When BlogHer asked if I could attend the Women’s Online Summit at the White House, the answer was hells yeah. So last Monday, I went to the White House with representatives from 25 other online sites to be briefed on a wide-range of issues as well as learn about the informational resources the White house is making available to news services and the American public in general.
If you want the background story about my emergency pee break at the Shell station or shaking a certain President's hand while he gazed into my eyes, you'll have to click over to my blog. Because for once in my life, I'm going to attempt to jump directly to the heart of the matter -- what is affecting all Americans. (And for our non-American readers, I hope you still peruse this rundown of the day and give us feedback about how these same issues are dealt with in your country.)
I entered with was a vague understanding that we'd be discussing broad categories such as the economy and the Let's Move! initiative. I was worried that since the gathering was pegged as a "women's" online summit that there would be a pinking down of the 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, and I didn't want the softer side of our economic crisis; I wanted to hear the facts, plain and simple. I 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.
So thank you, White House.
The day was arranged by the Office of Communications and had about 15 or so speakers covering a wide-range of topics: from education to military family outreach to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau. The first 3/4ths of the day were briefings by the speakers (everyone from the First Lady's chief of staff, Tina Tchen to Elizabeth Warren, who has to be one of the most dynamic, engaging speakers I've ever heard). The final 1/4th of the day was a discussion on how the administration is utilizing online media as well as brainstorming about how they can do it better.
Because they don't take the online world for granted. I think they know that they might not be in power right now without the grassroots ability to organize and communicate quickly which is afforded by the Internet. From day one, this administration has been about two-way communication, and while that's a difficult task with 310 million people, they have to be commended by at least attempting to give the average American access to the ears of lawmakers. And their focus on the online world is reflective of their knowledge that they need to leverage both -- traditional media and new media -- to get their message across.
So how did the White House position the issues? In a nutshell, it's about helping the world become flexible enough to deal with the changes that have swept over it while the system stood rigid.
How does that apply directly to the various topics we discussed:
- Military: there is going to be ramped up support for military families -- both those serving who are moving between active service and veteran status as well as their families back home (especially those who are off-base or who need to move and find new jobs due to their partner's military status). As the White House said, "1% of the population is serving, and 100% should be aware of their sacrifice." Because that is something the other 99% of us can do -- support those who serve in the military.
- Let's Move!: it's the one-year anniversary of this initiative this week, and it's limiting to think about it as a public health issue. This is about infrastructure -- are the parks and sidewalks in place so people can get the exercise they need? Is our outside world safe so we can walk instead of drive? This is about community development just as much as it is about taking care of our health. And I loved the idea presented about the way little changes have big consequences.
- Health Care: we learned the bare facts of the new Health Care bill, and frankly, it was pretty eye-opening. The main message is that if you like your insurance, nothing is going to change. But if you are having problems, you finally have support. A lot of the health care focus was about empowering consumers – insurance companies can’t try to confuse us anymore.
- Education: the administration is looking at a cradle through career agenda. They want to support teachers so they can do their job, make greater accountability in No Child Left Behind, and bring more girls into STEM fields.
- Workplace: workplaces have to adapt to a different type of worker. Women are wearing a lot of hats at the same time and workplaces need to be flexible. The Administration is supportive of work sharing because it means we retain workers and in-house knowledge. Productivity benefits from flexibility. They want to help employers become more flexible. There was a lot of emphasis on the Women Owned Small Business Program.
- Accessibility: 1 out of 4 homes do not have access -- either logistically or financially -- to broadband access. And while we may scoff that having the Internet isn't necessary, the White House would argue that as the world moves more and more online, we develop a deeper rift between the haves and the havenots. We can't make computers a priority in schools or communication and then not give people access to the online world. And this is the way communication has moved, therefore, the system needs to be flexible and move with it.
- Economics and Personal Finance: there was a lot of talk about how we come out of a recession as well as what got us into a recession. The emphasis is on making sure that the average consumer can be a careful consumer. That companies can't confuse us or give us the run-around. That there is going to be a new bureau aiming to make sure the laws in existence are enforced.
One of the highlights of the day was when the President came into the room and spoke about how women have “a broader bandwidth of stuff to deal with.” He looked at everything discussed as people issues rather than women’s issues. We happened to be looking at them through the lens of women, but everything that affects women affects everyone else (since, as the President says, “women are at the intersection of the family.”) He talked a lot about how women need to balance their own needs with career, keeping the family going, raising kids, worrying about finances. It was moving to have the President recognize how difficult it is to "have it all" as well as the tremendous pressure -- either out of necessity or desire -- to still attempt to ... well ... have it all.
If the online world is a two-way street with communication, what issues would you like to see the White House tackle?
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