After a series of star-studded events in Los Angeles, President Barack Obama traveled to the small town of Keene to dedicate the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument at the longtime home and burial site of the legendary labor leader. Obama lauded Chavez as a figure who helped inspire him to become a community organizer. Conan Nolan reports from Kern County for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on Oct. 8, 2012.
After a star-studded fund-raiser in Los Angeles, President Barack Obama turned to a very different part of California on Monday, heading north to the Kern County community of Keene.
Located in the foothills of the Tehachapi mountains, Keene had 339 residents in 2000, according to the U.S. Census, all of them of Hispanic descent. It was the longtime home of labor activist Cesar Chavez, who headquartered his United Farmworkers Union (UFW) there in the 1970s.
On Monday, Obama dedicated 105 acres of the property as the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument. It will be part of the National Park Service.
Obama spoke at the event Monday and toured the site. He lauded the man who, he said, helped inspire him to become a community organizer.
"Today, we celebrate Cesar Chavez," Obama told the crowd. "Cesar himself worked for 20 years as an organizer without a single major victory. But he refused to give up. He refused to scale back his dreams... confident that his day would come."
Former farmworkers, including 67-year-old Guadalupe Hernandez, were among the thousands who witnessed the dedication to a man who worked to bring a living wage and dignity to those who labored in the farm field of the Central Valley and beyond.
"There wasn’t any bathrooms and they didn’t have a lot of rights," Hernandez said, through a translator, of her time as a farmworker. "So it was very moving to be here."
While Monday's event was a formal proclamation ceremony, this close to the presidential election, there was also politics.
Obama holds a strong lead among Latino voters, but polls indicate some 20 percent fewer voters will cast their ballot in November than in 2008.
"I don’t think that this is the reason the president came here but I think a lot of people will be inspired because they will see that he is for real, that the president is really here for working people and that’s the important thing," said Dolores Huerta, UFW co-founder.
Before the event started, thousands came early to a meeting place set up in a field outside of Tehachapi, waiting for shuttles to take them to the event 10 miles away. By 9:30 a.m., however, the buses were just arriving, and it was not clear whether the large group could be transported and passed through security quickly enough for the event to begin on time.
In the end, the audience was ready and waiting, and the president a little bit late.
The online site of a local newspaper, the Tehachapi News, reported Monday that thousands of people who had initially been invited to the event were sent emails late Sunday saying that it had been overbooked, and that they would not be allowed in.