the visit to the white house
On our way.
Standing outside the Northwest Gate, waiting to go through security.
The White House, from inside the gates.
The Presidential Seal over the main entrance to the West Wing.
To be honest, I don't even know where to begin to tell you about today's trip to the White House with the ONE Moms. The experience, as you might imagine, was completely surreal -- I mean, seriously, who gets to visit the White House, right? Not me, is what I'm saying.
Except of course, I did, and it was one of the most rewarding hours of my life. Our meeting was at 2 p.m, and after going through a pretty extensive security detail (as you would expect), we were whisked away to the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing.
(An aside: do not believe for a moment that I didn't scope the place out to see if the folks who did the set design for The West Wing got it right. I would've taken photographs for you, but I wasn't allowed. For the record, though, not exactly. But they got the vibe right.)
The first people we met were Gayle Smith of the National Security Council, and Dr. Raj Shah, of USAID. Let me begin by saying that Ms. Smith is a force of nature: she's tall, with close-cropped hair and eyes that twinkle so much you have to believe that a joke can't be far behind. But make no mistake: she's a woman with a keen intellect and a prodigious ability to simplify incredibly complex concepts. And Dr. Shah, the Administrator of USAID, was warm and welcoming and it was immediately clear that he was a man who cared deeply about the work USAID does around the world.
Ms. Smith and Dr. Shah showed us to our seats, and after watching a brief video, Dr. Biden entered the room. She's slender and elegant, down-to-earth and immensely approachable. She made her way around the entire room, taking care to greet each of us personally and shake our hands before taking her seat. And once we were all comfortable, she began to share her story about the her trip to Kenya.
The time flew -- we had an hour, and it honestly felt like about twenty minutes. There was so much that we talked about and shared, but these were the highlights (considerably paraphrased, and as close as I can remember):
Dr. Shah, on the current famine in East Africa: When we were there, about 50% of the kids we saw were suffering from acute malnutrition. And it's funny, because people think well, of course, famine is awful, but once the rain comes, the food will grow, and everything will be all right again. But of course, this isn't the case: when the rains come, waterborne disease are going to wash over these weakened children, and even more will die. This is why it is important to get the right information out. When people have the information, and realize that it is within their power to help alleviate famine, they become our most powerful advocates.
Ms. Smith, when asked if there was any correllation between investing in foreign aid & national security: Well, obviously outside of the fact that helping others is just a good thing to do, it's also important to invest in foreign aid because there are three issues that we are dealing with: first, we know that deeply unstable countries where there are vast ungoverned areas are dangerous. Terrorists move in to these areas, and become dangerous for our national security.
Secondly, at its heart, this is about dignity -- by investing in foreign aid, famine relief, and so on, we help restore dignity to the people of these countries.
And finally, investing in foreign aid simply helps in foreign trade -- ultimately, countries which can get on their own feet become trade partners, which overall, helps the global economy.
Then, of course, we were able to ask Dr. Biden, Ms. Smith and Dr. Shah questions of our own. I picked a question that came to me via @nicoleblades on Twitter:
"In this time of knee-jerk cynicism and fear, what one thing can moms/parents do to instill a greater sense of compassion and tolerance in our kids? Or more to the point, how can we help raise kids to be critical thinkers, and not just critics?"
Dr. Biden laughed, and responded, "That should be the subject of a dissertation!" Then she continued: "I'm a teacher, and still in the classroom, and it seems to me that kids don't go home and talk to their parents anymore. Communication is a big part of it: parents need to be talking to their kids, and kids need to be talking back to their parents ... to create passion, you have to be informed -- you have to know there are problems out there that are bigger than simply getting the latest iPhone. So my advice is to just keep talking to your kids."
Obviously, I was really impressed with everyone we met at the White House. We walked in sort of stunned that we had even been invited to the table, and thanks to Dr. Biden's, Dr. Shah's and Ms. Smith's warmth and openness, we walked out feeling like it was the most natural thing in the world for us to have been there. It was an incredible day, and one for which I'll be forever grateful to them, and to ONE.
On that note, I would be remiss if I didn't suggest to you that if you'd like to help, if you haven't already please watch this video and sign the petition at ONE.org. As always, your voice is ONE's most valued asset.
And with that, I'm off to sleep. Thanks so much, friends.
(P.S. We're in the last 48 hours that registration for the Chookooloonks Path Finder will be open -- will you join us?)