PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — What drove millions of Americans across the political spectrum to support Andrew Yang in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race? The former candidate believes it was his honesty and compassion.
“I was leaning into my humanity,” Yang said of his campaign. “I was just trying to eradicate poverty and have a vision for the country. I was talking about problems in an objective, data-driven way; to me, the facts don’t care about your political ideology.”
In a wide-ranging virtual discussion between Yang, a Class of 1996 graduate of Brown, and Tom Perez, a Class of 1983 graduate and the current chair of the Democratic National Committee, Yang shared insights from his campaign’s rise and fall, discussed his efforts to back Joe Biden and the Democratic Party in the 2020 general election, and commented on the future of automation, climate change and the potential long-term impacts of discrimination against Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The conversation, held on Wednesday, April 22, was hosted by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, where Perez is a senior fellow.
In response to a question from a Brown student, Yang said he believed his time on the campaign trail ultimately made him a better person.
“You go to New Hampshire or Iowa and you talk to people who lost their health care, or lost their relatives to drug addiction, [or] came back from the war and have been struggling ever since,” he said. He heard countless personal stories about “the pain and suffering of people who are trying to search for a better path. I got stretched in really profound ways.”
Since Yang withdrew from the presidential race in February, he has devoted much of his time to supporting the Democratic Party, in particular helping Biden to court younger voters using social media. He is also busy with Project 100, his initiative to send $1,000 in cash to 100,000 food stamp recipients, and is in the process of launching a podcast and an anti-racism campaign with Dave Chappelle, Sophia Bush, Alyssa Milano and a slew of other public figures.
In the conversation, Yang also recounted his time at Brown — where he said his classmates might never have pegged him as a future presidential candidate, given that his main pursuits were “the taekwondo club, going to the gym and playing video games” — and reflected on the ways in which the University’s people and atmosphere affected his career trajectory.
“I think Brown’s ethos of self-exploration really did help me,” he said as he discussed his drive to found Venture for America, a fellowship program for recent college graduates who want to become start-up leaders and entrepreneurs.
Speaking to current students, he said, “I firmly believe Brown University produces good people, and what we need right now more than anything is good people... You are the shining light in terms of the future hope for the country.”