How do you celebrate Women’s History Month? You attend the International Women’s Courage Award ceremony at The State Department.

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Thank you Hannah Lyons (far left) for gathering a group of  unique women to Meetup. We had such a great time learning and sharing.


On March 6, 2015, I attended the International Women of Courage Awards at the U.S. Department of State. The State Department folks were very informative and transparent about their goal to engage citizens in new ways.

The one intention I have observed by both The White House and The State Department is that they want to  to inform and share information with citizens–the digital citizen. The use of digital technology allows the federal government to talk to a citizen directly rather than through news organizations. This is the first time in history that the federal government can use technology to have two-way conversations with citizens with ease.

The State Department seems proactive when it comes to social media use because it appears they try to ensure they are everywhere on social media to help guide citizens to the proper information about foreign policies and issues. I have a long list of social media sites at the bottom of this post where you can find the State Department online. I was impressed to find they even hold Google hangouts with citizens about issues around the world. They even create Twitter hashtags to encourage observers to partake in the conversation.

As with all new technology, there’s a learning curve–even for the federal government. Mistakes will happen, but it’s what we all learn from those mistakes that make all of us better in understanding the limitations to the technology we use. The federal government it appears takes this approach as well. But to reach different audiences–an audience who will intelligently contribute-is about creating content that engages a conversation. One such conversation the State Department is willing to have is about the treatment of women around the world.

Former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice started International Women’s Courage Awards in 2007. This ceremony celebrates ten women from around the world who have made a difference in women’s issues.

Each year, the State Department also selects a few social media gurus to attend the International Women of Courage Award ceremony.

 

Deputy Secretary Higginbottom Poses for a Photo With IWOC Meetup Participants  Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom poses for a photo with participants in the Department of State’s Meetup for the International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award Ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 6, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Deputy Secretary Higginbottom Poses for a Photo With IWOC Meetup Participants
Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom poses for a photo with participants in the Department of State’s Meetup for the International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award Ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 6, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

The International Women of Courage Award Winners

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  • Captain Niloofar Rahmani (Afghanistan)
    Afghan Air Force
  • Nadia Sharmeen (Bangladesh)
    Journalist
  • Rosa Julieta Montano Salvatierra (Bolivia)
    Founder and Director, Oficina Juridica para la Mujer
  • May Sabe Phyu (Burma)
    Director, Gender Equality Network
  • Beatrice Epaye (Central African Republic)
    President, Fondation Voix du Coeur
  • Marie Claire Tchecola (Guinea)
    Emergency Room Nurse, Donka Hospital
  • Sayaka Osakabe (Japan)
    Founder and Representative, Matahara Net
  • Arbana Xharra (Kosovo)
    Editor-in-Chief, Zeri
  • Tabassum Adnan (Pakistan)
    Kwendo Jirga (Sister’s Council), Swat, Pakistan
  • Majd Chourbaji (Syria)
    External Relations Director, Women Now for Development Centers

You can read the women’s complete biographies here on The State Department’s website.

The Meetup

The event started with a State Department briefing from officials about the event and about the State Department’s strategies for engaging citizens.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Valerie Fowler speaks with participants in the Department of State’s Meetup for the International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award Ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 6, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Valerie Fowler speaks with participants in the Department of State’s Meetup for the International Women of Courage (IWOC) Award Ceremony at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C., on March 6, 2015. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]

After getting to know State Department officials, the Meetup participants were ushered to the Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room where they held the award ceremony. The room was beautiful.

The #IWOC Award Ceremony in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department

The #IWOC Award Ceremony in the Benjamin Franklin State Dining Room at the State Department

 

Disclosure note: The State Department’s event was originally scheduled for March 5, but because of a pesky snow storm, the federal government shut down. The event was scheduled for the next day, March 6. Unfortunately,  First Lady Michele Obama who was scheduled to attend the award ceremony on the 5th had to miss the rescheduled event. I will say, the State Department went beyond my expectations to keep us all informed and engaged in the planning process. I am very happy I rescheduled my flight to attend the event because I would have missed out on such a great learning experience and the inspirational stories about such strong women who have persevered to make lives of women better in their countries.

 

The room is filled

The room was filled

Even though the room was filled with journalists, State officials and us, four Meetup participants, the event itself felt intimate. The crowd was genuinely warm and inviting–exactly the feeling you want when you are honoring such courageous women, who for some, put their lives in danger to better the lives of others.

 

Deputy Secretary Higgenbottom

Deputy Secretary Higgenbottom

Heather Higgenbottom shared this story about an award winner last year that shows how adversity can lead to strength:

These ten women are an inspiration to me and to so many around the world, and, I know, all of you in this room. They are leaders and role models. So I want to leave you with one last story today. Last year, a young woman from India who was honored in this ceremony, named Laxmi, recited a poem. Laxmi was the victim of a brutal acid attack that left her face burned and scarred. She stood here and told the world that Thursdays would always remind her of her attacker. But despite her injuries, despite the pain suffered and the scars both visible and invisible, she would live her entire life as a testament. “You will know that I am alive,” she said, “free and thriving and living my dreams.”

After each award was given out, Nadia Sharmeen, a journalist and fellow awardee, was chosen to deliver the final speech.  My favorite part of her speech:

 

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Journalist Nadia Sharmeen (Bangladesh) delivering inspiring words.

If I would like to introduce myself, I would say I am a dreamer. But the difference between the other dreamer and me is that I keep my eyes open while dreaming. (Laughter.) I work hard, face challenges, go through a lot of difficulties and obstacles to make my dream come true, and I believe every awardee we see there are just like me, who struggled their whole life just to accomplish their goal, just to serve the society.

You can find Nadia’s full speech here.

After the ceremony, the crowd mingled with the award winners. The State Department organized an event filled with music, food and drinks.

I met a few of the recipients as well as made new friends.

I met a few of the award recipients as well as made new friends. Starting at the Top left and moving clockwise: Deputy Secretary Higgenbottom, Award winner Nadia Sharmeen, Award winner, Arbana Xharra, the meetup group, award winner Captain Niloofar Rahmani, award winner Rosa Julieta Montano Salvatierra.

I met some very interesting people who work at the State Department

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Yes, I took a picture with the photographer at the event. What a great job he has capturing history through his lens.

 

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The mystery man I made friends with. I think he was the Polish Translator. Well, that’s the story I eventually coaxed out of his coworkers.

 

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You can’t forget Hanna Lyons, Public Affairs Specialist, who made it possible for the Meetup folks to attend the #IWOC event. During the snow storm, she kept us informed about the plans. She was our leader for the day and encouraged us to have fun and mingle. Well, done Hannah!

And, I made friends with people who made the day a bit brighter.

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The food was delicious and the people were very friendly.

The nice waiters who took our group picture for us on the balcony.

The nice waiters who took our group picture for us on the balcony.

The Meetup group. We were the last ones out of the Ben Franklin room. We all had a lot of fun. We all had diverse backgrounds, but a commonality–we all walked away inspired.

Yes, the Meetup group were the last ones out of the Benjamin Franklin Room. These girls were so much fun to hang out with. We experienced every single aspect to the #IWOC event.

Yes, the Meetup group were the last ones out of the Benjamin Franklin Room. These girls were so much fun to hang out with. We experienced every single aspect to the #IWOC event.

 Social Media at the State Department

Click here for more photos of the 2015 Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award Ceremony

You can find The State Department on these social media venues:

The State Department discussing the 2015 #IWOC:

Follow the hashtag #IWOC to learn more about these women of courage:

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West Wing Tour

by Dr. Janet Johnson on March 8, 2015

In 2014, during the #SOTUSocial, I took a tour of the White House residence-you know the China room, Blue Room, Green Room, Red Room, East Room, State Dining Room, etc. I also, by chance, saw Bo and Sunny while talking to a Secret Service Agent about the rooms on the first floor.  You can read about my experience in this blog post.

The entrance to the West Wing.

The entrance to the West Wing.

Wednesday night, I was lucky enough to have a gracious, intelligent host who works in the White House Office of Digital Strategy take me the most inspiring tour of the West Wing–the heart of the White House.

 

The main entrance to the West Wing.

The main entrance to the West Wing.

About to walk into the West Wing. Cameras are not allowed beyond this point.

About to walk into the West Wing. Cameras are not allowed beyond this point.

 

The White House does not allow pictures within the West Wing and even within the Residence. I will try to describe my experience as best as I can because words escape me while trying to describe the emotions I felt.

I met Press Secretary Josh Earnest last year at the SOTU.

I met Press Secretary Josh Earnest last year at the SOTU.

When I first walked into the West Wing, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest was heading out. Of course I said, hello.

When you first walk into the West Wing, the first doors you see are to the Situation Room. Yes, I thought the highly secure Situation Room was in the basement–in a dungeon. No, it’s RIGHT there when you walk into the main entrance to the West Wing. The tour then took me past Pete Souza’s Photo office and then to the Navy Mess where West Wing staffers can grab lunch. I heard it’s not uncommon to see President Obama or Vice President Biden enjoying lunch in the Navy Mess.

A shout out to Pete Souza and the photography staff. The walls are covered in photographs–both of pictures released to the public and some that have not. The pictures are brilliant and tell stories. Each. And. Every. One. The pictures are changed out every Thursday.

I also was in awe of the art work, especially a series of Norman Rockwall paintings never seen by the public called So You Want to See the President.

Then I was taken upstairs and outside where I saw the famous 45 second commute–the West Wing Collande. You have all seen the President walk from the Oval Office, along side the Rose Garden, to the main residence.

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The famous West Wing Colonnade. I went through the doors and stood right past where the president is walking. Image: www.whitehousemuseum.org

 

After envisioning the President and former Presidents (yes, you can feel the influence of all the Presidents in this space) walking to and from the Oval Office, I was taken to the Cabinet Room. The Cabinet Room is regal. My favorite was the bust of Ben Franklin. All the chairs are in order of when that department was established. The oldest departments, such as the State Department, means, the Secretary of State sits closest to the President. Of course, the President’s back of his chair is a bit higher than the rest of the cabinet member’s chairs. And, in front of his seat is a plaque that documents his spot and also serves as a pen holder. Very functional. Here’s a fact that I didn’t know and found very interesting: President Nixon bought the long table used in the Cabinet Room for only $4,000. That same table is used today.

Past the Cabinet Room is the Oval Office and the Roosevelt Room. I first took in the Roosevelt Room, which is directly across the hall from the Oval Office. In fact, the last president to use the Roosevelt Room as the presidential office was President Roosevelt. The Oval Office that we know of now was added in 1941. I saw President Roosevelt’s Nobel Prize hanging on the wall. Both Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt were highlighted in the room. My favorite picture of Theodore Roosevelt was hanging above the fire place-him on the back of a bucking horse. That night, I had no idea that the Oval Office was on the tour. I thought I would see a few offices and that would be it. But, no. I saw THE West Wing. A few steps away behind me, I saw the Oval Office. Here I had to take a moment and soak in the fact that I’ve seen the Oval Office. THE Oval Office. Not a replica, but the real, working office of the President of the United States. Let’s take a moment…

I have no words to describe the emotions I had when I saw the inside of the Oval Office. You can see President Obama’s personal touches to the office. There are a few things that each president can personalize. The Oval Office looks very comfortable. Fresh flowers, elegant wallpaper, regal curtains and superb art work.  I noticed behind the Resolute Desk, personal pictures, one was a black and white photo of the President and First Lady.  You could tell the table behind his desk was filled with snapshots that meant something to the man, not the President, but the man–as I hope every President uses that space to do so.

I was also shown this picture below while looking at the famous Resolute desk. The picture is of President Obama who successfully figures out how to remove the front panel of the Resolute Desk where the famous picture of when John F. Kennedy, Jr. hid while his father, President Kennedy, worked.

I can’t put into words what it felt like to take a moment and soak in every aspect and detail of the Oval Office. Most popular media get the room wrong–Sorry House of Cards. The Oval Office is not as big as you would expect, and the office is more cozy than you would expect. No matter what your political beliefs may be–the Oval Office is a powerful room that is the keeper of our nations most important decisions and the keeper of our nation’s worries. I felt as if you could feel the past Presidents within that space… the feelings are overwhelming. You felt the energy.

It was truly an amazing experience that I’m forever grateful to have had a chance to experience. And, I hope to experience again.

After the Oval Office, the West Wing Lobby is next. This is where people who see the President wait–just like any other office would have. I stood beside one of the oldest pieces of furnitures in the White House. The cabinet held books containing presidential papers from past administrations. The longer the administration, the more books.

Next, we headed to The Press Room. The Press Room was built over the original swimming pool. Hence the name, Press Pool. In 2000, the White House renamed the Press Room to honor James S. Brady, President Reagan’s Press Secretary who was shot during an assignation attempt.

I just saw the Oval Office and now the famous Press Room. I touched famous White House Correspondent's Helen Thomas's chair. I was in awe of the journalists who have sat in these seats.

I just saw the Oval Office and now the famous Press Room. I touched famous White House Correspondent’s Helen Thomas’s chair. I was in awe of the journalists who have sat in these seats.

Each news affiliation has an assigned seat. The press room, again, is much smaller than what I expected. I could only imagine all the reporters squeezed into this tight space.

I cannot thank my host enough for this opportunity. This is the first time any administration has opened up the West Wing.  I cannot tell you how much fun it is to roam around the White House grounds after hours. With social media and the blasting of public opinion–it is important to step back and feel grateful to live in a country that allows its citizens to see where the political process takes place. I’m grateful and blessed to have had these opportunities to understand our political system and to feed my passion for all things Presidential.

  • This is how my passion for the Presidential office and engaging the digital citizen started– with my dissertation.
  • Read more about the West Wing. Some of the rooms and decorations were much different than what I saw on Wednesday.
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The Road to the White House #SOTUSocial #WHSocial

January 12, 2015

You can apply to attend the #SOTUSocial. Attending the social is an honor and an experience for an American. It’s a privilege to be a #digitalcitizen and to participate in the political process no matter what one’s political beliefs are. The greatest quality about America is the honor to agree to disagree, but to also create […]

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Merging Television and Internet-Two Media Collide and break Twitter

March 8, 2014

This past Sunday, the Oscars blew up Twitter. Yes, Ellen DeGeneres broke Twitter. Why is this significant? Because in only an hour the selfie filled with who is who in Hollywood was retweeted 1 million times. Take a look at the retweets 24 hours later… 3 million!  ABCNews reported: By Monday afternoon, it had been […]

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#Social at the #SOTUSocial–Making the White House Accessible

February 16, 2014

The one part of the White House trip I failed to mention: I was suffering from a BAD COLD! With that in mind, I was not able to socialize as I usually do. I was tired, on lots of cold medicine and just fighting to feel better every minute I was in Washington, D.C.   […]

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Invited to the White House: Tweeting the #SOTUSocial Part II

February 11, 2014

  On January 28, 2014, I attended a White House Social Media social. The day was spectacular. In my previous post, Part I, I discussed my general visit to the White House. In this post I want to share with you how the White House is using social media as a powerful tool in the […]

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Invited to the White House: Tweeting the #SOTUSocial Part I

February 10, 2014

How do you get invited to the White House? You tweet– of course. On January 20 I received the email inviting me to the White House. It was the most exciting email I’ve ever received. I had to fill out information for a background check and RSVP saying yes to both the White House tour […]

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React and Attack: The Ritual of Communication in an Always-On World

July 21, 2013

John Dewey writes  in The Public & its Problems: To learn to be human is to develop through the give and take of communication an effective sense of being an individually distinctive member of a community; one who understands and appreciates its beliefs, desires and methods, and who contributes to a further conversion of organic […]

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Twitter Reaction leads to Media Reaction: Where is the Truth?

May 1, 2013

The Boston Marathon Bombing and the manhunt that followed taught social media users and legacy media that breaking news is not about being first, but it is about being right. Even Twitter users started to question the reliability of stories during last week’s events. @ironjanitor 19 Apr Ill go ahead and start the #conflictingstories #bostonmanhunt […]

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Binders Full of Tweets: Changing the Ritual of Campaigns

October 21, 2012

I was asked recently if I thought Twitter was hurting the campaign more than helping. Instead of hurting or helping, I think social media is changing the four year ritual we are all accustomed to. Since the Republican debates, I have been live tweeting. Live tweeting is fun, but I have found that using social […]

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