Former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang returned to the in-person campaign trail on Sunday, rallying a small group of Penn students at Clark Park to vote for Joe Biden. After the event, Yang told The Daily Pennsylvanian in an exclusive interview that he believed the Biden/Harris ticket aligned with his goals of a universal basic income.
“The most important thing we can do is get economic relief into the hands of millions of struggling American families right now, and Kamala has already supported a cash relief bill in the Senate," Yang told the DP. "And Joe, I know, understands the enormity of the crisis we are in, so I’m excited to try and get cash relief out to the American people as quickly as possible."
In front of a socially distanced crowd of a couple dozen Penn students, community members, and campaign staff, Yang delivered an urgent plea for young Americans to vote this fall.
“Young people can very easily determine Pennsylvania’s outcome and the country’s outcome,” Yang said, urging Penn students to vote despite their packed academic schedules. “But even bigger picture, our politics is not listening to young people in the way it should in my opinion, and one of the big reasons for that is that, cycle after cycle, people look at the youth turnout votes and they are not as high as they are for other demographics.”
During his long-shot bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, Yang shocked many political observers by building strong support among young voters, represented on social media platforms like Reddit and Twitter. His candidacy preached the importance of government innovation amid a changing technological environment and one of its slogans was simply "Math" — Make America Think Harder.
The businessman-turned-politician ran on a platform supporting a universal basic income that would provide American adults with $1,000 a month in direct economic relief. His non-profit Humanity Forward has since distributed a total of $8 million to struggling American families in the form of $250 to $500 microgrants, he said.
A son of Taiwanese immigrants, Yang is one of the most prominent Asian-American politicians and said he recognized the importance of the voting bloc in 2020.
Asian Americans are the fastest-growing major racial or ethnic group in the United States and their voter turnout has grown tremendously in just the past six years. Yet, Asian American voter turnout, reported at 42% in 2018, remains significantly lower than that of other demographics like white and Black voters at 57% and 51%, respectively, according to the American Bar Association.
Yang pointed to his own upbringing in an immigrant household where politics was not a frequent topic of discussion. He told the DP that many of the Asian Americans who are getting involved in the voting process may be the first generation in their family to do so.
“Asian Americans can be the swing vote in swing states like Pennsylvania and around the country, but we don’t vote in as high levels as other people," Yang said. "And so there’s this unfortunate dynamic that builds up where politicians don’t invest in Asian American communities to vote, and we don’t vote and that just continues."
To break this cycle, Yang said the first step is to let Asian Americans know that they are just as American as anyone else in America and that their voices matter. He added that Asian Americans have made strides in the past decades and shown in polls their desire for left-leaning leadership.
When Yang was an undergraduate student at Brown University in the 1990s, he said that Asian Americans were evenly split between democrats and republicans. Two decades later, Asian Americans voted approximately 75% Democrat and 25% Republican in the 2016 presidential election, he said.
“I have a feeling it’s going to head even more in that direction because it’s not like Trump has done himself any favors with the Asian American community,” Yang said with a laugh.
Yang told the DP one way to improve Asian American representation in politics is for the community to throw their support behind Asian Americans running for seats in city councils, state assemblies, and school boards to a much higher degree.
Before welcoming Yang to the stage, 2020 Penn graduate Ben Oh, who is a leader for Young Asian Americans for Biden, called on Penn students to vote and show what a difference young people can make in the election this year.
“I know at Penn, two years in a row you all turned out 400% higher rates than four years before which is incredible. Imagine if we did that this year as well,” Oh said. “It would be thousands and thousands of students voting and it would be a real sign for everyone how important we are as a constituency.”
During the event, College sophomore Stephanie Hwang, the director of Penn Asian American Pacific Islander Politics, asked Yang what keeps him grounded and hopeful in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yang acknowledged that online learning and continuous Zoom calls are “not great for your mental health” and encouraged Penn students to spend time outdoors like they were doing at the event.
In response to what advice he has for Penn students dealing with the consequences of the pandemic and unstable job market, Yang ensured that Penn students are better positioned than students “at just about any other school” in the U.S. He offered a word of encouragement to students who do not “have it all figured out right now,” as interests and goals can continuously evolve and change.
“As long as you find a role that you are able to continually develop in, your career can end up taking different shapes and forms, [as it did] certainly for me,” Yang said. “If anyone looked at what I was doing in my mid-20s, they would have had no idea what I was doing now, so as long as you stay positive and keep putting yourself in positions to learn and grow, you’re going to be great.”
The Trump administration, Yang said to the small crowd of Penn students, has left a "total disaster" for the younger generation and created the need for a revolution — which starts with the youth vote.
"The world you’re going to inherit has not been set up for success for many, many people of your generation, and that's where we need your help to change," Yang said. "It’s not entirely fair that you’re being left with the mess and that we have to say, 'well you have to help clean it up,' but we need your help to clean it up.”
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