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Philadelphia City Councilmember Helen Gym moderated the event. Credit: Chase Sutton

With less than a month before the November election, Pennsylvania Asian American Pacific Islanders for Biden hosted a virtual rally to mobilize AAPIs to vote early in Pennsylvania — one of eight battleground states for the upcoming election.

The Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus concluded its National AAPI Bus Tour with the one-hour Zoom rally on Wednesday evening. The event, which also celebrated current AAPI voices in politics, featured a panel of eight speakers including Andrew Yang, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) and was moderated by second-term City Councilmember and 1993 College graduate Helen Gym.

Penn AAPI Politics, the University’s only non-partisan, affinity-based political group, served as a student organizer for the event. Though Penn AAPI Politics is non-partisan, College junior and Penn AAPI Politics Co-Director Amira Chowdhury said the group wanted to take advantage of any opportunity to mobilize the AAPI voting body.

Before the panel, Pennsylvania AAPIs for Biden presented a recorded message from Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.). Harris, the first woman of color to be nominated for national office by a major political party, thanked the panelists for their leadership within the AAPI community.

She discussed her commitment to immigration reform, as well as her own experiences with the immigration system. 

“When my mother arrived in the United States from India, she understood that the core of her new home in America was that we not only strive for success, but to leave our country better than we found it. That's the approach she instilled in me, and I know many of you are working toward that same end,” Harris said. “I don't need to tell you what is on the line in this race. Donald Trump reminds us every day of who he is and how much worse it can get with a second term in office.” 

Former 2020 presidential democratic candidate Andrew Yang was one of the panelists. (Photo by Gage Skidmore | CC BY-SA 2.0)

Gym asked the panelists what they believed was at stake in the upcoming election, and how a Biden-Harris presidency would benefit the AAPI community. 

Co-Founder and Executive Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance Ai-jen Poo said Asian Americans have experienced a 450% increase in unemployment rates from February to June, and are overrepresented in 72% of essential jobs fighting COVID-19 from the front lines.

“We are literally on the front lines of every dimension of this crisis, and yet this administration and the GOP-led Senate have done nothing to support us or protect us, and instead [have] only put us more in danger," Poo said.

She added that at least 1,900 incidents of anti-Asian hate violence and discrimination have been documented since March. Trump's use of racially insensitive terms to refer to COVID-19, such as the "Chinese virus" and "kung flu," has arguably fed into the rise in racial prejudice directed toward Asian Americans.

Chowdhury told The Daily Pennsylvanian that affinity-based mobilization efforts are key to influencing voter turnout in historically marginalized communities. 

“If the Democrats want Biden to win by a large margin, they must do the work of reaching out to the communities they claim to be representing,” Chowdhury said. “Such events [like this rally] are critical opportunities for the Democratic party to reach out to historically marginalized strains of the electorate.” 

Yang echoed Chowdhury’s sentiments, adding that the AAPI voting electorate can greatly influence the outcome of this election.

“If AAPIs come out in force in Pennsylvania, we can be the swing vote in the swing state for the biggest election in our country's history,” Yang said. 

Despite the focus on the upcoming presidential election, Yang also called on the AAPI community to support AAPI representation in politics. He urged rally attendees to vote in the upcoming elections for some of the event's panelists, such as Kim for New Jersey state Rep. re-election and Nina Ahmad for Pennsylvania Auditor General.

Pennsylvania AAPIs for Biden Deputy Coalitions Director Harinee Suthakar urged attendees to encourage other AAPI community members to vote by text banking, phone banking, and having conversations with friends and family about the importance of this election.

"I think one of the core parts of why we really wanted to have this rally was not only to celebrate Asian American and Pacific Islanders, but that we're not taking any voter for granted, especially when it comes to the AAPI community," she told the DP.