Yang Gang: meet the fans of the 2020 hopeful who wants to give Americans $1,000 a month
Tech entrepreneur Andrew Yang is in many ways the dark horse of the Democratic race
The Yang Gang are huddled round a collection of tables in the back of the Bayou Beer Garden in New Orleans knocking back local beers. Its a beautiful evening, its dry, the sun is out and the gang have been spared the citys often oppressive humidity. But they are not happy.
Andrew Yang, the tech entrepreneur turned presidential candidate, is being given the cold shoulder by the mainstream media, says Scott Santens, a writer and Yang advocate. As his chihuahua Titus plays in his lap Santens shows me his Twitter feed where he has documented how many times Yang has been slighted.
One screenshot from CNN titled Top choice for Dem nominee shows the six leading candidates from a Quinnipiac poll that put Joe Biden in the top spot with Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg behind. In sixth position is Beto ORourke, who polled just 1%. Yang had polled 3%.
What! exclaims Santens.
Its initially tempting to dismiss Santens ire. But as he scrolls through more and more crazy weird examples of how Yang has been excluded from mainstream coverage of the Democratic field his evidence becomes compelling.
In aggregate it looks way too weird to be an accident, says Santens. Twitter agreed and #YangMediaBlackout went viral thanks to Santens.
Last weeks gathering of the Yang Gang was just one of hundreds of similar events being organized across the country to promote Yang, who is in many ways the dark horse of the Democratic race. His fundraising, which had been lackluster, took off after the last presidential debate where he shone, despite having the least speaking time. He has another chance to shine on 12 September when the top 10 Democrats hold their next debate.
Media blindspots are not new news. A look back at the early coverage of Donald Trumps candidacy shows ample evidence the media is not always good at judging the seriousness of candidates chances when they dont fit the usual mould. And Yang certainly doesnt fit the mould. He is not from the political establishment like Biden, Warren or Sanders. Nor is he a careerist aspirant to that class like ORourke and Buttigieg. Hes a nerdy Asian technocrat. His hats read Math not Maga. Hes pro-marijuana legalization, wants to make Puerto Rico a state, lower the voting age to 16 and give every cop a camera.
But his unique selling point is he wants to give every American $1,000 a month, a handout he believes will end poverty and transform American society.
Yang himself has provided the best introduction to why people join the Yang Gang. The War on Normal People, his 2018 book, is both highly worrying, charming and deeply odd. The bulk of it is an analysis of the current jobs market, income inequality and the impact of technology on current trends if nothing changes.
Artificial intelligence will hollow out the jobs market, Yang predicts. It will start with cashiers, receptionists and truck drivers and then make its way up the income ladder taking jobs from everyone from journalists to surgeons and accountants.
His analysis is serious and convincing, his conclusions stark. The future without jobs will come to resemble either the cultivated benevolence of Star Trek or the desperate scramble for resources of Mad Max, he writes. Unless there is a dramatic course correction, I fear we are heading toward the latter. After reading an early draft one of his friends suggested he change the title to: WereFucked.
The latter chapters are dedicated to Yangs plans. If this part is less impressive, its not for want of ambition. But Yang is a man who believes a big problem needs a big solution. Yangs main platform is the Freedom Dividend, a form of universal basic income (UBI). In Yangs version he would give every American $12,000 a year to push those at the bottom out of poverty and help the rest make better choices. There are also some ideas for paying for it valued added tax, and a proposal for a system of social credits that would give value to community-minded work, like helping a neighbor change a propane tank, walking a dog, giving someone a lift that sound good on paper but also like the start of a Black Mirror episode.
Intermingled with the analysis and proposals is a lot of personal stuff. Some of it funny, much self-deprecating and in one part simply TMI. In one passage Yang describes how racism at school led him to question the size of his penis.
By his own admission Yang grew up like one of the kids on Stranger Things but nerdier and with fewer friends. Well, he has a lot of friends now.
Back in the bar Emily Barksdale, a cardiovascular ultrasound technician who works nearby, says she was impressed by Yangs confidence on his facts and the way he doesnt put on a show. He is not like a normal politician, she says. I was totally into Bernie and I love Elizabeth Warren too. I just feel that Andrew Yang has a solid idea of where to go, she says.
She moved to New Orleans from Florida about 18 months ago and has been struck by the citys homelessness problem. It bothers me. I am comfortable but what happens to all these people? UBI could make a real difference for those people, she says. Friends have dismissed the idea as a fad she says but when people look into it, they get excited.
There are about a dozen people now crammed round the table. Sipping a Blue Moon beer, Larrin Orellana, a grocery store manager from nearby Metairie in a Math hat, says he was won over after researching Yang online.
I saw him in my YouTube channel then I listened to his Joe Rogan interview [which has now been watched 3.9m times], says Orellana. I just thought, wow, hes talking to everybody.
Orellana used to travel the country selling insurance and says he saw poverty everywhere. Over his 47 years nothing has changed under other politicians, he says. I grew up in the South Bronx. They filmed a scene from a World War II movie in my neighborhood because it looked so bombed out. If Yang was in charge it could be so different, he says.
He says he understands why people voted for Trump (he reluctantly voted for Hillary Clinton). They wanted change. They havent got it but Yang really could make a difference, he says.
But can he win? The Yang Gang all say its a long shot but if he ever gets to match up with Trump they are sure hed win. Trump? Hes a fucking bully, says Orellana. Yang has experience with bullies.