As President Barack Obama traveled to Facebook headquarters Wednesday (April 20), about 100 low-income people and their supporters gathered in front of Palo Alto City Hall to ask the president to be "Facebook friends" with them.
The Mountain View and San Jose residents told personal stories of unemployment and minimum-wage jobs, calling for deficit solutions in Washington, D.C., that preserve social programs such as child care, food and housing assistance.
"Mr. President, I'd like you to have compassion for the masses," said 58-year-old Eric Peterson, a San Jose homeowner who recently took a minimum-wage job after being laid off from a technology company two years ago.
In the search for employment, "I had to keep lowering the wage that I'd work for until it got to the point where I would take anything," said Peterson, who now earns $8 an hour sorting packages through a temporary agency, with no health insurance.
Peterson, who exhausted his unemployment benefits, said he and his disabled wife were able to save their house from foreclosure only with the support of family, friends and assistance from Sacred Heart Community Services of San Jose.
Peterson's story echoed those of others, including Lu Zhang of Mountain View and Moses Irving of San Jose, who said they had relied on "safety net" housing and food assistance programs.
"My family works hard just to make it," said Irving, who described himself as a pipefitter, plumber and air-conditioning technician. Zhang, who said he is a retired language teacher and caregiver, lives with his wife in subsidized housing in Mountain View.
Wednesday's "rally to preserve safety net for the poor" was organized by Sacred Heart Community Services, a nonprofit that provides a wide range of social services. Sacred Heart staff members were assisted by a group of students bused in from San Jose Archbishop Mitty High School.
In a jab at Obama's visit with top Facebook executives, rally organizers fashioned a backdrop of a giant Facebook page designed as a "friend request" to the president.
"Low-income families need help," read the text on top of the page.
Below were Facebook-style panels saying, "Obama likes (General Electric CEO) Jeff Immelt, (Goldman Sachs Chairman) Lloyd Blankfein and (Citigroup CEO) Vikrim Pandit."
A separate Facebook-style panel read, "People you need to know: The jobless, the elderly."
Fred Lopez of San Jose described himself as a "working parent" who is grateful for tutoring help his kids get at their public school, where he also volunteers.
"Mr. President, while you raise big money for your campaign, we are the families affected by these (federal budget) cuts. Please friend us too."
The U.S. unemployment rate was 8.8 percent in March, down from 9.7 percent a year earlier, according to the U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics.
California's unemployment rate in March was 12 percent, down from 12.4 percent a year earlier, according to the California Department of Employment Development.