2008 DNC Chronicle: The Road Trip that Broke Barriers

Mix together the election of a lifetime, two of Minnesotau2019s youngest delegates, and you have one memorable 2008 DNC road trip extravaganza.

By Rebecca McDonald Aug 27, 2008

The Trip

‘Tis the season for road trips. Mix together the election of a lifetime, two of Minnesota’s youngest delegates, and you have one memorable 2008 DNC road trip extravaganza.

•    International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers t-shirt? Check.
•    Hourly National Weather Service report? Check.
•    NPR? Check.
•    Cell phone charged and on alert for Obama’s VP announcement text? Check.
•    Parental consent form?  Check? 

After achieving national delegate status, Douglas Williams, a 23-year-old African American, and David Gilbert-Pederson, who identifies as Asian/Pacific Islander and is the convention’s youngest delegate at the age of 17, promptly planned a cross-country road trip from Minnesota to the Democratic National Convention.  This incredible opportunity will not only help them to refine their skills in engaging fellow students, organizing their communities and campaigning for Senator Obama, but will also contribute to the content of history books to come.  They began this historic process well before stepping into the car.  David recalls, “I feel like we both went in and busted up the old boys club in our respective races.”

Their ascension on the City of Denver, CO is history in the making.  As 2 of 50 people of color in the Minnesota delegation, this road trip duo is destined to change the face of the Democratic Party.  “Out of 109 delegates from Minnesota, 50 of them are people of color.” Douglas continues, “When you think of our state, you think of movies like Fargo where there aren’t any Black people. But guess what, we do have diversity!” 

Between blasting NPR, opening convention mail, stopping at a highway diner and the numerous rest stop visits, Douglas and David scanned for Nebraska Hip Hop stations, and got real deep about topics spanning the spectrum from Bill Cosby to the Women’s Rights Movement, from community organizing to dating.  They spoke of change- real change that involves breaking down barriers.

Into the wee hours of DNC festivities, they will break down barriers, both obvious and hidden, by being a unique voice at the convention, which is hosting record numbers of young people this year.  As Douglas exits the ramp to refill on gas and snacks, he comments on David being the youngest delegate, “They might think they can take advantage of him or run him over, but think again. We are on our way to prove to the nation that young people care, people of color care. We put in the work, and we care!”
David has been working on political campaigns since the age of 11.  His best experiences in the party have been rooted in personal contact.  His eyes light up with passion: “When campaigns take the time to recognize and engage people within their skill sets, they are the most successful.”  His own organizing mirrors that thoughtfulness, and he breaks bread with his fellow organizers and campaign staff to get to know them better.  He is looking forward to witnessing the genuine interest and changes the DFL plans to make in addressing the influx of young people carried into the party by the Obama wave.  David Banner’s “Stuntin’ is a habit” rolled through his mind, and he echoes “Change, change is a habit!”  Now let’s see if the party takes heed to his words and make this crucial change a habit.

Meet the Delegates

Meet David Gilbert Pederson. As a homeschooled student since 9th grade, he has been running things on the campaign front. Currently a Youth Vote intern for the Obama campaign in Minnesota, he values long and meaningful conversations.  In between taking calls from ABC and texting his friends back home about his journey, David reflected on what he is looking forward to as a DNC delegate, “I am most looking foreword to reenergizing because the primary was extremely long.” He collected himself and continued, “The DNC will be a reaffirmation of why I am voting for Obama.”

Many people have the misconception that change will come overnight. His excitement grows as he imagines witnessing history at Invesco Field on Thursday.  David eloquently addresses a common misconception and root of many young people’s frustration around electoral politics. Some young people are waiting for the perfect candidate, but these two believe that we can make the candidates will address real issues if we make that a priority.   Dedicated young people can change politics as we know it in America, and these young gentlemen are taking that leap with Obama, hoping others will join in on making history.

Meet Douglas Williams. He is a 23 year African American from Virginia, who has never known a world without politics. He relocated to Minnesota in 2002 with his father who is a Grand Lodge Representative for the Machinists and Aerospace Workers Union.  Since then, he has blazed a trail bright enough for those back in Virginia to recognize.

At the 7th Congressional District convention, he was one of two delegates of color running for national delegate. Compared to his opponents, he did not have official flyers or letterhead sent out in the mail. He simply passed out 150 flyers.  He won by a landslide, beating out a currently seated senator, and a seasoned, 30-year union organizer.  On top of that, he won the nomination, coming from the City of Morris, a city that is 94% white and a district that has similar demographics. “I wish my grandmother was here to see all of this” he sighs.

Douglas Williams’ grandmother, Dorothy Boone-Anderson of Suffolk, VA, was a champion of the movement to integrate schools. She put herself on the line for future generations- for Douglas. “My grandmother was 30 years old before she could walk up and cast a ballot without having to count jellybeans in a jar to vote.” He continues,  “Or you had the option of taking a literacy test, guessing how many bubbles are on a bar of soap. Yeah. That is what Black people had to go through to vote.” He is dedicating this journey to her, and honoring her legacy of breaking down barriers for generations to come.

Down in History

These young men are pumped to meet some of the greatest organizers and politicians of their time, and taste a slice of history.  Contrary to what you may think, they don’t want their voice dominating the story.  David follows up, “I want my candidate to be the most memorable thing in this convention, because no matter who I meet or who interviews me, the most meaningful thing will be to see Obama accept the party’s nomination.” Douglas follows, “My voice doesn’t mean a damn thing. My hands, my feet, my sweat- that’s what means more. When it goes down in history, I don’t want people to say Douglas didn’t work his ass off the get Senator Obama elected as the first Black President.”
Obama’s acceptance speech will take place on August 28, the same day that Martin Luther King Jr. moved the world over with his “I Have a Dream” speech. Both David and Douglas agree that Obama represents a major step forward in fulfilling that dream. 

Side bar:

12 Track DNC Playlist…As diverse as the Minnesota Delegation
1. The Chi-Lites- “Oh girl”
2. Lil Wayne “A milli”
3. Keith Sweat “Just a touch”
4. Immortal Technique “Harlem Renaissance”
5. Erykah Badu “On and On”
6. The Clipse “Grindin’ remix”
7. Aaron Neville “The Grand Tour”
8. Dead Prez “Hip Hop”
9. Santogold “Starstruck”
10. Rupert Holmes “The Pina Colada Song”
11. NAS “Black President”
12. Soprano “Halla Halla”

Quotes under photos:

David:  “Campaigning makes me feel most alive”
Douglas: being “I am looking forward to meeting up with people doing their thing in their respective areas.”