09/25/2017

Flippable Interviews Rep. Grace Meng

Rep. Grace Meng is our multi-time Endorsed Candidate and the recipient of our prior awards. The below is a repost of “From State Assembly to Congress: flippable interviews Representative Grace Meng

A few weeks ago, flippable co-founder Joseph and I sat down with Representative Grace Meng, a Congresswoman from New York’s 6th Congressional District. Representative Meng cut her teeth in New York’s State Assembly, where she represented the diverse community of Flushing, Queens.

Representative Meng had sought us out because she’s such an enthusiast of state politics. (“I know where I come from!” she exclaimed.) It was clear that her state-level work and her local constituents were never far from her mind. She lit up when recounting conversations with senior citizens and when describing how she’s tried to make their lives easier—for example, by stopping caller ID scams. And, true to her passion for the community, she wouldn’t let us leave without recommending some fantastic Chinese and Korean restaurants for us to try in the neighborhood.

Representative Grace Meng, New York's 6th Congressional District

Representative Grace Meng, New York’s 6th Congressional District

We were especially struck by Representative Meng’s humility and candor. When we asked her what achievement she was proudest of, she told us about authoring a bill to establish Lunar New Year as a school holiday. The bill, she admitted, had few co-sponsors and didn’t pass. But she was proud of having stood up to represent her community.

In light of this week’s disappointing vote on healthcare, Representative Meng’s attitude is one to emulate. Like her, we need to focus on the long game, with the knowledge that we’ll have many ups and downs along the way. We need to remain positive, pragmatic, and forward-thinking even as we encounter roadblocks. And we need to invest in serious, dedicated state-level leaders—so that, like Representative Meng, they can carry their knowledge of local communities’ needs to statewide and national office.  

Catherine Vaughan: Representative Meng, it’s a huge honor to be here with you. Thanks for taking time to speak with us and our community.

Grace Meng: Thank you!  I’m a big fan of your work on Twitter, and state legislative politics are near and dear to my heart because that’s where I got started.

CV: Let’s start from the beginning of your political career. What made you decide to run for State Assembly?

GM: After graduating from law school, I wanted to do something in public interest law. Throughout law school, I had interned in government agencies: the Department of Justice, the New York State Attorney General, Department of Education, and the IRS. It was exciting to be at the table, seeing decisions being made and how they impact our country.

After law school, I started by doing pro bono work, focusing on sanctuary for families and victims of domestic violence. Serving my community gave me the idea to run for state legislature, and it also gave me a leg up on my opponent. I spent two years holding office hours three of four times a week for senior citizens who didn’t speak English and needed translation services. It was basic stuff, but my opponent wasn’t doing this and didn’t have the same perspective.

CV: What were your biggest challenges in campaigning?

GM: I didn’t have political advisors like flippable or Emily’s List. I didn’t know where or who to turn to for advice; I didn’t know how to fundraise. I just knew how to provide community services for folks in the district, and tell my story about how I grew up and how I could help the community. I didn’t know any lobbyists or special interests. But since I grew up in the church, I did have a strong group of church and community leaders to go to.

“My experience running for New York State Assembly prepared me to run for Congress.”

CV: What was the most valuable thing you learned in the Assembly?

GM: I wasn’t the first, but I was the only Asian American in State Assembly. I learned how important it was to bring my Asian Americanness and female identity to work with me. In my first year, I had barely started my job when Lunar New Year conflicted with session. As the only Asian American assemblyperson, I felt I needed to take a stand—so I decided to stay home.

I was pregnant my first year for basically the entire session. Finding enough food to eat was a challenge! (I’m only half joking). When my second child was born, we learned that he had food allergies and needed special formula. That was when I learned that special formula was not covered by insurance companies (whereas Viagra was!). I pushed for a bill to get special formula covered. We weren’t able to pass it successfully, but it was important for me to try.

CV: What is the accomplishment you’re most proud of as a state legislator?

“Everything stems from local government.”
 

GM: When I started in 2009, one of first bills was to make Lunar New Year a school holiday. Most people laughed at me—I didn’t get a lot of co-sponsors, and neither the city nor state leadership was on board. Fast forward to 2014, and both the mayor and governor agreed it should be a school holiday. Just four years later, students have Lunar New Year off in New York City.

A lot of the time, we propose legislation not necessarily to get it passed that year, but to lay the groundwork. Politics is unpredictable, and you never know when something will catch fire.

CV: How did you make the decision to run for Congress?

GM: It’s not the typical story: I had 24 hours to decide. My predecessor announced Thursday night he wasn’t running again, and the deadline to collect petition signatures was Saturday morning. I had never felt so overwhelmed, but the experience also gave me clarity that this was the right next step for me.

More than anything else, my experience running for New York State Assembly prepared me to run for Congress. Because I didn’t have political experience going into state legislature a few years earlier, I had had to work harder than the average candidate to gain institutional knowledge and make friends outside of my district. Once elected to State Assembly, I had to prove myself in a short period of time to do well in re-election every two years. When the opportunity came to run for Congress, I had made friends and built bridges beyond the scope of my job, and proven myself as a legislator. The alliances and bridges I built made my jump into a Congressional race easier.

CV: It must have been quite the transition going from a Democratic New York State Assembly to a Republican-dominated Congress in the year of the government shutdown. What was it like to step into a much more hostile environment?

GM: Coming from a Democratic New York Assembly, I was used to thinking of ways to help more people and build a larger tent. The move to Congress was shocking, and the shutdown in particular made me feel trapped. I couldn’t understand why Republicans would be willing to shut down the government.

We met with Representative Meng in her campaign headquarters in Flushing, Queens

We met with Representative Meng in her campaign headquarters in Flushing, Queens

What’s different now is Republicans control everything. It’s incumbent upon all of us to let the public know that. Democrats are, for once, all on message. We need to keep drilling that in.

CV: A lot of our readers ask us what they can do if their representative is a Democrat. What would your advice be?

GM: Hearing from our constituents is incredibly important. I love getting a letter or postcard, or seeing social media posts in support of what we’re doing. This isn’t just for our ego; it truly makes us feel like the people have our back and we’re doing the right thing. It also gives us a stronger argument to show people who disagree with us. In my district, 2,000 constituents called asking Congress not to repeal Obamacare and only seven people called for repeal. This gave me even greater conviction in my vote against repeal.

CV: How has your experience in New York’s State Assembly informed your job in Congress?

“I learned how important it was to bring my Asian Americanness and female identity to work with me.”
 

GM: My experience as a state legislator has been tremendously important. I always tell people, “I know where I come from.” Everything stems from local government, and anyone who says otherwise is mistaken.

Knowing how laws and policies actually affect local constituents helps me reach across the aisle and push bipartisan legislation. If I hear that my constituents in Queens are suffering from caller ID scams, I can guess that the same type of situation is happening in GOP districts. I can find examples of how my Republican colleagues’ constituents are also getting hurt and help them see value in our legislation. The bill I’m referring to was federal, but it resonates more when we frame messages as local.

CV: How does messaging need to change in the Democratic party? What would you do differently?

GM: You know, I don’t agree completely that we need to change our message. We’re not going to go into brainstorming mode and come out with a message that surprises all of us. Democrats have a message; we know what we’re fighting for. Our job is to just make sure everyone has access. That’s our guiding principle every single day. The problem is, there are many corners of the country where people didn’t hear this message; they feel like they didn’t hear from us. Democrats spend a lot on television ads, but lots of people don’t watch TV. Our methods need to change. And we need to make sure we’re reaching people in all corners of the country. Where do we start?  Locally.

AAA Fund Stands With Grace Meng for DNC Vice Chair

Grace Meng

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 20, 2017

AAAF Stands With Rep. Grace Meng for DNC Vice Chair
Nation’s oldest Asian American Democratic PAC Supports Northeast’s first Asian American Congresswoman

The Asian American Action Fund is proud to stand with Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) on her re-election bid to serve as the Democratic National Committee Vice Chair. Rep. Meng was voted in for the first time in July 2016, and currently runs ASPIRE PAC, the political arm of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. The Asian American Action Fund was pleased to support Rep. Meng in her historic first run for Congress in 2012, and in her race to become DNC Vice Chair this summer.

Bel Leong-Hong, Chair of the Asian American Action Fund, and Chair of the DNC’s AAPI Leadership Caucus, said, “Rep. Meng has been a tremendous guiding force at the DNC to encourage outreach to Asian American communities and the rising American majority. It is in part due to her leadership and outreach that 87% of AAPIs nationally voted Democratic in 2016 – one of the highest Democratic turnout results. However, our community is a swing vote, and it’s crucial that the Democratic Party continue to engage Asian American voters by having strong representation in leadership.”

Rep. Meng is a daughter of Queens and the first Chinese American Congressmember on the East Coast. She introduced a bill banning the use of the terms “Oriental” and “Negro” from U.S. law. The bill was unanimously passed by both houses of Congress and signed into law by President Obama in 2016. Six weeks after being sworn in, she also led an effort to allow for disaster relief funds to be used for the rebuilding of houses of worship after Hurricane Sandy.

Grace is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and its Subcommittees on the Middle East and North Africa, and Asia and the Pacific. Grace also serves on the House Small Business Committee where she is the Ranking Member of the Agriculture, Energy and Trade Subcommittee. Grace is also a Senior Whip in the House and a founder and Co-Chair of the Kids’ Safety Caucus, the first bipartisan coalition in the House that promotes child-safety issues. She helped create and serves as Co-Chair of the Quiet Skies Caucus which works to mitigate excessive aircraft noise that adversely affects communities. Prior to running for Congress, she served in the New York State Assembly and as an attorney.

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AAA-Fund (www.aaa-fund.com) is a progressive political organization that is dedicated to empowering Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders across the United States.

AAPI Fightback Manual

How to keep government good & working for you? Making good laws? Representing your needs and concerns? Contact them.

It’s a bit of work & there’re few good tools/APIs for making these automatically. Here’s my personal one I use for issues. Everyone’s government setup is different so there’s no easy automatic way to make this list.

Call the feds daily to convey my concerns, poached off my Facebook feed pre-Electoral College

  1. 202-224-5972×1 Sen. Lindsay Graham – “Support the investigation of Russian hacking of US election systems.”
  2. 202-353-1555 DOJ Comments – “Investigate Russian hacking of US election systems.”
  3. 202-225-5074 House Oversight Committee – “Investigate President Elect’s conflicts of interests. You exists to do that job.”
  4. 202-225-3031 Speaker Ryan; 202-225-0600 is voicemail-only – “Support the ACA. It does real Americans good. If anything, it needs to be expanded to truly lower prices, for now it’s sometimes raising them.”
  5. 202-456-1111 White House – “Thank President Obama for an excellent administration and service.”

Local stuff

  1. CD: District 15 (coastal Bk)
    Theresa Scavo
    718-332-3008 bklcb15@verizon.net
  2. NYC Council: District 45 (Flatlands and surrounding)
    Jumaane D. Williams
    718-629-2900 JWilliams@council.nyc.gov

    1. nearby is District 46 (Marine Park)
      Alan Maisel
      718-241-9330 AMaisel@council.nyc.gov
  3. NYS Assembly: District 41
    Helene Weinstein
    718-648-4700 WeinstH@nyassembly.gov (form)
  4. NYS Senate: District 17 (central Bk)
    Simcha Felder
    718-253-2015 felder@nysenate.gov (form)
  5. US House: District 9 (Kings East)
    Yvette D. Clarke
    202-225-6231 or form
  6. US Senate: NY
    Kirsten Gillibrand 202-224-4451 and Charles Schumer 202-224-6542

    • made this shorter because I rarely contact at this level

Now go make your own cheatsheet & fight back.

No political idea will ever justify a hate incident or hate crime. Don’t know their difference? Want to report one (SPLC’s doing a great job, report there alternatively if you wish)? Do it at AAPIHateCrimes.org run by our friends at OCA National for you & our community. More at our article about it.

We will never give up. We will always fight back until there is justice and a strong voice for Asian America.

Would you want to see this manual as a public collaboration (as a Wiki? Google Docs?) so we all edit it? Comment below to tell me.

Mayor Lee’s Statement on Fox News NYC Chinatown Segment

Editor’s Note: This post is a repost of ” from our friend Mayor Ed Lee. Read our Richard Chen’s The Good in Jesse Watter’s Racism.

Mayor Ed Lee

Wednesday, October 05, 2016
Mayor Edwin M. Lee today issued the following statement:

As the son of Chinese immigrants, as well as the Mayor of a city with a thriving Chinese population, I must speak out against the offensive and demeaning video that aired on the O’Reilly Factor.

It is not only an attack on the Chinese community but on all people who have come to the United States in search of freedom, prosperity and a life free of persecution. At a time when divisiveness and negativity drives the conversation around immigration, we must remember that our country was founded and built by immigrants. The stereotypes depicted in the segment feed into the racist notions that drive our communities apart and diminish the positive impact our immigrant populations have on our country.

We cannot stand by and watch as entire populations are ridiculed and vilified. Working together as Americans is the only way we can defeat this type of racism and bigotry.

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