Thursday, July 14, 2011

Presidential Powers

Earlier this year, I decided to run for President of Little People of America. The election was held by mail-in ballot in the Spring. I ran unopposed. Luckily, no write-in candidate derailed my candidacy. On July 1, I traveled to Anaheim, California for the Little People of America National Conference where Lois Lamb, the outgoing leader of LPA, turned over the presidential gavel to me.

I've been back from California for more than a week. Next to graduating from college, clawing my way through student teaching, and getting married, moving into the role of president is probably one of the most significant things I've done to this point in my life. With that in mind, I expected to return from the conference with all kinds of significant thoughts and ideas to share.

But I have few if any profound thoughts. I just keep thinking of one specific anecdote from the trip to California. On Tuesday, July 5, more than half way through the conference, I went to the conference registration room. The room was on the first floor of the hotel near a large grand ballroom. There were usually three or four conference committee people stationed there. They spent their time updating registrations, making last minute logistical changes to events, and answering a lot of questions. When I went to the room, I usually asked a lot of questions or borrowed a printer. On Tuesday morning, I went to the registration room around 10 a.m. I needed to pick up a few badges for members of the media expected to arrive at the hotel later in the day. I found the doors closed. Evidently the computers had crashed. The staff running registration wanted to keep the doors closed until the system was running again. A volunteer was stationed outside the doors. His job was to make sure no one came in the room. "May I help you?" he said, when I approached the room. I told him what I wanted. He wouldn't let me in the room.

Everyone who attends the conference is required to wear a name badge. I had mine on. I was also given a ribbon that indicated I was the president. I was supposed to attach the ribbon to my name badge. But I wasn't wearing my ribbon. I never took the ribbon out of my registration packet. I justified that move with the excuse that officially I wasn't going to accept the gavel from Lois until Wednesday. In reality, I was a little nervous to put on the presidential ribbon. Until I became more comfortable in my role, I didn't want to draw more attention to me than was necessary. I was afraid the ribbon might draw unnecessary attention.

As I stood in front of registration, I wondered if the volunteer knew who I was. I had no recollection of meeting him ever before. I wondered if he knew I was the new president. For a moment, I considered telling him who I was. But I didn't. Instead I asked him to relay some information to the people inside of the registration room. He agreed to deliver the message and I told him I'd be back in a few hours to pick up the badges.

Everything worked out fine. I returned around noon to find the registration room open and the computer system back on line. I picked up the badges and went about my business.

Later in the day, I heard a story about someone else who had wanted in the room while the computer system was down. I never verified the story. Maybe it didn't really happen. But according to what I heard, this person demanded that the doors be opened, even though the system was down and the people running the room wouldn't be of much help without a functioning computer system.

Whether the story is true or not, it made me feel good about my encounter with the volunteer earlier in the day. I am glad I didn't tell him I was president. For all I know, he wouldn't have cared. For all I know, even if I had told him who I was, he still would not have been allowed in the room. My presidential standing wasn't going to fix the computers. But I think that is the point. Whether one is the President of the United States, the President of a book club, or the president of a non-profit organization, the privileges or the powers that come along with that title are not about the individual who holds the position. I shouldn't be treated differently just because I am an officer of the organization. Any powers and privileges associated with the position of president of LPA should be used for the benefit of the membership and the dwarfism community, not as a wedge to get through a closed door.

Over the next three years, whether I wear a ribbon on my name badge or not, I hope I do bring a lot of attention to myself as President of Little People of America. Not because of a title and not because of who I am. But rather because of what I've done, and what the LPA community has done on behalf of the dwarfism community.

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