I’ve been a policy geek since I asked for my first subscription to the Economist when I was thirteen. In high school I was heavily involved in the school's chapter of Amnesty International, so much so that the club's faculty adviser decided that even though officially I didn't have a role like being vice president or treasurer, I may as well have with all the work I was doing, so she made an award called the "Outstanding Leadership Award" so that I could be recognized officially at an end of the year ceremony with the other officers.
I’ve spent most of my life—until I was 24—in small cities too far away from anything larger to count as a "suburb". Living now in the Bay Area, I can see the misunderstandings that happen on both sides of the red state-blue state divide. I find the way some people in big cities romanticize places like my hometown odd, but at the same time, I can't dismiss the struggles many people in those places face. I firmly believe that if we want to continue making progress in the fight for justice in America, we need to find solutions that work for all Americans.
I got my undergraduate degree from University of Wisconsin, Madison, and a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Notre Dame. I graduated college straight into the worst of the Great Recession. I saw friends who thought their college degree would bring economic security struggling to get entry-level retail jobs. That experience motivated me to learn as much as I could about economics, and gives me a safeguard against complacency—remember, I tell myself, that people once thought nothing like the Great Depression could happen again.
After I got my master’s, I worked a couple of odd jobs, including street musician. Eventually, I wound up becoming an English teacher in Korea. When I went to South Korea, unemployment was over 8%, and I continued to see the effects of the Great Recession everywhere. Among my American friends who'd also gotten jobs teaching English over there, the most common reason I heard for why they'd taken the job was that it was the best way they could find to pay off their student loans.
Being in Korea gave me a lot of empathy for immigrants to the United States. In Korea, I learned first-hand what it was like to live and work in a country while struggling to learn the language, even though I'd gone with the best intentions of learning Korean. Korea also showed me, by way of comparison, how broken our healthcare system is in the United States: in Korea, I got my appendix taken out, and the bill was $3,000, two-thirds of which was paid by the country's single-payer insurance system, which I was part of simply by virtue of working in the country. Afterward, I learned to my shock that the same procedure might have cost $20,000 for an uninsured person in the US.
While I was in Korea, I started donating ten percent of my income to charities that help animals and people in the developing world, a commitment I’ve kept up since then. When I was a kid, I remember reading a book that showed how much rice you could buy for $2 a day—barely enough to hold in your hand. And yet more than 700 million people live on that little. I felt conscious of how lucky I was to be born American, and since then I’ve worked to use my advantages to help others, just as I am right now when I’m running for Senate.
After I got back from Korea, I decided to pursue a career in the Bay Area's tech industry. I originally learned to program in grade school, and enjoyed it, but I knew I'd be competing with people with degrees from well-known computer science programs. So I went to a program which trains ordinary people to become software engineers, studied for ten hours a day, and slept on the floor of my office. But it all paid off in the years I've gotten to spend working with great people in a place I love.
Twenty-four hours before the 2016 election, I was thinking I would probably run for office at some point in the next couple years, but I was thinking that Clinton would win and I’d be able to run on issues considerably less terrifying than “will Attorney General Sessions abuse his office’s powers to stack elections further in the Republican party's favor?” I thought I'd be able run on economic and technology issues instead.
But then Trump was elected.
Before the Great Recession, in the US, we thought we’d figured out how to make recessions always end quickly, because nothing like the Great Depression had happened in seventy years, almost a lifetime. Seeing that assumption proven wrong meant I couldn't simply reassure myself that the most extreme parts of Trump's agenda would be impossible to enact. I knew I had to act.
Politicians often say things like, "this gives me a unique perspective, which makes me the ideal candidate to..." But I don't believe that about myself. Good leaders need to be able to combine many different perspectives. They need to be able to realize when someone else knows more about an issue than they do, and they need to understand the diverse expereinces of the people they serve.
I'm running to represent California in the US Senate because I believe in the power of making the leap from "someone should do something" to "I'm going to do something." I want to help people believe that if we work together, we can make a difference. I hope you'll join me.