Dolly Madison started the Easter Egg Roll in 1814 on the lawn in front of the United States Capitol. It was a great American event where all people, regardless of income, could participate in a holiday event with the President. In 1877, the event moved to the White House. In the Eisenhower administration, black children were first allowed to participate. In 2009, Barack Obama decided poor children should be shut out of the event.
Each year, in a very egalitarian queue, people line up for hours for tickets to the Easter Egg Roll. It is on a first come, first serve basis. Having connections to an all powerful congressman cannot get a family tickets. Everyone must line up. Originally, people lined up overnight on Easter for the Easter Monday event. Eventually, the tickets were distributed the Saturday before the roll. This year, Barack Obama decided the tickets would be distributed online.
On December 8, 2008, Dave Rochelson, writing at Barack Obama’s Change.gov website, acknowledged the Obama administration sees a “digital divide” in this country based on socioeconomic circumstances. Obama himself said, “Every child should have the chance to get online, and they’ll get that chance when I’m President.” It might then be obvious that a President who recognizes the poor do not have the same “chance to get online” that the rich do, would favor the traditional egalitarian method of distributing tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll. Sadly, that was not the case.
Predictably, the effort collapsed. The Washington Post reported, “Several people said that they were unable to log on to the White House ticket site or that when they logged on, tickets weren’t available. Some resorted to Craigslist to find tickets, for as much as $50 apiece.” Ben Smith, writing at the Politico noted “six tickets to the Easter Egg Roll went for $979.99 on eBay.”
As if the scalping was not foreseeable, what happened online to most people was even more maddening — the site kept crashing. Most people made it through the process only to have the site time out as it was processing the ticket requests. Parents across Washington, who are most likely to get access to the Easter Egg Roll, took to the internet to express their outrage. On one popular forum, www.dcurbanmom.com, the rage was almost tragic.
As the news broke, one parent no doubt inspired by Obama’s change wrote, “I am so excited that they’ve changed up the ticket process. For once, I might actually have a shot at getting tickets!” When the site went online, comments like this one started appearing:
For those of you that are still trying. I logged in around 9am. After gettting the main screen where it listed the time groups. I selected the time I wanted and it sent me to the ticket number selection page. I entered the number of tickets I wanted (4) and after some delays got the response that they number was not available (this is extremely confusing since I wasnt sure if they were sold out or if a lottery was in effect). After trying for 2 tickets and getting the same message. I decided to try for another time slot. (it helps if you can open other explorer windows). After this failed I went back to my original time slot. and tried again. After about 4 tries for my original 4 tickets I eventually was "granted" 4 tickets. Upon being pushed to the registration page, I was timed out. I reloaded the page where I was granted the tickets and tried to proceed forward again, this time it worked and I was able to register.
Then the anguish set in, with one parent writing, “I am so frustrated!!!! I was able to click to get tickets and got all the way to the put-in-your-address page when the site froze up and then I was security timed out. What kind of vendors are we using in this government????? So in essence I was able to get tickets and then thwarted by the website.” It did not get much better than that.
Barack Obama promised to be the most technologically savvy President in American history. But he also claimed to appreciate the huge technology gap between the rich and poor, particularly as it relates to internet access. Undeterred, he deemed it more important to throw out a grand Washington tradition in favor of looking cool. All it did was make a lot of poor children cry and a lot of scalpers rich.