By Shelby Ramirez
Originally published at Family Values at Work
It was such an honor to be part of the White House Summit on Working Families. Never in a million years would I have seen myself having lunch with the most influential person in the nation. It has left me speechless for days.
The President walked with four of us from the hotel where the Summit took place to Chipotle. Everyone at the restaurant was so excited to see him. He shook hands, took pictures and was handed a baby. Later at the Summit he talked about how this is one of the best things about his job, that someone always hands him a baby. I was there to see it.
President Obama is a very polite. He waited his turn in line, along with the four of us. When he said, “Shelby, what do you want to eat?” I said I’d have chips and guacamole salad please. He paused and laughed. “I’m paying,” he said. I replied, “With all due respect, Mr. President, I’m having lunch with the President and my tummy is not feeling too well right now.” He gave me a hug. And he really did pay with his own money – he reached into his pocket when we were done ordering and paid for all of our meals.
President Obama took the time to know the stories of each of the four of us and assured us he is working on our issues very diligently. He spoke to us individually, addressing our stories with accuracy and empathy.
President Obama is a family man who once faced the same issues that my daughters face every day as the children of a single mom. He spoke about how he and the First Lady struggled at one time with child care. He spoke about low-wage workers and the importance of businesses valuing their employees.
The President asked about my family. He told me he knows that I’m in school with my daughters and that I take care of an elderly parent and he wanted to know how they were doing. He asked if I’m able to take time off work to take my dad to his appointments. I said last month my dad needed to have another eye surgery, but I was not able to take him; I had to send him on the bus. When he was done, he had to wait at the out-patient area till the anesthesia wore off and then catch the bus home. President Obama was appalled by this and asked why. I replied that my employer would not allow me to take this time off, and If I had, it would have been with no pay.
I could see he truly cares about the issues that we are all fighting for. I expressed my deepest thanks for him paying for lunch. As a low-wage worker with two daughters and myself in college, I can’t afford to go out for lunch.
He waved at people as we were leaving and said, “I’m going to do something that has never been done, we’re all going back in the motorcade.” We all jumped in as we headed back to the Summit. This gave us the opportunity to thank him and gave him the opportunity to reassure us he is working on policies to change the lives of families like mine and yours.
As we parted, I had to mention one final time what a great honor is was to take part in such a historic moment. I thanked him for allowing me to experience the comfort in knowing he’s working on issues to help low-wage workers and our families, the elderly, financial aid, etc. I will never look at politics the same way.
I was once asked if one person could change the world. I thought, “Of course not.” But being part of Family Values @ Work and 9to5 Colorado, I know one person can pave the way in changing the world with organizations such as these on your side.
Shelby Ramirez is a security guard in Denver, Colorado and an activist with 9to5 Colorado in the fight for family and medical leave insurance. She was one of the leaders Family Values @ Work brought to the White House Summit on Working Families and was one of four workers invited to have lunch with President Obama (home care worker and 1199 member Shirley Young was another!) You can see Shelby’s story here.