Working as a Yang campaign volunteer, I had a front row seat to sexism, men’s rights advocates, and sexual harassment. Yang—who has founded a third political party that hopes to take all conflict out of U.S. politics—did nothing to stop it.
By Erica Lee
I first became interested in Andrew Yang’s political platform in early 2019, when I heard about his proposal for universal basic income. Its potential to lift people out of poverty and recognize women’s uncompensated domestic labor appealed to me. My father worked with unhoused veterans for years—I know what $1,000 a month could do for that community. Like many liberal women in America, I yearned to have a woman in charge, but I decided that Yang’s progressive ideas might be just what our country needed to stem the rising tide of inequality. And I had just quit my desk job, so when a friend suggested working for Yang’s presidential campaign, it sounded like a good idea.
Some weeks later, in early June 2019, I attended a fundraiser for Yang in Seattle, and couldn’t help noticing that the number of men attending the event far exceeded the number of women. I learned later from Kerry Bosworth, leader of the Seattle “Yang Gang” (as his supporters were called), that Carly Reilly, the deputy campaign manager at the time, had been directed to look specifically for women who had questions for the Q&A after Yang’s speech, so the number of men with hands raised would not overwhelm the entire segment. Nothing wrong with that. I was excited to meet Yang, along with everyone else.
Despite my enthusiasm about joining the Yang Gang, some comments I’d been seeing in the closed Facebook group called Andrew Yang Basecamp raised a few alarms:
Of course, as anyone who uses the internet knows, sexism and misogyny in the comments section is generally a given. It demands good moderation and a strict enforcement policy, especially if you’re running a political campaign. I raised the issue with the official moderating staffer—I knew that women who were DNC primary voters would be appalled to see such comments sitting in a campaign-sanctioned Facebook group. I eventually discovered that what I’d seen was only the tip of the iceberg; these kinds of remarks were not restricted to rogue commenters.
I was invited by the official staffer to help moderate this group, but two weeks later, I was told I wasn’t a good fit because of what I’d called out. In an internal group chat, a staffer referred to my criticism of comments in the Facebook group as me “trashing” the campaign—she seemed more concerned about that than the actual sexism and misogyny on display. So, I was ultimately denied the opportunity I’d been on-boarded for. It wasn’t a matter of qualifications, of course. When I subsequently interviewed to be the Yang campaign’s Regional Organizer for the entire state of Washington, I was hired—and was told I had more political experience than perhaps anyone on the campaign, including the candidate. But by this point, I had been labeled a troublemaker by some campaign staff.
Even so, I continued to share my concerns about sexism and misogyny within the campaign’s online community. Ultimately, the retaliation I experienced from the moderators led to my firing, after I responded to a tweet that advocated for accountability. I found it stunningly hypocritical that this Twitter account was run by the very people who took issue with my calling out sexism on Facebook.
Three days after that tweet, I was terminated.
Yang was given many opportunities to cauterize the misogyny in his campaign. After my firing, prominent women and men in the Yang Gang sent him a letter expressing concerns over the toxic and demeaning speech, which often called women’s humanity into question, on his campaign’s social media. The letter, in part, requested that Yang:
Make a public condemnation of misogyny akin to your disavowal of racism among Yang Gang members.
Speak of the necessity of having women in leadership roles, and the campaign should have a ratio of at least 50/50 men and women in leadership positions for oversight.
Take a hard look at your social media representation. The public Andrew Yang for President 2020 page on Facebook was an absolute cesspool of misogyny until very recently and is still not free of it. It requires immediate, professional curation.
HR should be required to respond to and investigate all claims of harassment, whether they come from staff or volunteers.
The letter was hand-delivered by Alyssa Milano, a prominent voice in the #MeToo movement. This was done to ensure that the campaign manager was not keeping Yang in the dark, as many campaign volunteers and fans also wanted him to publicly denounce the toxic and harassing online culture. When Yang told Milano that the matters in the letter had been addressed, I was hopeful—but it would become clear that they never were. In my opinion, it’s likely that he did not want to alienate the right-leaning men who were becoming an increasingly significant faction of his supporters.
My termination wasn’t the end of the harassment I experienced while associated with the Yang campaign. The firing was done publicly, via a tweet—which led to further online attacks by Yang’s fan base, who seemed to think I was not acting in good faith and was trying to sink the campaign. They referred to me as a “DNC mole” and a “Hillary Clinton operative.”
No candidate, of course, can be held responsible for everything said or done by those in their employ or supporting their candidacy. But part of being a leader is creating an attitude of respect from the top down, taking responsibility for mistakes, and dealing with the fact that conflict in politics is inevitable—something that Yang seems hesitant to even recognize, despite his stated goal of uniting people with different political ideologies. After I flagged online sexism and misogyny for two months to give him an opportunity to take corrective measures, his campaign’s solution was to get rid of me, the person pointing out the problem. If this is Yang’s chosen approach, what would he do if he held a government position and issues such as this—or worse—arose in his administration?
I ended up filing a federal discrimination lawsuit against Andrew Yang and Friends of Andrew Yang. When I received the legal paperwork that outlined their defense, I was surprised to see their position: that my claims were irrelevant because I was “just a volunteer”—even though volunteers comprise a very significant part of any political campaign. The attorney argued that Yang is not responsible for harassment perpetuated by his fan base. This may be legally true; ethically, however, it seems to me that someone who aspires to lead our country (or its largest city) ought to publicly condemn this kind of behavior. Yang had the power to do this, but appears to have chosen not to—perhaps in an attempt to avoid any potential negative publicity.
Alternatively, perhaps Yang did not do so because such behavior doesn’t faze him much. Dr. Warren Farrell, dubbed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “the progenitor of the founder of the men’s rights movement,” was a guest this year on Yang’s podcast, Forward. This appearance came even after Yang’s former campaign manager, Zach Graumann, had already educated himself by reading Farrell’s book, considered the Bible of a movement that that depicts men as the real victims of gender discrimination today. But apparently that sentiment raised no red flags for Graumann or Yang; nor did the numerous warnings about Farrell in the responses to the tweet inviting him on the show, and across the internet at large. Incredibly, on his own website, Yang goes so far as to call Farrell—the face of an overtly misogynistic movement—“something of a feminist.”
At the end of the day, I feel like many other professional women who are gathering up the steam and the guts to speak out against sexism in the workplace. We hear rhetoric from leaders about workforce diversity and equal pay for women; we are told by organizations that they want to hear about wrongs in order to right them. But in reality, these organizations are populated with many men whose own careers were built on the status quo. Women are punished, told they are out of line, and retaliated against for flagging occurrences of sexism or disparate treatment. This happens in the most progressive of workplaces—from The New Yorker to the campaign of a candidate proposing an idea so radical that even his fellow progressives don’t agree with it.
The fact is that even so-called liberal institutions are largely controlled by people invested in the power that they’ve been handed generationally on a silver platter. I believe they often don’t realize it—I believe that even while Yang gives a platform to men’s rights activists, he believes himself to be a feminist. When he touts the work of “stay-at-home moms” as some of “the most important…work in our society”—without seemingly realizing that 70 percent of American mothers work outside the home and provide childcare, or that women now officially make up more of the nation’s workforce than men—he certainly seems to be equating “childcare” with “women’s work.”
You may be thinking that this is just a story in a silo…a singular lawsuit that doesn’t reflect on Yang’s broader platform…or a personal dispute between a volunteer and an overworked campaign staff that didn’t have the time or patience to moderate a conflict. But I think the manner in which I was cast aside speaks to Yang’s actual ideology and character, beyond his campaign slogans and talking points. Most recently, he has founded a PAC called the Forward Party, which is seeking to become America’s dominant third political party. A closer look, however, reveals that the leadership of Yang’s party contains a number of men who have identified publicly as Republican (or formerly Republican), including Miles Taylor and David Jolly.
Is Yang truly a centrist, “commonsense” political candidate, or is he actually drawing in a certain type of right-leaning supporter without wanting to admit it? I have nothing against men, but unchecked power just isn’t looking good on them. It’s time to address the blind spots that can produce, starting in the workplace, right on up to the White House—or any campaign for its highest office. We must look behind the curtain of an ambitious politician’s lofty rhetoric to see just what kind of leader they might prove to be. In Yang’s case, his actions outside the limelight offer a striking glimpse at a not-so-pretty picture.
As of the time of publication, Yang's attorney did not respond to our request for comment.