After RSVP'ing for that event, I was then asked if I would like to sit in on an intimate conversation with a member of the President's National Economic Council. The session entailed a more personal conversation; talking to real homeowners who need help keeping their homes and understanding the updated refinance initiative called HARP 2.0 (Home Affordable Refinance Program). Of course, I said yes.
What I thought would be a short trip turned into a 24-hour arduous jaunt complete with sleeping in a Greyhound bus station in the wee hours of Monday morning along with stranded Russian hostel students and homeless people. It involved me packing so lightly that I did not take even a camera (though there were smartphones everywhere snapping pictures I would love to have!). It involved me thinking deeply about what I wanted to do with my new-found life of disability awareness and advocacy.
After that lengthy and painful travel time with true representations of Americans on those Greyhound buses. my mind began to see just how difficult it is to lead a group of people toward change. Everyone comes with their own experiences and mindsets. And, everyone has a different view of their life and final destination. I marvel at the ability of our leaders, on any level, to affect change; in systems, in attitudes, in lifestyles and in civil rights.
You see, regardless of your political position, to become part of the real process of change, it is important to engage in conversation with the current participants. It is easy to armchair run a country or a board meeting or a business, but when you sit in a room with 20 other citizens, hear their stories, and converse on the merits of bills, initiatives, and future laws, it becomes more important and farther reaching than a 160 character tweet. When you get to weigh in with a question and a comment on real life experiences in an advocacy training program, it has far more impact than a Facebook link and clicking a toggle Like button.
It was my first time in the White House. My body rebelled on me several times with legs cramps, fatigue and dizziness along the way, but I was determined to be there. I met a wonderful husband and wife, Reverend Bruce S. Jones and his wife, Letha, who talked with me with excitement about this event; their first visit as well. We all felt a part of something important, even if it was just for us. Ushered into the room full of news cameras and bright lights made me realize the nature of true engagement. It can never truly be captured on television or experienced through a screen. It has to be up close, personal. You have to show up.
When the president walked in the room behind a group of Americans, I was struck again how real life is so different from media driven sound bites. He is taller, leaner and so much more handsome in person. I understand the charisma and charm associated with him. His words were not canned or intellectual as he is often portrayed, but very understandable and down to earth. I found myself liking this person even if I still had issues with parts of his policy and how to pay for them. And, he didn't shy away from difference or debate. He welcomed it. So, I understand real leaders are not afraid of difference. They realize difference creates that cohesive glue toward a common future for all. It is the "stuff" of true and lasting change.
Video of President Obama's speech given July 9th, 2012
You may not like everyone you meet along the road of life. In advocacy, I have seen disparate groups band together for a common cause. In travel, I saw people form loose cooperatives on a cross country bus in order to keep everyone safe. So, we may not like who we have to negotiate with, but we do it for a common good and a common goal.
I want to close with something I wrote on Facebook some days ago that seemed to touch a tender spot for so many in the advocacy world. If you've read it before, sorry for the repeat, but after this trip, I feel it bears repeating.They are words that just flew off my keyboard as if they existed already, and they spoke to a deeper part of all of us. It has become my mantra; my mission and guiding principle in this advocacy world. I have to thank Erin Lindsay, Deputy Director of Online Engagement for her invitation. Little did she know it would cement my dreams and goals.
Collaboration among people with different disabilities is so important. No, you may not understand what it is like to use a wheelchair when you have a hearing impairment. Or you may not understand why captioning is so important when you deal with a child with autism. But, if you take the time to listen and lend support, you now have an ally. One that will listen and be there when you need assistance. Collaboration builds strong bridges made up of committed overachievers, ready to focus their energies against your foe, our foe, any foe that diminishes our quality of life and our pursuit of success; whatever we define that to be.