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A Morning on the South Lawn of the White House

May 19, 2010

FCNL Staff at the White House

That’s right, staff from FCNL, along with a few hundred other folks, were invited to the official arrival ceremony for President Felipe Calderon Hinojosa and First Lady Margarita Zavala of Mexico. Needless to say – despite the threat of rain, a very early start to my day, a line down the block, and three security check-points – I was still pretty excited for my first trip to the White House!

Once we had ‘claimed our spot’ on the south lawn with a clear view of the podium, the waiting commenced. None of us (interns or staff) really knew what to expect from this event. I must admit, a small part of me had been hoping I would actually be able to shake hands with Presidents Obama and Calderon, but it was pretty clear from the staging that this event was more for show than any sort of personal introductions (darn…).

After an hour or more of waiting, the military band began to play and the “ruffles and flourishes”* began. *(Note: “ruffles and flourishes” is the actual title given to the procession of flags and military personnel that started off this ceremony – and I’m quoting that from the official program.) This was then followed by the national anthems of both countries, a review of the troops, and remarks by both presidents. All of us FCNL-ers found ourselves commenting on the large focus this ceremony had on the military, a bit of a contradiction when much of the rhetoric focused on the long, historical, ‘friendship’ between the neighboring United States and Mexico. While it’s easy to get caught up in the ‘patriotism’ and pomp and circumstance of such an event I have found myself wondering – if we (the United States) are such great ‘friends’ with Mexico, why is it so important to focus a welcoming ceremony on military strength? And I’ve also found myself questioning if the statements by both presidents about the need to continue the ‘drug war;’ the criticism of Arizona’s new immigration law and the need to help those who have been “living in the shadows” to safely emerge; and the focus on improving U.S.-Mexico trade relations; will find equal weight in the actions to follow? President Calderon ended his remarks with the now famous phrase “YES WE CAN!” But will our leaders’ words match their deeds?

President Obama offering his remarks, joined on stage by President Calderon. Secretary of State Clinton was there as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed going to the White House this morning and am certainly grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to work in Washington during such an important time in our history. I’m also grateful though, that I work for an organization that encourages all of us to think critically about what our leaders and our governments say and what they do. Today, along with being my first trip to the White House and first ‘close encounter’ with my own president, was also a very good reminder that we all need to hold our leaders and governments accountable if we are going to build a better world.

In peace and hope,

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Ellen N. Duell permalink
    May 20, 2010 8:46 pm

    Rachael’s description is good to read! What an opportunity it would have been to demonstrate friendship with Mexican songs and dances, and emphasize friendship instead of military might. Thanks to Rachael for pointing out the militarism in the event. Even so, that the FCNL was invited was very good!

    I applaud your work.

    –Ellen Duell, member, Yellow Springs Friends Meeting, Yellow Springs, Ohio


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