Seven Surprises about going to The White House
I’m sitting perched on a chair in a corner of my family room, with my youngest son. We are trying to stay out of the way of the five brawny movers who are emptying our house of 22 years. That’s a big deal in anybody’s book, but it is happening the day after I took my very first trip to The White House–so houses are very much on my mind. This visit to our nation’s capital was exceptional: Joanne and I were asked to be there to launch Grommet Wholesale as part of their first-ever White House Maker Faire.
It was an inspiring and out-of-body experience, being seated in the same room as President Obama while he proclaimed June 18, 2014 a “National Day of Making.”
Here are the highlights.
First of all, I never expected to have this gem of a document sitting on my computer desktop.
We were delighted at the location and wording of our business announcement, high up in the painstakingly-assembled and closely guarded White House Fact Sheet. We were happily wedged between commitments from Tech Shop and Intel. I was surprised and kind of tickled that they called us “Grommet.” It’s what “insiders” and real supporters tend to say. It was clear that White House staffers are very smart and it was not much of a surprise to observe they are also like startup people: our Office of Science and Technology contact Phil Larson was always back to us in nanoseconds no matter what time of day or night.
There were seven big surprises along the route to securing these treasured day-of photos in the Blue Room and other iconic locations. I will sprinkle them between the snapshots.
Suprise #1: The White House procrastinates. We were contacted many months before the event because The Grommet has been central to the Maker Movement since before it had a name. Having a Maker Faire at The White House was the biggest cultural moment we could imagine in this long journey. But we did not expect the actual date to be left undetermined to just about four weeks before! I guess that when you are The White House you can issue last-minute invitations and still command a full house.
Oddly enough, I could not use this invitation as any kind of excuse to get out of something, or for obnoxious name-dropping, or any other kind of public social media behavior because we were barred from telling anyone were were attending until midnight the day before. I wondered if this was a security precaution or more an effort to assure we did not steal the White House’s thunder by pre-empting their announcement of Grommet Wholesale.
Surprise #2. The Secret Service is sometimes surly. Probably not the plainclothes people (who were of course invisible to me), but the uniformed ones could be a wee bit nasty. Truth be told, there is a barely-human specimen of an agent just out of frame of the above photo. I can’t imagine being rude to people who are the President’s guests but she had completely mastered that behavior.
Surprise #3. They take the budget deficit seriously. The event was from 9:30 to 2:00 and the only items served were copious glasses of water. I didn’t really mind. I was too excited to eat, and if it were my house I sure as heck would not want a bunch of people spilling cocktail sauce in the Blue Room.
Surprise #4. The people in the room looked like America. Half the Makers were women, and half were minorities. The guests were also diverse. This should not be a surprise, but it was a dramatic contrast to my usual business events. I have described that sad reality many times in this blog, like here and here. It was thrilling not to not feel like the exotic zoo animal I am at tech events.
Surprise #5. The Secret Service is sometimes funny. Overheard while waiting for the President:
- Guest to Secret Service agent: “Do I have time to go to the bathroom?”
- Secret Service agent: “It’s a crapshoot.”
No joke. Well I have no idea if it was a joke, but it really happened.
Surprise #6. The President looked fresh and relaxed. He was funny, he went off script a lot and his hair was not all grey. He opened up with this:
The only thing I asked my staff was “What’s up with the ‘e’ at the end of Maker Faire?” Are we going to joust? Do we have to get dressed up or something? I’m warning you next year the ‘e’ won’t be there. This is America. We don’t put ‘e’s’ at the end of things.
Just last week we had one of President Obama’s former cabinet members do a fireside chat with the Grommet team. Karen Gordon Mills, who ran the Small Business Administration, told us that small business owners and Makers are some of Obama’s favorite people. In fact, way back in 2009 he asserted his understanding of the Maker Movement with the prescient statement:
Let’s be a nation of people who make things, not just people who consume things.
Related to that, I did a Marketplace Morning interview with David Brancaccio about the Maker Faire just before I went to The White House. I mentioned this same quote from Obama because I thought it gave him wonderful cred for understanding the importance of what many are calling the Third Industrial Revolution. (You can hear the short public radio broadcast here. That quote did not make the cut, however.)
Surprise #7. The White House formal rooms are not very big. We were asked to supply a “dream guest list” for the event, and in the end most of our suggested invites were (thankfully) extended. But we were warned that “It’s a small house. We can only fit about 200.” They were right! I did not see the East or West Wings but I assume they are pretty giant.
Yesterday, as Joanne and I landed back in Boston and were moving through Logan airport I told her, “The last six years have been the most dramatic of my life.” Much of that drama has been chronicled here on this blog–a continued collision of personal and professional events that have been massively challenging, sometimes upsetting, and usually exciting.
I wore my dad’s ring to The White House. It’s engraved with the Ford logo and a number 30. It was given to him after thirty years of perfect attendance as a toolmaker at the Livonia Transmission plant. Although my father passed away in 1999 before the Maker Movement had taken hold, I believe he would truly grok it. Whereas the digital revolution left people like him behind, this movement is democratic, inclusive and even biases in favor of people like my dad. People who already know how to make things can use these new prototyping and manufacturing tools to even surpass those who gain most of their learning behind a computer screen. I see this healthy phenomenon every day at Grommet, with the 200 weekly ideas that are submitted to us. These Grommet ideas come from people in every walk of life, from third-generation plumbers, to retirees to lawyers. As I always say, “Betting on human creativity turned out to be pretty smart.”
My Detroit-born dad (and mom) would have been stunned to have one of their four children invited to The White House.
But I have to admit my youngest son was really disappointed I did not catapult across the room to take a selfie with the President. However I managed to get this far more impressive picture of both myself and Joanne helping him enact extremely important legislation.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, I perch writing in my mother-in-law’s chair (it too has a story which you can see here) while every possession I own evaporates around me. As my 94-year-old neighbor and good friend Rada Vlajinac told me when I sadly informed her of our move, “Don’t worry about it. I have my memories.”
Yesterday created a pretty amazing memory for me and Joanne. Thank you President Obama.
51 Responses to “Seven Surprises about going to The White House”
Love the “Nothing on this table moves” note in the moving picture. I wonder who wrote it!
On wait, you’re New Englanders?? I’m cancelling your emails. Done. Not kidding!!!
Our business was indeed born in Lexington MA where the first battle of the American Revolution was fought. We continue to carry that kind of independent and brave vision about how our country should work, by and for the people.
I further believe businesses, in particular, have to acknowledge and accept deep moral responsibility for our impact on the world , no matter where we are located, in our country.
One guess, Ian.
But I am actually from Detroit…
[…] Continue Reading : Seven Surprises about going to The White House […]
[…] UPDATE: To read about my experiences at the White House Maker Faire, visit my blog post here. […]
Cancel My subscription…
Thomas, please hit the unsubscribe link on the bottom of your email to effect a cancellation.
Jules – Great post and great recognition. Please keep promoting the core of the US experience, innovation and making not just consuming.
Claude, Aye aye sir!
now that I know you suck up to such an incompetent president(no capital on purpose), your lack of moral judgement leaves me no choice but to never purchase your products and I will be deleting emails.
We’ll keep working to ensure that 10% of US purchases flow through small and independent businesses and Makers. That’s our focus.
It’s people like this that keep our country from moving forward in a positive way for the people
Tim B., my sentiments exactly. What a disappointment! I feel sick inside.
Congratulations to both of you for representing the most creative side of human nature by advertising and promoting cool products and more importantly, encouraging creativity and giving support to their developers! I’m so glad you were showcased and got to go to the White House. It is indeed an honor! Congratulations!
Thank you for the encouragement Regina. I believe the Makers we support represent the best side of America and I was delighted they were recognized in such a fitting fashion.
I have canceled my subscription
I am sorry to see you leave.
I wonder…Did President Obama tell anyone “You didn’t make that, someone else did”, and did they serve Kool-Aid??? What entrepreneur in their right mind would want to be seen at this event, with this President? All I can say is I find it amazing that any self respecting business person would want to be seen with the President.
When my family lived in Ireland there was some degree of local knee-jerk bashing of the current US President. It came to a head with a great deal of protest about his upcoming visit to Dublin. A reporter called me for comment on this, being an expat American. My reply was “Even if I do not entirely support the actions of the individual who serves as President, I always respect the office.” I was incredibly honored to have our business and the almost 3,000 small businesses we work with be recognized at The White House.
The ‘i’s have it: insight, inspiration,ideas, imagination,individuality, incentive, infinite. As a team you both are brilliant and have an indelible remembrance.
Detroit does breed movers and shakers ! Bravo !
Thank you Karen! Go Motown. Go USA. Go Makers and entrepreneurs wherever they are.
What am I missing here? All this negativity because you are promoting products made in America?
And you chose to promote American made products in the Nation’s Capital, with the assistance of the CURRENT Commander in Chief?
I had the same reaction Nan. My commitment to my country does not waver based on office holders, and I support the Commander in Chief fully. I always do. I don’t have to agree with all of his actions but in this case it is pretty hard to argue with supporting Makers and giving them deserved support and recognition.
Grommet is working on a mission that is deeply important to our economy–we are opening up access to opportunity for anyone who aspires to create a worthy product. As the daughter of a union worker without a college education–that kind of access to opportunity is very important to me.
I loved seeing that side of America–the deeply creative, diverse, and independent side–so fittingly recognized at The White House.
Amazing, what an experience. You have so many wonderful products from aspiring people. I only wish more of them were made in the USA employing Americans.
Thanks for sharing your point of view Ida. The majority of our Makers try to produce domestically and a great many of them succeed. But we also have international companies who need to produce locally to wherever they are located, and there are many manufacturing processes that have become narrowly located and specialized in various parts of the world.
Can someone please make the entire obama family disappear?
Sir, I don’t believe this is the correct forum for that kind of comment. Shame on you.
I don’t understand the negativity. If you have nothing nice to say why say anything? Our Pres is damned if does and damned if he doesn’t. I think it was great you got to go and great the Pres is recognizing the maker movement!
Thank you for your thoughts here Suzanne.
Wow! This President can do no right with these people. It’s truly amazing.
Sometimes I think there is a forum whose members seek out every online mention of “Obama”, then spritz the comment sections with drive-by one-liner negative anti-Obama comments. Even a non-political celebration like this draws them out from under the rocks.
President Obama knows that small businesses and the creativity of the American people are the fuel that runs this economy. Kudos to him for highlighting that on such a public stage. I love the creator vs consumer statement. It is key to this country remaining a leader in the world.
And kudos to you for being a part of it. Fantastic! And many thanks for taking us along on your journey. It was especially interesting to get a look at the process from over your shoulder.
Hi Pentool, I suspect that no matter who is President this kind of activity surfaces when frustrated people sense they can get a public forum. I have no problem with holding our leaders accountable, but agree that there are better places to do this. Thank you for recognizing both the spirit and the substance of this event and its true meaning.
Just because I don’t happen to like our current POTUS, doesn’t make this event and your attendance any less amazing. As much as I dislike Obama, I would still jump at a chance to get this kind of ‘behind the scene’ look at the White House. Lucky you! Good job, ladies. All those Negative Nellies are just jealous.
Thanks for your balance point of view. I suspect you represent a great deal of the readers here….they can separate their political views from the specific actions of the office. And you are also being totally honest when you say you would go the The White House no matter who is the current POTUS. It is such a moving and central part of an American experience to do so.
Well, O blow hard has done more to destroy small business than any President in my lifetime. Just wait, the ACA will become known as the biggest boondoggle this country has ever known. If you like your Dr. you can keep your Dr. LIE, your insurance premiums will go down $2500, lie and I will direct any future business elsewhere. Bye Bye Grommet
Hi Bill, I am sorry you never became a supporter of these hard-working small businesses. You would have loved what they do.
i am quite envious of your trip. you wrote a wonderful article & the experience sounded amazing. i loved your note about the president looking relaxed and talking off script; he was looks so weighed down with worry. thank you.
Bunny, I too was so relieved to see him looking present and fit. The last thing anyone wants is a President who is so worn down he can’t deal with his or her huge pressing decisions. And remember that on the same day of the Maker Faire he had to be wrapped up in the middle of the huge Iraq issue. He must be able to compartmentalize his worries and I hope he can maximize the positive occasions when they occur.
I know even in my own world I can get weighed down by day-to-day issues and then I get out of the office or take a weekend away, or hear a great story from one of Grommet Makers, or meet new people, or give a public talk to enthusiastic people, and I get so much energy from those opportunities and trips. I hope each of our Presidents figures out a way to recharge themselves with positivity.
Jules, this is a great representation of a phenomenal personal and Grommet-level achievement. Anyone who is unsubscribing is doing you a huge favor.
Keep up the inspiring work.
Thanks for the support Brennan! It means a great deal to me.
Jules, thanks so much for this Maker travelogue at the White House. May I say I am so happy for you and proud of you? And that it brought a tear to my eye that you brought your father’s ring with you? You rock, Jules!
Thank you for the kind words Jeri. My dad would get a big kick out of my doing that.
I am sorry you had to deal with such negativity about this trip when this trip was a very memorable and amazing for you. One thing I’ve learned in the short amount of time I’ve been on this earth, it’s that no matter who the president is, not everyone will be happy or like him/her or agree with his/her opinions. However, I see all of these people’s negative comments as completely irrelevant to the point of your trip to the White House-which they are all clearly missing. It’s their loss if they want to cancel their subscription. So happy for you and Joanna and small businesses that were represented there and the the entire Grommet team! 🙂
Thanks Gabrielle. I think you are right…being President means being a lightening rod for every possible criticism. As you and others have commented, I’m baffled by why the critics want to show up here and render their comments so marginal and downright odd in this forum.
I find it endearing that there’s an ‘e’ at the end of Maker Faire. I think it harkens back to the good old days of small shoppes and ice boxes (although I think ‘shoppe’ stems more from Middle English, haha!). 🙂
Congratulations! What a wonderful day you experienced. I am so happy that this event was held. When I read comments online I am always surprised at the nastiness out there. Online must make it easier to vent. You rise above it nicely.
Shirley: Props to my parents who would not tolerate any form of nastiness. Thanks for your kind words.
Although we had epic fights on our trips to Florida, mom and dad did not tolerate nasty. They did however produce scrappy hard working kids. Don’t let these people rain on your parades. Not our monkeys not our circus
[…] The Grommet we work for Makers. Thanks to the democratization of technology, anyone can now research and prototype a new product. So it is hard for me to deliberately “hang around” potential Makers. They are […]
[…] of The Grommet and the struggles and triumphs of building it, the power of an engaged community, their experience at the National Maker Faire, and the future of the Maker […]