Editor's note: Political Director Erin Kotecki Vest and BlogHer Co-Founder Elisa Camahort Page traveled to Washington D.C. to present to Republican staffers and White House Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett today. To see the presentation, "Women and Social Media," scroll down to the bottom of the post.
I'm going to be the first to admit that I threw up just before heading to the White House.
Granted, I have a stomach condition and this is not hard to do...but nerves were really getting the best of me.
I was going to the West Wing. I was going to be presenting on behalf of an entire community.
The good news is I had managed to make it through the same presentation earlier with Republicans and had felt comfortable from the first PowerPoint slide. The elephants on the other side of the aisle put me at ease quickly by teasing me about chasing me out with pitchforks and joking that I would be struck by lightning when walking into the "Republican Mothership" -- as they called it.
But standing in front of staffers in a conference room was one thing; entering the White House was an entirely different ball game.
Elisa and I arrived at our assigned gate early. We assumed it would take a while to get through security and get settled in for our presentation. In reality, it took about a minute.
We showed our IDs at the gate (I fumbled getting mine out of my purse), then we entered the x-ray machine area (I fumbled opening the door the wrong way), and after that we grabbed our bags we headed up the driveway to the West Wing (I fumbled asking the guard where to go).
So ok, here's where I admit I took a photo of the driveway. It's the White House driveway...I couldn't help myself.
Once you make your way past all the news cameras and lights...you see a very nice Marine at the West Wing double doors. This is about when the butterflies really kicked in. We were walking inside. I was overwhelmed with thoughts of what it would be like (is it like the show?) of who we might see (the First Lady? The dog?) and how our presentation would go (will I tank? What if I forget my anecdotes?).
We walked into a waiting area, gave our names and appointment information, and we were told to have a seat. My eyes were scanning EVERYTHING in the room. Where was I? Which door led to the Oval Office? Is that a digital photo frame on that table? (Elisa caught that one from all the way across the room). And what's with this painting above us? Is that a famous one...OMG... it sure as HELL is...or at least a good copy (and by the way, you're not allowed to take photos of it, you know, if you are like us and REALIZE what it is and then want to twitpic it. That's a no-no).
One of the first things I noticed as we sat in the waiting area watching people come and go: There were a lot of women, and there seemed to be a lot of diversity in this administration. And people really love the woman who works at the front desk. I mean...they loooooove her. They were bringing her candy and sweet potato pies, all while Elisa and I felt like we had missed some sort of protocol memo and showed up empty handed.
After a short wait (or maybe it was long, I'm not sure since I was too busy trying to peek down hallways as doors swung open), staff arrived to escort us upstairs to Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett's office.
As we walked, there were large, black-framed photos hanging all over the walls. You couldn't miss them, and they were clearly the work of White House photographers that I know I like to scan on Flickr all the time.
As it turns out, these photos are changed every few weeks (or so we're told) and rotated. There were some great candid shots of the President laughing heartily, the President and world leaders, and even a few of the First Family's dog.
This was as close as we would get to Bo...to my great disappointment.
We then spent some time waiting outside Ms. Jarrett's office as she finished another meeting and lots of important looking people filed out. I took this opportunity to do something that wasn't exactly on the agenda: I handed off a very lovingly crafted, homemade book made for the President by my son's first-grade class back in California. My son attends a public charter, the kind of school highly supported by this administration. The class caught wind of where Jack's Mom was headed, and put together pages answering the question "What President Obama needs..." Nothing says adorable like a 6-year old writing "Prezidint Obama nedz a cumpis for his travel so he doesn't get lost in towns" and "President O needs an army" with pictures of tanks. Or my personal favorite "President Obama Needs Luv" with a picture of a red, crayon'd heart, scrawled by my son. And yes, I pointed out which page was my son's. Proud mama, I know.
Finally we were invited to enter Ms. Jarrett's office, and in an instant all my butterflies were gone. The senior advisor greeted me as if we were old friends with a warm hug and a big "Erin! Welcome to the White House, just throw your things on the couch and let's talk."
And with that, the fear and formality melted, I tossed my coat on the couch, and Elisa and I dug into our presentation on women and social media.
I won't go into too many details about our meeting, but I will tell you this: The White House is enthralled by you. They find this community compelling and intriguing, and they are paying attention to what YOU are doing online.
After our nearly 40-minute meeting, we headed over to the Executive Building to check out where the New Media team works. We were invited to sit and hang out while we waited for a few introductions and, of course, chat about social media. Our host had a blog post to write, and Elisa and I made ourselves comfortable tweeting and checking our email...after all, we were now amongst our geek brethren.
I think this is when the relief set in and I took the opportunity to exhale.
I was sitting with White House staffers talking about blogging. I had just sat in the West Wing. Earlier in the day I walked the halls of buildings I had previously only seen on TV.
I was experiencing my own little slice of political geek heaven, and I never wanted to leave.
I teased Elisa that maybe I could just live there. Do you think they would notice if I slept in the hallway? I wanted to snuggle up in a corner and watch senators and lobbyists and movers and shakers walk in and out. I wanted to get to know that woman at the front desk...and bring her pie. I wanted to freeze time, turn CSPAN on my laptop, and marinate in my own wonky nirvana forever.
As I turned my badge in at the gate I asked the guard, jokingly, if I could keep it. He shook his head and I pouted a bit, but ultimately dropped it in the bin.
I consoled myself by thinking this was just the first time I'd be here. This was just one small step for BlogHer, women online, and us political geeks everywhere.
I'll be back. I will bring pie. And I'm petting the dog.
Politics & News Contributing Editor Erin Kotecki Vest
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