BY JOHN COX Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
A scheduling snafu denied thousands of people the chance to see President Barack Obama speak at Monday's dedication of the Cesar Chavez National Monument in Keene.
Between 2,000 and 4,000 people who registered online last week -- and got confirmation of their invitation -- received emails or phone calls as late as 10 p.m. Sunday telling them not to come because the event had been overbooked.
Recent posts to the UFW Facebook page:
"Wow now I am left to explain to my two daughters that they are no longer going to be able to attend an event they eagerly awaited. There sleepless nights counting down to the final hour of departure... Nothing compared to the anxiousness of a five year old on her way to Disneyland. Very upset at the way the UFW organized this event. As a mother I am speechless & must find a way to inform my children that the poor planning on your part has caused them false hopes."
Silvia Merino Barboza:
"i just recieved my email can't go and we are so sssssaaaadddd"
"I am one of thousands of incredibly upset locals who were confirmed to attend the event tomorrow in Keene and have now been told we cannot attend. It is beyond disappointing, especially for my children. You overbooked 4,000 people? How could you plan an event so poorly?"
Recent posts to the UFW Foundation Facebook page:
"How many people like myself registered long before the deadline and GOT several confirmation Emails and RSVPS to find out at 9pm tonight we were disinvited? I drove from hours away and got a hotel room so I could be on the shuttle in the morning! I brought my mother and my children! And NOW we go home in the morning disheartened and having broken a promise to my kids. I told them we had confirmations and were going to hear the President speak! They told their teachers and classmates last Friday! I can't believe how poorly this event was handled!"
"One of the most un organized organations ever. Why send out emails getting peoples hopes up to see the president then turn around and knock them to the ground telling them 'Oh we're sorry that we said you could come but now we have to tell you no you can't.' What B.S. get organized people!"
"Some people understood, and some people are understandably upset," said Marc Grossman, spokesman for the Cesar Chavez Foundation.
Added Arturo Rodriguez, president of the United Farm Workers: "We feel badly that we could not bring in any more people. We could not believe the unbelievable response."
Decisions on who would or would not be able to board shuttle buses to attend the event were based on a first-come, first-serve basis, Grossman said. Farmworkers aboard 30 UFW-charted buses and schoolchildren on a roughly equal number of school buses were not removed from the list of attendees, he said.
Retired teacher Eva Patino got a call Sunday night saying her invitation had been rescinded. But she attended anyway after receiving a call from her daughter and granddaughters, who noticed at the event's registration table this morning that Patino's name was still on the list.
"It's like an emotional roller coaster," Patino said, adding that she was excited that her family was able to witness "history in the making."
Bakersfield resident Steven Chandler had planned to take Monday off work so he could attend the event with his 9-year-old niece. At 8:02 p.m. Sunday, however, he got a call from a UFW representative saying his online registration had been canceled.
"I just really miss the opportunity," he said, calling the event "completely mismanaged" and "very aggravating."
The event in the small mountain community of Keene was expected to accommodate 6,000 to 7,000 people. But owing to unexpectedly robust online attendance registrations at ufw.org and chavezfoundation.org, Grossman said, about 10,000 were planning to attend as late as Sunday night.
A reporter at the event observed that many seats went unfilled.
Registration at the two websites opened late Wednesday or early Thursday and was cut off by 9 a.m. Friday when organizers realized how large the response was, he said.
As early as Friday, the Chavez foundation urged local news media to stop promoting the event as something people could still sign up to attend.
Organizers resisted withdrawing invitations until the weekend, he said, adding that they were hoping that many would reconsider. That expectation was based on a White House estimate that 20 percent to 30 percent of invitees don't typically show up, he said.
In an effort to dissuade people who had signed up online, organizers sent emails Saturday warning confirmed invitees that attending would entail long waits and present various hassles. But not enough people canceled, Grossman said.
Then, Sunday afternoon into evening, organizers sent emails warning people that they had been removed from the list of attendees. Grossman said the messages went out to "a couple of thousand" invitees.
"Due to limited capacity at the National Chavez Monument Designation and the first come, first serve basis of our registration process, you and the other people associated with your e-mail address wil not receive admission to attend the ceremony on Monday, October 8th," the emails stated.
The email was accompanied by phone calls to online registrants by "dozens and dozens" of UFW and foundation staff, Grossman said. He added that not everyone could be reached Sunday night, and so it was likely that people would be turned away on the morning of the event.
'The opposite problem'
Grossman called the situation "unprecedented." He did not blame Obama's staff, who he said only notified organizers Oct. 1 that the president wanted to attend. Rather, Grossman said the UFW should have been monitoring online registration "by the hour instead of by the day."
"Usually we have the other problem -- well, not a problem," he said. "Let me put it this way: Usually we are out there beating the bushes for attendance. This was the opposite problem."
Mary Levesque, a member of Bakersfield for Obama, was in no mood to forgive. She opened an email confirmation Friday that her online registration Wednesday had gone through successfully.
"When I did that I went and got time off from my boss to go out there, and I was super excited," she said.
On Sunday afternoon, however, she got a disappointing phone call from the UFW. She ended up going to work Monday after all.
Levesque said the UFW's invitation to watch the dedication online was of little conciliation.
"I'm like, seriously?" she asked. "Looking at a video is going to be some sort of substitute? You kidding me?"
-- Staff writer Courtenay Edelhart and the Tehachapi News contributed to this report.