President Obama and First Lady will speak at SXSW

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama (SXSW)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — When news surfaced a few weeks ago that President Barack Obama would be in Austin on Mar. 11 for a rally and fundraiser, rumors swirled about whether or not his visit would coincide with a South by Southwest (SXSW) event.

On Wednesday, SXSW organizers announced Obama will appear as part of a Keynote Conversation at SXSW Interactive the same day he’s in town for his other events. He won’t be the only Obama making a SXSW appearance, First Lady Michelle Obama will be the opening Keynote at SXSW Music on Wednesday, March 16.

“This is very exciting and of course a great honor to be hosting the leader of the free world in Austin,” said Hugh Forrest, SXSW Interactive Festival Director.

SXSW Organizers said it’s the the first time in the 30-year history of SXSW that a sitting President and the First Lady have participated in the event, “which is known for showcasing the most innovative ideas and creative talent of our time,”

Forrest and Roland Swenson, co-founder of SXSW, said they had been in talks with the White House for months.  Forrest said they got a clue during the State of the Union Address in Jan. when the President mentioned Austin.

“America is every immigrant and entrepreneur from Boston to Austin to Silicon Valley, racing to shape a better world. (Applause.) That’s who we are,” said the President during his State of the State address.

“I think the message that the president really wants to get out there digital creatives for start ups for geeks for the tech industry help remake Washington,” said Forrest.

Editor-in-Chief of The Texas Tribune Evan Smith will host the conversation with President Obama about civic engagement in the 21st Century. Since SXSW has a big focus on technology, Obama will talk about how to make technology work for the masses and to focus on increasing participation in the political process.

“The president is interested as I’m told in having a long form conversation about the how the tech sector and how the disruptive innovative entrepreneurial mindset out in this country can be harnessed on behalf of public service,” said Smith.

He talked mentioned the many challenges in the public sector and how technology could help.

“Think about the health care challenges we have, was not the finest moment for the government, but one might imagine how technology might be leveraged to help people have more access to health care, more access to insurance companies,” a topic Smith said will be part of the conversation next Friday.

“One wonders if the culture of government is compatible with the mindset of the tech sector, which tends to be fast and streamlined and we want to break the rules we want to fail fast.  There may be a culture clash between government and the tech center, but i think the idea that we can combine these two big institutional forces in our lives, government and tech end of private sector to do good, to do the public’s business it’s kind of exciting,” said Smith.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s discussion will focus on the Let Girls Learn initiative, which aims to break barriers for the 62 million girls around the world who are not in school today.

President Obama’s appearance is open to all SXSW Interactive, Gold, and Platinum registrants. The first lady’s event is open to all SXSW Music, Film, Gold, and Platinum registrants.

SXSW is expected to release more details on where President Obama’s event will be in the coming days.

Currently, President Obama is slated to be at the Austin Music Hall for a rally that will include a special performance by J. Cole. After that event, Obama will attend a private fundraiser dinner at the home of Amy and Kirk Rudy.


On Wednesday SXSW organizers said the the Secret Service was in charge and wouldn’t release other details.

Austin Police wouldn’t speak about manpower or tactics related to the President’s visit.

The challenge for a city like Austin in this kind of venue they already have a lot of problems with logistics with SXSW, remember the individual that drove into the event downtown,” said Fred Burton, Vice President of Intelligence at Stratfor Global Intelligence. “Now they’ve got the arrival of the President of the United States and the entourage that comes with it that creates additional stress on the local protective operations when it comes to just securing venues, but again, the feds come and this is not their first rodeo, they’re quite used to operating in Austin.”

Burton is a former counter terrorism agent.

“I worked for the Secret Service , I’ve worked for the State Department , I’ve done a lot of these kind of events.  The resource that travel with what is called PPD, the ,Presidential Protection Division, ppd is unlike any other meaning it travels in a self contain manor with bomb dogs, counter snipers, a technical security division that’s checking for improvised security devises, looking at foreign counter intelligence,” said Burton.

Burton said with all the resources, Austin would be a very secure place during the President and First Lady’s visit.  But, there will definitely be traffic jams.

Earlier this year Austin Police did outline their role for security during SXSW.

Officers say they will have anywhere between 150 and 175 officers assigned to the festival each work day and that number will jump to between 250 and 300 on the last weekend of the event.

APD has also set aside $1.5 million for overtime costs this SXSW. provides commenting to allow for constructive discussion on the stories we cover. In order to comment here, you acknowledge you have read and agreed to our Terms of Service. Users who violate these terms, including use of vulgar language or racial slurs, will be banned. If you see an inappropriate comment, please flag it for our moderators to review.

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