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  May 1, 2000

Seek Strength in Numbers, Harvard Professor
Urges Asian Americans

Touting the popularly held belief that there is strength in numbers, a Harvard professor and political activist urged members of UConn's Asian American community to exercise their political power by banding together.

Yu-Chi Ho, co-founder of the 80-20 Initiative, was speaking to members of the University community on April 20 about the political action committee and its goals.

Founded in spring 1998, the non-partisan organization is dedicated to equality and opportunities for Asian Americans, Ho said. The group hopes to flex its political muscle by getting 80 percent of Asian American voters to back one political party in the upcoming presidential election.

"The important thing is to demonstrate we can vote 80-20," Ho said. "It is very important in this election that we show we can vote as a block."

Since its founding, the group has asked presidential candidates to promise to do a number of things if elected president, including lifting the glass ceiling and appointing qualified Asian Americans to key government positions.

Vice President and presidential candidate Al Gore has backed 80-20's goals. Before dropping out of the presidential race, Bill Bradley also expressed support for the goals.

Despite expressed support from the candidates, the group plans to support a political party not an individual candidate, because parties have longer term influence, Ho said.

According to Ho, the group isn't interested in legislation outlawing discrimination. "We are not asking to pass more laws," Ho said, adding that the issue is "not racial discrimination, it's lack of political power."

In the past few month, 80-20 has gathered an e-mail list of 200,000 Asian Americans and raised $250,000. In the near future, the group hopes to expand its e-mail list, raise more money and convince Asian Americans to withhold their support from presidential candidates until they sign on to 80-20's goals.

This summer, the group will appoint an endorsement committee that will decide which political party to support. If the group achieves its goal of getting 80 percent of the Asian American population to back the chosen party, all Asian Americans will benefit, Ho said.

"By working with us, you can in fact improve your position," he said.

In order for the group to meet its goal, he said, Asian American voters must overcome their political apathy and cynicism. Once the group demonstrates its political power, it will begin to work on other issues.

"We first have to stand up and show we can do something," Ho said. "Once we gain strength, we will broaden out to do more things for Asian Americans."

Allison Thompson