When you look it up in Websters, there must be a picture of Christie Rudder, Systems Change Advocate at the Dayle McIntosh Center, who had waged a non-stop email and phone campaign since last Friday to be able to see President Barack Obama at yesterdayâ€™s Town Hall meeting at the OC Fairgrounds. The Dayle McIntosh Center (DMC)Â offers resources and advocacy for differently-abled and senior clients who need help navigating a complicated system of services and assistance.
There is something to be said for perseverance.Rudder bent the ear of everyone she knew, and many she didnâ€™t, in her quest to get tickets for differently-abled activists in Orange County. When she got no for an answer, she simply sent out another email or made another phone call to someone else who might be able to help.
When two of her co-workers were shoved aside when they tried to wait in line like everyone else, her cause gained one very important supporter, CA Senator Lou Correa, who advocated on their behalf.
Senator Correa requested tickets for the two activists who had waited in line, and then made a phone call to the White House to explain the situation. At long last, Rudder’s efforts were going to pay off, but she was as yet unaware of her change of luck.
When asked about his effortsÂ Correa explained, â€œIt was only fairÂ that all of my constituents were well represented. They deserved a chance to see our President,â€ adding, â€œOrange County is changing. Itâ€™s now home to so many people from every walk of life and many cultures. Thatâ€™s why Barack Obama chose Orange County, he recognizes that in some ways, Orange County isÂ like the Ellis Island of our time.â€œ
First two tickets were made available for DMC Community Organizers, Erik St. Amant and Ken Schaap, the two equally determined supporters who had been shoved aside the morning before. I was lucky enough to be able to deliver the good news, â€œgo pick up two tickets at noon.â€ I told them excitedly at 10:30 yesterday morning. I could hear the disbelief and joy on the other end of the line.
A short time later, Rudder got the confirming email that another four tickets were waiting for her and her co-workers.
Rudder called DMC’s Independent LivingÂ Coordinator, Cheryl Hopper, “I have tickets to go see President Obama, do you want to go?”
Hopper recounted the event, â€œDid I hear her right, she has what?”
The trip from Laguna Hills to Costa MesaÂ was a blur. The fourÂ lucky recipients (including Rudder, Hopper, Executive Director Delores Kollmer, and Candy McLeroy)Â met at Rudder’s houseÂ to car pool to the Fair Grounds to meetÂ theÂ President. Once at the Fair Grounds and out of the car,Â they were met by a young man who welcomedÂ them and escortedÂ them through the gates and up to security.
Hopper continued, â€œSince three of us are wheelchair users, we had our own short line and we were quickly through security. Once inside, we were taken to our seats which were up front and 20 feet from where the President was going to be speaking. The waiting crowd was large, and the air was crackling with excitement.
â€œIt was fun to people-watch, wondering just how all of us got there and hearing stories of people waiting all night to get a ticket to see the President. The sound of a helicopter filled the air and chills ran up my spine knowing that in a few moments I was going to be 20 feet from the President of the United States.”
â€œThen there he was, coming into the room and I was speechless, star struck. I felt so honored to be right there in the front row hearing the President speak and although there are many challenges that the county is facing it was impossible not to feel hopeful. He is the people’s President and I felt that he spoke to each and everyone of us.
â€œMy hands hurt from clapping so hard and my face aches a little from smiling so much! What an amazing day, and yes IÂ reached out and touched the President of the United States.â€
Erik St. Amant, one of the two Dayle McIntosh staffers who had been ignored in the long lines, was still flying high when I talked to him this afternoon, â€œI was invited to President Barack Obamaâ€™s townhall meeting at the Orange County Fairgrounds by Senator Lou Correa. This was truly one of the greatest experiences of my life, not just because I was able to see the President, but how I was treated, and how the disabled were treated.”
â€œUpon my arrival I was escorted to the front of line by ADA security, after which I was checked and escorted to the building where the meeting was to be held. I was seated 15 feet away from the podium where the President would later speak. I was treated with such courtesy by all involved. I also took a picture with Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, shook hands with State Controller John Chiang, and thanked Senator Correa for this great opportunity.”
â€œAt approximately 3:30p.m. President Obama entered the room greeting all who surrounded the stage with handshakes and acknowledgement. He proceeded to the stage and spoke for 15 to 20 minutesÂ about AIG and other issues, and afterwards opened the floor to the audience, taking questions.”
â€œHe is one of the most charismatic figures Iâ€™ve ever come across. Heâ€™s a straight shooter, accountable, and gives thought provoking answers to all questions he faced, and delivers with a confidence like no other. After the open session with the consumers directly affected by these difficult times he again circled the stage greeting others with a handshake and a smile.”
â€œI left the townhall meeting with an ear-to-ear grin, and a buzz that I still am affected by 24 hours later. I have never been treated with such respect at a gathering of any nature like I was treated there. Finally, the (ADA) was implemented and shown that it does work when used properly.”
â€œItâ€™s refreshing to be treated with equality and to be fully integrated in the community. This event was the blueprint of how people with disabilities should be treated at all times.â€ St. Amant concluded>.
As for Christie Rudder, the intrepid activist who wouldnâ€™t let â€œNoâ€ stop her?
When I talked to her today, she said she was so happy that for the first time she felt like she was treated like an equal. She said she was still grinning and excited about her experience. She and her fellow DMC workers are planning a special thank you for Senator Correa. They all say that they are so grateful that their Senator heard them and fought for their right to participate in the historic event.
â€œWhat an amazing day. What an amazing thing to be that close and to feel so special. I will never forget it.â€ Rudder sighed happily.