Ralph Fertig, MLK Freedom rider rejected as Obama delegate.
With all the talk about bitter and angry small town folks, the cities of Malibu and Bel Air are being overlooked. These tony L.A. enclaves have their share of bitter and angry folks, too. Clinging less perhaps to guns and religion and more to brisk Chablis and vintage Birken bags, they nonetheless know pain. I got to experience that pain this weekend when I, along with 899 other delegate wannabes, gathered at various sites throughout the state to select our Congressional district delegates. It was a whirlwind of a week, beginning with Thursday's kerfuffle, where 900 names statewide and 80 plus from my CD were scrubbed by the Obama campaign from its list of delegate candidates. We were on, then we were off, then back on. What an emotional roller coaster!
On Sunday I met my other 89 delegate hopefuls for the 30th CD of California. They were a varied group -- as varied as rich, highly educated Jews can be, with the exception of three blacks, two wheelchairs, and one queen, who declared he wanted to go to Denver to party with the other gays and Lesbians "who are down with Obama." And who doesn't?
With all the purging and re-instating of candidates, it was no surprise there was a bit of confusion and angst on Sunday. I heard some scuttlebutt-- that three candidates who promoted themselves by calling from a list of names that was used to get out the vote on Super Tuesday, and that these three candidates were telling people they had been endorsed by the Obama camapign and were the hands-on favorites to win. More than half of the candidates didn't show up, and those of us who did knew our efforts were for naught after we learned these three had used the political machine to blanket our district with emails and robo-calls.
I feverishly worked the lines of blase latte liberals, with their Starbucks in hand. One by one, they waved me off, as they mockingly showed me post-its with the names of the chosen three. "I got a call from the Obama campaign, these are the ones I'm voting for."
I began to feel like the loser I knew I was going to be, and tried to find comfort in the great people that I met campaigning, and the delegate candidates, the other losers, and the fact that we will have one minute to make a final pitch. I was once again deflated when I learned that our one minute speeches were cut to 30 seconds.
Some officious college student held up pieces of yellow construction paper with "15" and "DONE" printed on them, flashing them at 15-second intervals. The speeches were what you would expect, Obama mating calls. There was an exception: Octogenarian Ralph Fertig in a faint voice began to relate that he was a freedom rider who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. At that point, the time keeper waved the "DONE" sign and another manners-challenged undergrad grabbed the microphone out of Fertig's hand and proceeded to usher him off the stage. I stood up and yelled, "Let him speak!" The collegiate fawns stared blankly for direction. I continued to yell, "Let him speak," until the crowd joined in and the student returned the microphone to Fertig, went on to relate how he had marched with MLK as a freedom rider and that he teaches at USC. I was convinced he would be a great rep for the 30th CD and had my vote.
I noticed that none of the three politicking favored delegate candidates stood up to protest the bum rush the college kids were giving Fertig. They looked smug and assured that they would be going to Denver.
Another man got up and said his name was Paul Carpenter, that he was Barack's college roommate, at Occidental college, more than twenty years ago. Barack hadn't changed since college, he said, which wasn't the most reassuring news to me then, after having just witnessed how inflexible and disrespectful college students can be. "He was always a nice guy," Carpenter said about Obama.
We never received an email from The CA Democratic party telling us who won, or thanking us for our efforts, but we did receive a request to donate to the Party and to the Obama campaign. I learned today from the CA Democratic website that the special three had indeed won in the 30th CD, beating out Mr. Fertig, the MLK freedom rider, and Mr Carpenter, Barack's roommate.
Two people from the 28th CD I received a robo-call instructing me to vote for, also won.
Am I bitter or angry? Not bitter or angry, but disappointed that an old man who has worked for social justice will not represent my CD at the convention, and that three people who stood by and said nothing while he was being disrespected, will be.
UPDATE: Mr. Fertig sent me an email,
Thank you for your thoughtful and sensitive reference to me, but I am really just a septuagenarian.
I have not yet determined whether I should seek at-large status. I think it is vastly more important for younger people like you to take up the torch, and I am thrilled that Obama's candidacy has energized you.
For it is you, in the ranks of his campaign who must exercise the independence of spirit that makes his race the phenomenon it is and which generates the hope it offers.
Ralph D. Fertig, JD, ACSW
Clinical Associate Professor
University of Southern California
School of Social Work