Above: Andrew Yang (Photo by Chris Johnson of the Washington Blade)
DES MOINES, Iowa — When Andrew Yang was making his pitch in final event before the Iowa caucuses on the need for an outsider’s voice to shake up Washington, Michael Powers was there fully embracing the message.
Powers, a 35-year-old gay Yang supporter from St. Louis, Mo., who attended the rally Feb. 1 at the Des Moines Marriott with his male spouse, told the Washington Blade LGBTQ people are facing economic problems — the main focus of Yang’s campaign — at a magnified level.
“We’re even more struggling than regular folks are,” Powers said. “We have lower employment rates, we are less educated in many cases, especially in rural areas. Discrimination in the workforce is still very alive and well, so I think that Andrew Yang is somebody who really understand what we need right now and I trust him, and I think he’s an ethical person.”
A changing economy was the singular message during the rally for Yang, who predicted the country is about to see a “Fourth Industrial Revolution” amid a growing rate of automated labor.
“We’re in the midst of the economic and technological transformation in the history of our country, what experts are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution,” Yang said. “When’s the last time you heard a politician even say the words Fourth Industrial Revolution? Thirty second ago, and I’m barely a politician.”
Anxiety over that change, Yang said, is why a political newcomer like President Trump won Iowa by double-digit points in 2016, even though the state has been traditionally “blue” in presidential elections.
Yang asked his audience what the media has been telling them about reason why Trump won. A multitude of answers were shouted out, including “Russia,” “emails,” “FBI,” “Facebook,” and “Cambridge Analytica.”
But the real culprit, Yang said, was the loss of jobs to automation, including a loss of 40,000 jobs in Iowa.
Yang cited as examples Amazon closing down local retailers and putting sales clerks out of work, and designs on automated trucks that will eventually put truckers out of work. (A diesel truck outside the rally site with “Truckers for Yang” inscribed in the large letters on the side seems to demonstrate his message is resonating with those laborers.)
“That is why so many people here in Iowa feel like their communities are being sucked dry,” Yang said. “And it’s even worse in rural parts of the state. It’s not stopping at the factories, or your Main Street stores.”
The solution to the problem, Yang said, would be the universal basic income that has been the central point of his candidacy. The “Freedom Dividend,” as he calls it, would deliver $1,000 a month to every America to spend as they wish, “no questions asked” as his campaign slogan adds.
“Most of it would go up in car repairs you’ve been putting off, daycare expenses and student loan payments, local non-profits, religious organizations,” Yang said. “This is a trickle-up economy from our people, our families and our communities up. This will make us stronger, healthier and tee us to do the kind of work that we want to do.”
Yang also proposed giving $100 regularly to U.S. voters $100 as “democracy dollars” to contribute to political campaign each election, which Yang said would help them override the money of lobbying groups and PACs in Washington.
The economic vision Yang articulated at the rally, Powers said, is what sold him on the candidate amid difficulties in rallying support for the Democratic Party.
“I think for people that have been watching the same arguments for so long, they’re ready to move past those arguments,” Powers said. “We haven’t won a lot of the arguments. Where we have won, we haven’t been able to necessarily to get points right to Democratic voters and independent voters. And so, we need to really change the conversation in a way that people feel like D.C. can work for them again.”
For Powers, Yang has the best approach among the rest of the candidates in getting that message across.
“Andrew Yang really makes a good point about restructuring our economy, restructuring our government to respond to today’s problems,” Yang said.
The data bears out the claims. According to Funders for LGBTQ Issues, 32 percent of LGBTQ people have incomes of less than $24,000. By comparison, 24 percent of non-LGBTQ people have incomes of less than $24,000. (Fifteen percent of transgender people have incomes of less than $10,000.)
LGBTQ people are six times more likely than non-LGBTQ people, while children being raised by same-sex couples are almost twice as likely to be living in poverty.
Economics wasn’t all Yang had to offer. In terms of beating Trump, Yang touted betting averages he’s the only candidate shown to beat Trump, saying he had unique talent to bring over Trump voters from 2016.
Yang asked his audience if any of them voted for Trump in 2016. A few hands went up. Yang asked attendees to give them a round of applause, which they did.
But the attendees in the audience were probably more male than female. Yang could be seen trying to make up for that by bringing up the story his wife, Evelyn Yang, told on the campaign trial about being a survivor of sexual assault.
“We know that her story is not hers at all,” Yang said. “It’s a story that’s shared by all too many women in this country. Something that we all have to do a much better job of is trying to prevent it from happening, and if it does happen, we have to make sure that we’re responding to the first woman, not the 10th, or the 12th, or the 15th or the 17th.”
Yang is drawing support from not only voters in Iowa, but also across country, including volunteers who are working on his campaign.
Tristan Vanech, a 23-year-old product manager from San Francisco, flew out to Iowa to serve as a Yang precinct captain in the Iowa caucuses after having come to the Hawkeye State last month to knock on doors for the candidate.
“I read through basically his entire platform in a few hours, and was immediately converted,” Vanech said. “What really spoke out to me was not actually the freedom dividend, but the rest of his policies. This is the most comprehensive policy platform of any candidate, especially the government and electoral reform parts.”