• Paula on her meal with the President

    "It was a whirlwind," says Paula, a retired GM autoworker and recent guest at Dinner with Barack, "and it started right from the time I found out I had won. There was this constant sense of being on the brink of something important. That same energy followed me right up until I was sitting in the restaurant with the other winners—it just kept gaining momentum. We were all trying to chat with each other, to do anything we could to give each other some sense of calm—but there was this happy anticipation running under everything.

    "I could feel the energy shift, and then he came walking through the door. The thing I was immediately aware of is what a warm welcome we got from President Obama. He immediately leveled the playing field, because he communicated with us about the things that mattered to us personally. I realized this was less about questions we would ask him and more about average citizens just sitting there, having these exchanges, talking about what was important to us—our family, our work, our country.

    "At one point he started talking about the first time he was in an auto factory and how much things have changed since then, and he said, 'You must have seen some of those changes, Paula.' And I realized: It's true—today, auto factories are much more state-of-the-art and energy efficient, and it's a quiet operation unless you're in the stamping plant. He just had such an astute interest in each of us individually."

    Paula says meeting the President lived up to her expectations—and surprised her at the same time:

    "When I first thought about what I wanted to ask the President, I had a hard time coming up with something because he's so transparent to me—he seems so genuine. I know everything he's about. Meeting him in person, he was exactly the same.

    "But my level of awareness was raised a notch—I think all of ours was. Having the opportunity to have the exchanges we shared with each other and with the President gave me a clarity and a confidence that I can share with others; it kind of catapulted me out of myself. I've worked phone banks and supported him and other politicians however I could for years, but being there really moved me forward. It was like sitting down with my family, or with a really smart, funny friend. So when I think about getting to vote for him in November, I feel privileged in a way that maybe I wasn't aware of before."

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