Democratic presidential hopefuls flew down to Southern California last weekend to participate in what was billed as the first-ever Democratic national forum for the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community.
Making it to the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California on Sunday, September 8 were tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang, U.S. Representative Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), and billionaire hedge fund manager and political activist Tom Steyer.
Author Marianne Williamson was also expected to show but had to cancel due to a scheduling conflict, according to the forum organizers.
Hundreds of AAPIs flew in from as far as Illinois, Hawaii, and even Canada to hear the candidates share their platforms and answer questions from the event’s moderators and audience members.
The forum was spearheaded by AAPI Victory Fund, a political action committee, which also held a day-long summit on Saturday.
Southern California locals took advantage of the location, including a group of roughly 50 Fil-Ams who took a bus from Historic Filipinotown in Los Angeles.
“I’m so proud of all the candidates in the Democratic party who are bringing important issues that are really impactful, not just in our group, but for the whole country,” said Joselyn Geaga-Rosenthal, founding president of Philippine-American Los Angeles Democrats (PALAD).
“We want to make America a place for our children and grandchildren so that they may reap the benefits. Really talk about climate change and how to make sure the world is reserved for our descendents,” she added, highlighting some of the topics covered at the forum.
The event was seen as a chance for the candidates to address the AAPI community, which continues to be the fastest-growing minority group in the U.S.
Among the topics discussed were income inequality, healthcare, immigration, climate change, and the overall growth and increasing influence of the AAPI caucus.
“During the 2018 midterm elections, AAPIs organized and mobilized and turned out to vote in unprecedented numbers,” said U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-California), adding that 77% of AAPIs nationwide voted for Democrats in 2018.
“As a result, we were able to take back the House last November,” Chu added. “It wasn’t a blue wave, it was a blue tsunami.”
First to take the stage was Yang, who got quite the reception from his “#YangGang” supporters who literally carried him out in cheers as he crowd surfed out of the theater.
Yang shared his experiences growing up as an Asian American born to Taiwanese immigrant parents and how like many young AAPIs, was taught to put his head down, study hard, do well in school, and not bother with politics.
As one of the candidates with no political background,Yang shared how his seven years running his national nonprofit Venture for America, and meeting with entrepreneurs around the U.S., eventually led him to run for president.
“I came to realize that our country is in much worse shape than I thought. When Donald Trump won in 2016, I thought for whatever reason, immigrants were being scapegoated for issues they had nothing to do with,” said Yang. “It’s not immigrants. It’s the fact that technology had advanced to a point where many Americans are struggling to get by.”
Yang highlighted his idea of universal basic income (UBI) which he said would put $1,000 in the pockets of U.S. citizens ages 18 and older.
Known to his supporters as a “numbers guy,” Yang said that in the case of another recession like the one experienced in 2007, he’d opt out of recapitalizing banks and instead “put resources directly in the hands of the American people.”
“You want to have the individual citizen receive the money in a way that they actually have some autonomy and agency,” said Yang, adding that much of the money would end up being spent in people’s local communities.
Yang mentioned financial literacy classes in high school as something that would accompany the UBI. He also mentioned the program as being an incentive for permanent residents or green card holders to become U.S. citizens.
On health care, Yang said that providing a Medicare for All system would control increasing costs, and encourage more competition in the private healthcare marketplace.
“I’m a numbers person so I just try to figure out what the actual costs are,” said Yang. “To me, it’s clear that we need to create a public option in the healthcare market that enables us to negotiate for lower prices and high levels of access.”
On climate change, Yang took a realistic approach by saying “it’s worse than you think.” He introduced a five-point plan that includes moving towards renewable sources of energy and exporting technologies to other parts of the world, prioritizing sustainable entrepreneurship, reversing damage, relocating people to higher ground where natural disasters are prone, and keeping administrations accountable.
Before leaving the stage, Yang took a stab at Trump’s slogan and offered his own: “Make America think harder.”
Steyer accounted his experience founding political advocacy group, NextGen America, as having played a role in his path to the presidency.
“For the last 10 years, what I’ve done is travel across this country and tried to put together coalitions of ordinary American citizens to take on corporate power,” said Steyer, whose candidacy has focused on challenging corporate influence on the government, and on climate change.
“We can have a better guaranteed lifestyle for every citizen than any country has ever provided,” said Steyer.
He said that the U.S. has the technology and enough money to provide better lives of U.S. citizens, but has been unable to due to a “political system that’s broken.”
“We can have guaranteed healthcare for every American. We can guarantee quality education from pre-K to college for every American. We can guarantee a living wage, and we can guarantee clean air and clean water for every American,” said Steyer.
Having been among the louder voices for climate change, Steyer bucked down on his plan to declare a climate emergency on day one of his presidency and 100 days for Congress to enact a deal, should he be elected.
“We’re in a place scientifically where we have to act,” said Steyer.
Steyer has also been one of the most vocal about wanting to impeach President Trump emphasized the importance of keeping Trump accountable.
“I believe that when someone does something wrong, you have to stand up to them. And when someone breaks the law, and they’re rich and powerful, they have to be held to account,” said Steyer, whose father was a Nurembourg prosecutor. “If you don’t stand up to evil over time, they win.”
Last to take the stage was Gabbard who proudly represented Pacific Islanders also present at the forum. She and Yang are two of the three AAPI candidates along with California Sen. Kamala Harris.
Having served two tours in the Middle East and is a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, Gabbard talked of how the U.S. has been spending trillions of dollars since 9/11 on counterproductive wars.
“We’ve spent since 9/11 alone in 2001, over $6 trillion dollars spent on waging these wasteful, counterproductive wars that have not served the interest of our national security,” said Gabbard. “They’ve actually made our country less safe.”
Gabbard said that as commander-in-chief, the president should have a problem-solving and results-oriented mindset that puts national security, peace, and the interests of the American people at the forefront of the country’s foreign policy.
She suggested the U.S. step away from being the “world’s police” and “actually be a force for good in the world.”
“The goal is to be able to prevent war and to make sure that our forces are only being sent into harm’s way as a last resort to keep the American people safe,” said Gabbard. “We’ve got to be willing to have those conversations and meet with our adversaries.”
Speaking on gun legislation, Gabbard acknowledged the extremes of opinions where one side believes there should be no guns at all, and the other believes there should be no restriction on the Second Amendment.
“It’s a false choice in my opinion, and I think most Americans agree that we can and should uphold our Second Amendment rights while also making sure that those who are owning guns are doing so in a safe manner and will not do harm to others who are not going to use those guns to harm others,” said Gabbard.
On the topic of impeachment, Gabbard disagreed with going forth with impeachment proceedings and said that voters “are the ones who should throw him out of the White House” in the next coming election.
Fil-Am Democratic presence
For the roughly 50 Fil-Ams who attended the AAPI Democratic Presidential Forum, the event was just the beginning of organizing for the 2020 elections.
Many were involved in the 2016 and 2018 elections, phone banking in each other’s homes in different congressional districts members lived in. In 2016, PALAD went on two trips to Las Vegas by bus to do door-to-door knocking for Hillary.
“Every time we do this is like a get together,” said Geaga-Rosenthal.
Having grown up in the 1960s after moving to the U.S. from the Philippines, Geaga-Rosenthal said civic engagement has always been something she’s felt a responsibility for, starting with the anti-war movement in the Civil Rights Movement.
“I feel more hopeful because I really see a lot of Asian Pacific young people,” said Geaga-Rosenthal. “It’s reassuring to know that you have fellow Filipinos and a number of young Filipino Americans who are getting involved in a very meaningful way.”
“But it’s really the way you make your voice heard. You affect the policies. It’s so true that your vote counts,” said Geaga-Rosenthal. “Take that as a sacred obligation and do so with excitement.” (Rae Ann Varona/AJPress)