10:05 am }

Oh my gosh – how incredible. What an amazing opportunity!!

15 Gail { 02.02.11 at 10:16 am }

I am so proud of you for representing us! And, I am also jealous that you got a chance to meet the president. Holy cow!!

16 a { 02.02.11 at 10:32 am }

Glad that the President had enough of a sense of humor to gasp back at you! Although, he should be impressed to meet you…

I would have loved to have that tour. On my 5 hour tour of DC, I walked past the White House when Bo was out bouncing around the lawn.

17 Mrs. Gamgee { 02.02.11 at 10:44 am }

Again, it can only be summed up by ‘hokey dinah’! I can’t wait to hear more…

18 Dana { 02.02.11 at 10:56 am }

This gave me goosebumps.

19 Ann Z { 02.02.11 at 10:57 am }

Wow! So cool. I can’t wait to read more!

20 missohkay { 02.02.11 at 11:02 am }

What an exciting opportunity!

21 Lori Lavender Luz { 02.02.11 at 11:11 am }

How amazing. Just amazing.

I, too, chuckled at this: “I plopped down in my seat and the President made a mock gasp back at me and we all laughed.”

And really, it takes THIS to make you feel smart??

22 N { 02.02.11 at 11:26 am }

What an amazing experience. 😀 (I likely would’ve done the weird standing/sitting thing, too. hehe)

23 Ellen K. { 02.02.11 at 11:29 am }

You rock!!!!

24 tash { 02.02.11 at 11:44 am }

Oh my good god, and look! There you are! At his right . . . er, left hand!

What a fun day — thank you so, so much for sharing it.

25 It is what it is { 02.02.11 at 11:45 am }

I am trying to understand why it makes me teary to read this. I think it is because it is so awesome and awe inspiring and humbling at the same time.
Looking forward to more…

26 Shelli { 02.02.11 at 11:47 am }

Holy cannoli! Very exciting. Can’t wait to hear more.

27 Kristi { 02.02.11 at 11:52 am }

How cooool. I can actually see the glow on your face in that picture. You look like your looking at the sun.

28 Dora { 02.02.11 at 11:58 am }

Seriously cool! We got a good one this time. He must get a second term.

29 Natalie { 02.02.11 at 12:02 pm }

That is so so awesome!!!! I laughed so hard at your description of meeting him. Oohhh I don’t blame you. I am seriously giddy. I want to tell someone, “Mel met the president!! And I met Mel! So it’s kind of in a way like I was there tooooo!!” Yes slightly ridiculous.

30 luna { 02.02.11 at 12:06 pm }

oh, and you know that gasp he did back at you was your equivalent of the rock star moment I had crossing the street with pete townshend, when I made him laugh, only far cooler because you actually met the freaking president in a professional capacity rather than being a simple gawker in the middle of the road. so awesome!

31 Jendeis { 02.02.11 at 12:10 pm }

So cool! So DANG COOL!!

32 manymanymoons3433 { 02.02.11 at 12:17 pm }

Goosebumps…absolute goosebumps followed by teary eyes with the voting story.

33 Michelle { 02.02.11 at 12:27 pm }

This is awesome, Mel! I love his sense of humour! Way to make an impression!!! 😉

34 Tara { 02.02.11 at 12:36 pm }

Absolutely amazing experience!! I can’t wait to hear about the rest.

35 Somewhat Ordinary { 02.02.11 at 12:56 pm }

Wow, Mel, that is amazing, amazing, amazing!! In the Human Web I’m now that much closer to the President because I’ve met you and you’ve met him. I can’t wait to hear the rest of the story. Oh, and how cool is it that Bo was just hanging out?

36 liljan98 { 02.02.11 at 12:59 pm }

This is so so awesome and incredible and… I’m jealous! And I’m not even American, but there is really no German politician that would make me equally excited to have met him. Obama on the other hand….

Thank you so much for sharing this experience.

37 Astral { 02.02.11 at 1:14 pm }

That is an incredible experience!!! I’m so happy that you enjoyed yourself and came away with lots of ideas! -I would have gasped too 😉

38 Lylah { 02.02.11 at 1:27 pm }

It was such a cool experience! I’m glad I got to meet you, and am looking forward to continuing the conversations that we all started that day!

39 Tara (TIMO) { 02.02.11 at 1:51 pm }

Isn’t surreal to meet him?!? We still talk about how I smart mouthed him when he was handing back my boys. President Obama: “You certainly have your hands full.” Me: “Literally.” Your gasp and his mock gasp just prove how down to earth you both are. I’m so glad that you got to do this. I can’t wait to read your notes from the briefings.

40 loribeth { 02.02.11 at 1:53 pm }

I did some Googling & I see a familiar face in one of the photos from the East Room on this post: ; )


41 Stimey { 02.02.11 at 2:48 pm }

You met Bo?! The president—THE PRESIDENT—had a personal joke with you?! Obama knows your name now?!

I am about to pass out.

Yes. I am EXACTLY as shallow as you want me to be.

42 Vee { 02.02.11 at 3:04 pm }

Just awesome!

43 HereWeGoAJen { 02.02.11 at 3:04 pm }

That is really, really cool. 🙂

44 LJ { 02.02.11 at 3:10 pm }

You’re so looking at him with the thought bubble, “He’s so dreeeeeammmyyyy”. I saw Clinton speak, and holy shit, that man had charm in person. I know that “world melts away” feeling. The older Barbara Bush once spoke somewhere and my singing group in HS sang for her. She called us by the name of the rival HS. She can suck lemons.

45 Jessica { 02.02.11 at 3:25 pm }

So cool! I am envious.

46 Chickenpig { 02.02.11 at 3:40 pm }

That is so terribly incredible, Mel. I’m insanely jealously happy for you 🙂

47 Sally { 02.02.11 at 4:12 pm }

I’m an Australian but I still find this extremely cool! Good for you, Mel.

48 Natalie { 02.02.11 at 4:56 pm }

That’s so funny that he gasped back at you. =) Just reminds you that important people like the President are normal people too. What an amazing day!

49 jjiraffe { 02.02.11 at 5:03 pm }

Your story did not disappoint! I read this at Jamba Juice on my phone. I was perched precariously on the edge of their uncomfortable barstool during your mad dash to get there, gasped when the president entered the room, then laughed when he gasped back at you. Then I became a little teary at the implications of it all, then laughed again at the photo of you looking so dreamily at Obama. I finally looked up and the juicers had stopped what they were doing and were staring at me, alarmed. I told them someone I knew had just met the President. “Cool,” they said. And it is. Thanks for letting us live vicariously 🙂

50 Jem { 02.02.11 at 5:22 pm }

I would have gasped, too! Sounds like our President has a sense of humor.

What a magical experience. But was it as good as meeting the Sklars? (I got to see them at the SF Sketchfest this past weekend. I didn’t gasp, but I did laugh a lot. They are so cute! I wanted to fold them up and put them in my pocket and take them home!)

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