Four years ago, then-17-year-old David Gilbert-Pederson made headlines as the youngest delegate at the Democratic National Convention. Time Magazine published a picture of him in an Obama shirt and a backwards baseball cap, and a Minnesota blog went with a photo of him standing in a sideways half-hug with the Democratic candidate, a huge grin plastered to his boyish face.
Like so many of the other young people who helped President Barack Obama win his first term as president, Gilbert-Pederson isn't quite the fan that he once was, and he took exception to Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's recent assertion that 47 percent of the country is going to vote for Obama "no matter what." Although Gilbert-Pederson makes a salary small enough to qualify him as part of the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay income taxes, he didn't plan on voting for Obama until just a few weeks ago. Romney's performance at the Republican National Convention convinced him that a Romney presidency would be bad news for the country, and specifically for his family.
Gilbert-Pederson, now a 21-year-old activist, has a cousin who suffers from cerebral palsy. While watching Romney at the convention, he began to harbor doubts that Romney would keep Medicare afloat. In recent years, Gilbert-Pederson had considered voting for a third-party candidate, but he ultimately decided not to take any chances.
Gilbert-Pederson earns 800 dollars a month working for a community organization in Minnesota that helps underwater homeowners negotiate with mortgage lenders. Although Romney suggested that Americans who make that kind of money generally don't work very hard, Gilbert-Pederson says he works between eight and 10 hours a day. Yesterday, he put in 11 hours, he said.
At some point, he'd like to make more money, Gilbert-Pederson said. But for now, his current pay is enough to cover rent and basic needs. Gilbert-Pederson's employer is Occupy Our Homes MN, which grew out of the local Occupy movement. The group is largely driven by volunteers and homeowners who are fighting foreclosure, though it offers a small stipend to a handful of full-time organizers. So far, Occupy Our Homes MN says it has helped around six people stay in their homes, and some of those efforts have garnered widespread attention. Gilbert-Pederson is helping the group develop a database to keep better track of its supporters.
Gilbert-Pederson noted that he doesn't depend on government help. He gets healthcare through his parents, a librarian and an educator, and he doesn't receive food stamps, unemployment, or any other safety-net benefits. "Whereas some of Romney's big-business contributors have received government money from federal bailouts, and they've received tax breaks, some of the people who don't pay income taxes are doing things to enhance our communities," Gilbert-Pederson said. "We're helping keep our communities vibrant."