As you know, I’ve been running for President for a while. Our campaign publicly launched in February of 2018 in the New York Times. Still, most people had never heard of me. This led to many awkward conversations that went like this:
“So what kind of work do you do?”
“I’m running for President of the United States.”
“Um, really? Uh, good luck with that.”
As a non-crazy person, this was not a terribly pleasant interaction. It also tended to derail conversations, we would often just start talking about the campaign. So in some situations, I would say something vague. “I’m working on a campaign to help manage the impact of technology on the workforce,” or, “I’m an author.”
I know, in theory, I should have been telling the milkman about the Freedom Dividend, but sometimes you just want to get the milk.
The odds of me getting recognized in public were quite low. The odds were higher when I was dressed up—wearing a blue suit or blazer with a circular logo on it tends to draw attention. So does wearing a red, white, and blue scarf. But when I was just walking around incognito, I was a total non-entity.
An example of my relative anonymity—I gave a talk at my son’s school for parents and teachers. Very few people showed up.
Of course, most people weren’t paying the slightest bit of attention to 2020 in 2018. This started to change in 2019. The awareness level of me and the campaign picked up a great deal.
The first time I was recognized out on the street in plainclothes, I was taken aback. I was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt. I figured no one would notice an anonymous Asian man and his son going to the deli. But the guy in line behind me looked at my face and said, “Hey, are you Andrew Yang?” I nodded. He was like, “I love you, man!” and asked for a photo. I said sure, and then felt self-conscious that I looked so off-duty.
Another time, a woman came up to me and said, “Are you Andrew Yang?” And before I could answer, she said, “No, no you’re not,” and walked away.
The other day, I counted up 10 times that I was recognized on the street. Most people are incredibly nice and gracious. A lot of people will just yell, “Yang Gang!” or, “Good luck!” or, “I support you!” Many people take their phones out and want a photo, which I’m happy to provide.
For the most part, this is fantastic progress. I am running for President. Getting recognized is a sign that what we are doing is working.
But I’ll confess that it’s been a bit of an adjustment. Now, when I walk around, there’s a sense that someone is watching. I saw someone surreptitiously take a photo of me with my family the other day on their phone.
Zach said to me, “You’d better get used to it—you’re going to be the leader of the free world.”
The other day when I got home from campaigning, Evelyn asked me, “How was your trip?” I said, “It was great! Thousands of people came to the rally. Check this out.” I then pulled up video and photos from the event.
She said, “Wow, that looks huge! Sometimes I feel like you’re this public figure, and you come home to your alter ego. Go play with the boys.”
I pride myself on being a pretty regular guy. The plan is to stay human and integrated the whole time.
Getting recognized on the street is fun in the context of the campaign. It will be a small price to pay to accomplish our goals. I appreciate all of the support we get.
Can someone go from utterly anonymous to President in the space of 2 years? It’s never been done, but things move very fast in this era, for better or worse. My encounters on the street suggest that there are a lot of people who like me and the campaign but aren’t yet taking action. Let’s move them into the action column.
If you see me out and about, feel free to grab me and ask for a selfie. If you say, “I donated to your campaign,” you’ll get a big smile.