There have been a lot of think pieces written about Andrew Yang since he dropped out of the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries.
Mine’s different. I’m not an analyst or even a diehard political advocate. I rarely talk about politics in public. I’m just a 38 year-old independent American voter who decided to join a person — not a party — to try to make America a better place.
Why Andrew Yang?
In early 2019, I wasn’t particularly excited with any of the presidential prospects. My friend Tynan encouraged me to take a serious look at Andrew Yang. Another friend (Mike Smith) was also singing Yang’s praises.
What I heard in both interviews was a thoughtful, progressive, and tech-savvy candidate.
After browsing the Yang 2020 campaign website, these things stuck out to me:
Policies: He had a few specific policy proposals that I liked, including a push for renewable, responsible energy.
Entrepreneurship: He was a scrappy start-up entrepreneur with a mind for business.
Renegade: Yang wasn’t afraid to challenge traditional party lines.
Underdog: I love David vs. Goliath stories. His willingness to challenge more popular and better-funded candidates reminded me of my own business ventures.
Andrew Yang also had an online cult following. He was attracting disaffected Trump voters to the Democratic party, too. I liked that idea and came to see him as a unifying solution for a divided country.
“Not left. Not right. Forward.”
Showing My Support
In total, I donated about $2,000 to the Yang campaign. I started with an initial donation of $25, made a few $100 and $250 donations, and eventually gave $500 on January 31st, 2020.
This was the first time I’ve ever donated significantly to a political campaign.
It’s easy to give money, but I found it was much harder to give my time. I had fun watching the debates with others in the Yang Gang. I considered going to Iowa, knocking on doors in New Hampshire, or canvassing around New York City. Ultimately, I didn’t do any of those things. I wasn’t willing to take time away from finishing my book. I also had doubts about whether my time would be well-spent.
Facebook groups and reddit posts told me that the best way to make an outsize impact on the Yang 2020 campaign without traveling was by calling voters on the telephone, or “phone banking.”
I decided to try phone banking. Again, I’ve never been involved in an election before. But the Yang 2020 campaign and the Yang Gang had inspired me.
The first time I volunteered for phone banking, I was instructed to meet in a random midtown Manhattan skyscraper at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday night. Someone’s fashion business was hosting us in their empty conference room. It was sketchy and bootstrapped, just how I like it.
With the help of five other Yang Gang members, I made my first phone calls. I was terrified to talk to complete strangers about something as polarizing as politics. My voice cracked, my heart was racing, and I totally flubbed the script we were provided. But eventually and with practice, I got better.
Here’s how it worked: I logged into a website that connected me with potential Democratic voters in Nevada and other swing states. The phone would ring, and assuming they didn’t hang up immediately, I’d ask them who they were planning to vote for and which issues were most important to them. We weren’t instructed to promote Yang or attempt to convince them to vote. It was too early for that.
I would fill out feedback about the call at the end. This would later help the Yang 2020 campaign gather data to reach potential voters (I assume calls to try to convince them would happen closer to the primaries).
A lot of people would hang up on us. I managed to have one or two decent conversations that first night over 90 minutes of training and calling.
Note: I’m used to being in the racial majority in my friend group, but all of the Yang 2020 events that I attended in Manhattan were mostly comprised of Asians. It was cool! Asians are great. And being in the minority was a new experience for me. It encouraged me to consider how race influences my own political perspectives.
The second time I did phone banking, I tried from home.
Most of the people hung up on me or weren’t interested in talking about the election.
It was often disheartening. It was still intimidating. But the “good” calls, where I could talk with someone about Yang and ask them about which policies mattered the most to them in the 2020 election and hear from “real American voters”… those calls were exciting.
During my first night making calls at home, I had about four meaningful conversations after two hours of dialing. I often went off-script in order to get people to not hang up and talk to me longer.
When I first brought up Yang on the call, a few people asked, “Is that the guy who never wears a tie during the debates?”
I only phone banked a handful of times, but even that made me an extreme outlier. Most of the Yang Gang was never interested in making telephone calls. One night, I think I was one of only two people in the whole country making cold calls. Eventually the phone banks were shut down in favor of text messaging. (Ed: Mike Smith told me that the phone banks opened back up in late December before Iowa.)
My Viral Video
One of my best “contributions” was when I teamed up with my fellow Yang Gang member, Douglas Widick, to record a rap song about my favorite Yang 2020 policy proposal—eliminating the penny.
I helped make a theme song for one of @AndrewYang‘s policies. Dedicated to the #YangGang featuring @dwidick. More info on why getting rid of the penny is good for America at https://t.co/rDc5kXRBvk pic.twitter.com/dTGE5fLNUn
— Nick Gray 🧢 (@nickgraynews) December 9, 2019
Seriously, does anyone even stop to pick up a free penny on the sidewalk? Don’t lie.
The video got hundreds of likes and retweets on Twitter. We had a blast making it. And I thought our video helped highlight one of Yang’s smaller policies that could resonate with the average disaffected voter.
Getting rid of pennies is smart, by the way. It just makes sense (cents).
(That’s a joke. Please laugh.)
My Yang Gang Swag
For a few months I wore a lot of Yang-related clothing while walking around New York City. I think I even wore my YANG GANG swag for most of September to January.
I wanted to use my clothing to start new conversations and express my personal passions, just like I did with my “Museums Are F***ing Awesome” shirt for Museum Hack.
Sadly, I was rarely asked about the candidate by passersby. In the 100+ times I wore my gear, I only had one half-good / half-sketchy conversation with a stranger as a result of my shirts and hat.
I did get a few Instagram pics out of it, though. This was my favorite:
I’m sad that Andrew Yang didn’t catch on as a viable 2020 candidate, but I’m happy to have been involved. It was exciting to be a part of such a disruptive, grassroots political movement.
At one point I even applied for a low-level Event Organizer position with the Yang campaign. I made a resume for the first time in 10 years. I wrote and re-wrote what I thought would be a catchy cover letter. After submitting my application, I agonized over the status of my job application.
But they never wrote back. That experience gave me some empathy for what it feels like to want a job very badly (one that you feel perfectly qualified for and very passionate about)… and then to not have it work out.
This campaign helped me define my values and think more about politics. I’m still proud to be a part of the Yang Gang. Even though Andrew Yang is no longer running for president, I’m holding out hope that he’ll run for mayor of New York City.
After all, I’m still waiting to hear back about that job as an Event Organizer.
Thanks to Bethany Mangle who helped me draft and edit this post, and Bud H. for porting to my blog. Plus Mike Smith, Douggie W, and Pamela K. who gave suggestions.