Over the next few months, I will interview and uplift the work and lives of civically engaged AAPIs, starting with former Pete for America organizer and We Are AAPI team member, Lynne Guey.
Last April, We Are AAPI’s own Lynne Guey was scrolling through her phone while riding public transit when she stumbled upon a story about a gay mayor of a small city in Indiana who had just announced his bid to be the next President of the United States. Transfixed by Pete Buttigieg’s campaign launch speech, she nearly missed her stop.
“This is one of those rare moments between whole eras in the life of our nation,” Pete said as he kicked off his historic run. “If America today feels like a confusing place to be, it’s because we’re on one of those blank pages in between chapters.”
In between chapters of her own life professionally, Lynne moved to Nevada to join Mayor Pete’s presidential campaign as a field organizer.
Lynne’s path to organizing was far from typical. She was 30, with a career in marketing and communications behind her, while many fellow organizers were recent college grads. A self-described introvert, operating “at 110% extrovert mode,” as a mentor and campaign veteran had prepared her to do, was well outside of Lynne’s comfort zone.
But Lynne also hadn’t always considered herself especially “political.” She describes Donald Trump’s victory as “a personal wakeup call.”
“I was living in my liberal bubble in NYC and couldn’t imagine how it ended up the way it did,” she recalls. “I decided I had to do more than simply vote in the next election.”
Lynne’s team worked out of a field office in Southwest Las Vegas, turning people out to support Pete Buttigieg in the February 2020 Nevada caucus and recruiting volunteers to amplify their efforts. The job was as different from her old New York corporate lifestyle as one could fathom. She learned to make “the hard ask” with potential phonebankers and canvassers, immersed herself in caucus math, and knocked on hundreds – perhaps thousands – of doors.
The greatest advantage of being an organizer, Lynne wrote in her personal blog, is that “you see the small wins (and gaps) firsthand. You know who is showing up to organizational meetings, and who is noticeably missing. You notice the quality of attention at the doors, how many people know what’s going on, and how many people do not. These micro-observations are not measured or covered by the media, but they are real indicators of how effectively a campaign is reaching everyday people.”
Although Pete chose to end his bid for the Democratic nomination in March, for Lynne, his campaign was just the beginning. This fall, she will begin her MPA at Princeton University’s School of Public and International Affairs, where she is excited to gain “a stronger understanding on how to craft and evaluate policy for more equitable outcomes.”
Looking toward the upcoming U.S. elections in November, Lynne is turning her focus to engaging Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities. Lynne reflects on her own political journey as a second-generation Taiwanese immigrant. Before Pete’s campaign, she claims to have “had little experience engaging with the political landscape.” She attributes that in part to the lack of outreach to Asian Americans.
“Traditionally AAPIs haven’t been taken seriously as a political constituency because of our relatively small numbers as a population and low poll numbers,” she notes. “But this will change in the coming years. Asian Americans are the fastest-growing group of eligible voters in the U.S. with the potential to make a difference in elections and the broader civic landscape.”
Lynne defines change as intentional investments and direct outreach to AAPI communities. In helping launch We Are AAPI, she feels a sense of personal ownership that she lacked in her organizing work in Las Vegas. She draws upon her experiences connecting with her own parents, whose political views and desire for engagement differ from her own, in addition to her work as a campaign field organizer. She insists “reaching new groups will take creative and untried methods that go beyond the typical wonky, politically woke talking points. We have to create a safe atmosphere where people with little political knowledge can feel comfortable.”
By developing community challenges like Let’s Get Civical and hosting small conversations over Zoom, Lynne hopes We Are AAPI will “reach people who won’t normally engage with politics.”
“We can awaken a younger generation that is apathetic and just less exposed to political issues and activism. Anyone who consumes any media now is starting to see how different societal issues and policies affect all of our lives.”
Lynne’s life looks very different now than it did last year when she was riding the train that ordinary April day. In Nevada, she worked on filling “those blank pages in between chapters” that Pete referenced in his campaign launch speech, and now she is ready to write what comes next. Her hope for the future – of the United States, of AAPI communities’ roles in shaping it – extends far beyond a single election cycle.
“I still view myself as an organizer,” she says. “Less for a particular candidate, but for a broader movement.”