Meet Raymond Yee, Phone Banker in Action!
Thursday, November 01, 2012
Tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Raymond Yee. I was born in Hong Kong and immigrated to San Francisco in 1972. I’ve been here almost 40 years - -I grew up in the city, attended public schools, and graduated from the University of San Francisco. I became a naturalized citizen in 1983. I’m a union member of SEIU United Healthcare Workers. This year, I’ll be an election officer in the county of Alameda. I’m also a pastor at Berkeley Chinese Community Church. So…I’m involved in a lot of stuff!
What's your typical day like as a phone banker with APEN Action?
I come in to phone bank Monday through Friday from 4 pm to 9 pm. It can be slow at the beginning of the shift because some people are still at work, but before long we start doing a lot of phone calls and it gets more intense, like a war room! There’s many of us in a small area, all talking to voters. It’s a unique environment to work in. We try to ID at least 20 voters a day, and many phone bankers do marvelous work to allow us to reach our goals.
What do you enjoy most about your phone-banking work? What are the challenges? Any cool stories?
I love to talk to people, and to understand how people are thinking politically, why they might support or not support our causes. Mostly we are able to convince people to support our causes. We’ve been able to reach a vast number of voters in the state, all Asian American voters. Most of our phone bank team members are trilingual, they speak English, Mandarin and Cantonese -- some speak Toisanese and Vietnamese too. I myself speak Cantonese, Mandarin and Toisanese.
We also all are working towards the same goal, and we really encourage each other. We have become a very close team.
With voters who are still undecided –- it can be a challenge to convince them to get engaged, but the process can also be very rewarding. Yesterday I talked to a lady who had already received her absentee ballot but she told me outright she didn’t want to send it in, and that she had never been serious about voting. So I told her about Prop 30, about raising taxes on the wealthiest to help our schools, community colleges, the UC and state system, as well as health care and public safety issues. I told her that her vote would be counted, because the difference between approval and rejection on the Proposition is only 4%. By the end of the conversation, she changed her mind and said she would and send in her ballot, and encourage her husband and daughter to do the same. It’s very encouraging to make a positive impact on some of these voters.
Another time, I called someone eight or nine times, then on the 10th time, finally got a hold of him! We went through the ballot initiatives so he could understand the importance of the issues. Persistence pays off -- and encourages our team! Our team can be a little competitive to see which one can make the most IDs and calls, haha!
Raymond finessing the phones
Our APEN Action team leaders also keep educating us on the issues, so we become more confident when calling voters and motivating them to support our cause. APEN reaches many voters, and even came up with a statewide voter guide in many APIA languages.
What are some of the issues you're passionate about and feel are important to the APIA community?
I’ve been in the States for 40 years, so I’ve seen how Asian Americans have stepped up -- some of us have even become politicians! But yesterday our team leaders showed us the latest issue polling. The APIA community was not included in the survey, and I was sad about that. You also see how the major political parties are not reaching out to Asian Americans as much as they do to other populations. So I really support the idea that we as Asian Americans need to rise up. We need to step up and do even more for our community. I’m passionate about encouraging more young people -- I encourage my younger team members to sign up as poll workers so they can learn firsthand how democracy works. There’s no substitute for experience, and hopefully they will then be motivated to do even greater things for the community.
Have you become more politically involved since getting involved with APEN Action and phone banking?
Yes absolutely! I have been volunteering since I came to the States -- first with the Red Cross -– visiting Asian elderly in convalescent homes who can’t speak English, to chat with them and cheer them up and communicate their needs. There wasn’t a lot of bilingual health workers then -- I’m thankful there are more now. That experience helped me become a property manager in senior housing, because I knew how to work with old people!
And just this week, out of nowhere, in my wife’s building (she’s an assistant administrator for Christian Church Homes in downtown Oakland), a tenant asked for help filling out a bilingual ballot. I happened to be there and volunteered to help her. I explained all the issues and went through entire ballot, and she was able to send it in on time and was very appreciative. After that, the social worker asked me to come and explain the Propositions to the tenants who only speak Chinese. So I did that too!
I also wear all the Vote buttons, and whenever I’m on the bus, or around church members or tenants, I explain the issues to them. I have been very involved in politics this year, more than any other year! It’s a great challenge, but a very rewarding experience.
What would you say to someone who has never volunteered or worked at a phone bank before, but who might be thinking about it?
I would definitely encourage them, they could learn a lot of things by phone banking -- they identify needs of voters and they learn the special characteristics and tendencies of how people vote. You also learn people skills -- you talk to all types of people: old and young, Democrats, Republicans, more and less interested in politics. For me, as a minister and sociology major, I love to talk to and learn about people, it’s in my nature! I can use my knowledge from what I learned way back in the ‘70s and ‘80s and apply it now in real life situations. It’s very practical, valuable, and rewarding! A lot of learning experience also comes from team members. Many are much younger than I am, they treat me like a friend. It’s definitely a lot of fun, I do enjoy myself!
Anything else you'd like to share?
It is my prayer for all Asian Pacific Islanders that we continue to do our best in this great nation and continue to do consciousness-building to the greater community. That we hold our heads high even if there are challenges before us -- maybe discrimination and other issues -- but together we can overcome. And the mainstream will definitely -- I hope soon -- count us as part of this great nation, and they will treasure us and hear us and honor our contribution to the United States of America.