White House 4th of July: fireworks, families, fun, and federal prison?

“From the press risers, I observed guests gathered to celebrate our na- tion’s birthday enjoying their barbecue meals on red, white, and blue tablecloths with the Washington Monument towering in the distance,” (Photo by Michelle Mayans)

By Renata Spinelli

KidScoop Media

My first trip to Washington, D.C. was full of unforgettable first moments, such as seeing the larger-than-life monuments around the Potomac River and exploring the vast Smithsonian Museums. But the highlight of my trip was my first time visiting the stunning White House, a memorable experience on its own, and what would ultimately become my first (and hopefully last) time almost getting arrested.

At 4 pm on July 4th, 2023, I arrived eager to document the events at the White House as a KidScoop Media videographer. Along with KidScoop Media founder Michelle Mayans and Board Member Christa Lucken (my mom), I was escorted to the Press Briefing Room to wait with other press for President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden to address military families in attendance.

An hour passed quickly, and we ventured into the humid heat to the South Lawn, where festivities were in full swing. From the press risers, I observed guests gathered to celebrate our nation’s birthday enjoying their barbecue meals on red, white, and blue tablecloths with the Washing- ton Monument towering in the distance. Listening to the military band’s covers of Bon Jovi and Prince songs helped distract me from the hot sun as I set up my camera and took my spot among the press.

Promptly, Joe and Jill Biden emerged from the White House to welcome and thank the military and their families. I couldn’t help but look away from my camera screen to glance at them with my own eyes during their speeches.

President Biden addressed the military guests, stating, “You represent a link in the chain of honor that stretches back to our founding days. You are the sinew, the backbone, the reality of why we’re who we are. Unbreaking. Unbending.”

Following these remarks, I and the rest of the press retreated to the air conditioning of the Press Briefing Room until just after 7 pm, when we trudged out to the South Lawn once again to climb onto risers facing the concert stage. Stretching across the Lawn were countless attendees sitting on and standing around picnic blankets, socializing and dancing to songs played by DJ D-Nice.

As the sun set, more and more people gathered in front of the stage to wave their arms and sing along to the blasting music. Brothers Osborne and Ne-Yo performed until dusk fell, and the White House was lit with red, white, and blue lights.

At exactly 9:09 pm, spectacular fireworks began to light up the sky. Everyone, including President Biden and his family on the balcony of the White House, watched in awe.

As my camera battery began to die and the fireworks wrapped up, I felt a sense of accomplishment, having joined professional photographers and videographers in covering this Fourth of July event. Everything had gone smoothly. Or so I thought.

We exited the White House grounds onto Pennsylvania Avenue, which was barricaded off for the evening. We walked down the cleared street to head back to our hotel, exhausted from the day’s heat and festivities. Seemingly out of nowhere, an officer on a bike approached and sternly told us that we had just committed a federal crime by jumping the barricades (which we didn’t do) and could be arrested. We informed him we just left the White House and had already returned our passes, which he didn’t want to believe. After some more explaining (and internal panicking), he escorted us to an exit.

I didn’t appreciate being accused of a crime I didn’t commit, but I did agree with the officer that this was truly an unbelievable experience. Writing this article (thankfully not from federal prison), I can say that I had a blast being a videographer at this truly unique event, and it was an experience I will be talking about for years to come.