Scanning George Mason University’s crowded Center for the Arts on Monday, November 4, you could see the elation written across the faces of the multi-generational, diverse crowd. You could feel the anticipation. The energy in the room was electric.
That day, some 1,900 college and high school students, community members, and supporters from far and near gathered together on campus for one reason: to hear Democratic presidential hopeful Andrew Yang speak.
For Reagan Larimer, a Mason freshman, this event was her first political rally. But she was certainly no stranger to Yang’s campaign.
“I’ve been a supporter for a long, long time,” she told me in the midst of the noisy room.
When she votes in her first primary next year, Larimer wants a candidate that does best for everyone. For her, like many others, Yang is the answer to that desire.
The 44-year old self-proclaimed “Asian man who likes math” is vowing to put humanity first in politics. Toting ideas like his “freedom dividend” of $1,000 a month for every American adult and trickle-up economics, Yang’s campaign addresses the concerns of millions left disenfranchised by dramatic economic shifts.
“Andrew Yang is providing real solutions to the real problems that Americans face. He is a voice for truth and the American people,” said Mason’s Caucus Chairman for Yang.
As a first-generation American, Yang felt like his only job was to do well in school and get credentialed. For Yang, this meant going to law school.
“It was certainly not something brought up to ever think I was going to run for president. That was not the conversation in the Yang house,” he said with a smirk.
After spending five unhappy months as a corporate lawyer, though, he left to try to start a business, which he said was probably tied in difficulty with raising a kid. Running for president was at number two on that list.
Struggling with his business through the ups and downs of the 2009 financial crisis, Yang wondered why one of the wealthiest developed countries in the world was experiencing so much economic turmoil. He realized the answer to this question was buried deep within those that the economy had left behind and so, reigniting exciting business opportunities in cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, and St. Louis.
In 2011, Yang founded an entrepreneurial non-profit called Venture for America, which helped create 2,500 jobs in struggling cities across the country. However, as he dedicated the next seven years to traveling the country, Yang could not help but be blown away by the disparities between areas of the country.
“I was staggered by the gulf between Michigan and Manhattan or St. Louis and San Francisco, where you make that trip you feel like you’re crossing dimensions or decades or ways of life and not just a few time zones,” he explained.
As Yang witnessed the automation of four million manufacturing jobs, he noticed a systemic result of factory closures.
“When factories close, blue goes to red in an awful hurry,” he explained.
So, when Donald Trump got elected Yang was less than shocked. But unlike his fellow Democratic hopefuls, Yang warns against blaming Trump’s election for all of the country’s problems.
“The Democrats are acting like Donald Trump is the source of all our problems. He is not. He is a symptom. He is a manifestation of the fact that we are going through the greatest economic transformation of our country’s history,” he said.
As corporate giants like Amazon continue to soak up millions of dollars in business and pay nothing back in taxes, as automation continues to erode the human workforce, and as economic value and human value are continually conflated, Yang believes the country will only fall further into shambles, something he feels should be a source of national shame.
“And for the young people in particular in this audience: if you have the sinking feeling that we left you a god-awful mess – we have,” he said.
Yang, however, has an answer: rewriting the rules of the 21st-century economy so that they work – for everyone. For years, the rules in place have corroded our democracy and destroyed our agency as they have allowed money to determine value.
Yang wants to change that.
He wants to measure value in health, mental health, clean air and water, happy retirement. But most importantly, he wants to move the country not right or left, but forward.
His “Yang Gang” is working to accomplish this goal by collecting signatures to ensure Yang will not only be on the ballot in Virginia but will landside the state.
While many still consider Yang a long-shot for the nomination, his dedication to the people and his recent $10 million fundraising effort, has people moving past what he calls “Yang-curious.”
“The people of this country as a sleeping giant and this campaign is the smelling salts, Virginia,” Yang said, “We are the owners and shareholders of this country, and if enough of us get together and say that we want an economy that works for us, it will become a reality.