A frequent question I hear: What am I doing in Seattle?
At my internship last summer, I sent out a company-wide email (which, looking back, was a terrible idea), asking if anyone would be attending the Asian American Journalism Association conference in San Francisco.
My supervisor emailed me back, saying that the Business News anchor Phillip Yin would be attending.
I got up from my desk, walked a short distance to Phil's cubicle, shook his hand, and asked him what to expect from the conference. He gave me some tips, handed me his business card, and left the building.
When I bumped into him at the NBC Comcast Mixer, he grabbed me by the shoulder, steered me in front of various NBC execs, and uttered the first of many partial-truths that I would hear him say for the next several months of my life.
"I work with Ben. He's the smartest intern we have. He's awesome."
- I did technically work with Phil, just not in the same division. 8/10 on truthiness.
- When I first arrived at CCTV-America, there were a few interns in the office, but by the time AAJA rolled around I was the only intern in the entire office. Technically, I was the smartest by default. 9/10.
- Was I awesome in a job sense? I had no real world experience outside of my internship, and that mostly consisted of printing out scripts and cutsheets, writing very simple stories, researching, and cutting video. I think I'm awesome, so 7/10 maybe.
We had spoken for about 10 minutes maximum up to this point. Phil didn't really know me. Maybe he knew something I didn't. Maybe he had a feeling about me. Maybe he mistook me for someone else. I'll never really know for sure.
Four months later, Phillip gave me a call. He would be quitting his cushy anchor job to pursue politics in Washington state. And he wanted me to join his team.
Me? He must have gotten the wrong number.
Before I knew it, I found myself on an airplane to Seattle. And again, and again. I accrued thousands of airline miles. I began working as the Digital Media lead, which meant lots and lots of videos. Videography requires video equipment. I didn't have any video equipment. I spent a lot of money: microphones, audio recorders, tripods, lenses.
I also became the only person on the campaign who who knew how to do graphic design. Thousands of flyers of my own design were printed and given out at campaign events. I also became head of social media management. I spent thousands of dollars on Facebook advertisements and sponsored posts. I created a television ad, and then bought airtime for my ad across an entire state. I maxed out Phil's credit card putting my work onto hundreds of thousands of screens in Washington.
I worked long hours. I would stay up late, editing videos and photos, carefully tracking insights. I would stay up past midnight discussing strategy. I would have to eat many, many steaks, because that's pretty much all Phil ate. While I was up here in Seattle, I sacrificed an entire month to devote my life to this campaign.
It wasn't enough.
On election night, I watched the numbers slowly update on the television. The interns huddled in the corner, swearing at each page refresh, aghast, as the numbers rolled in from the state's voter website. After 30 minutes, I knew we were done. I stepped out onto the terrace and stared at the ground for what felt like ages.
We lost. Badly. Another GOP candidate, Marty McClendon, cinched second place. He took a plurality of GOP votes. Why? Maybe because his name was printed at the top of the ballot. Phil's name was third. Maybe because Marty had a white-sounding name. Republican voter participation dropped, possibly signaling burnout from moderate Republicans in the wake of Trump's ascendancy.
Marty had raised less than a third of what Phil pulled in. Marty ran no campaign ads on television, had a barely functioning website, and failed to show up to a significant number of political forums. A woman named Karen Wallace, who had raised no money, and who had seemed to have signed up on a whim, took 5% of the votes in the Lieutenant Governor's race. A man who had started a bid for Congress and then specifically told his voters to NOT vote for him ended up winning enough votes to move to the general election in November.
The results from this year's primary were riddled with inconsistencies and baffling results. If there's anything I learned from politics, it's that most of this shit makes no sense.
Most of it.
I was still outside staring at the ground when one of the staffers called my name. Phil was about to give his concession speech and he wanted me to be there.
The mood was grim. Phil had to speak to the people who hadn't already left the party. He didn't stare at the ground, mumble about how we tried our best, or cry. He spoke clearly, thanked us all individually for our hard work, and looked us all in the eye. It's not easy to be strong in the face of crippling defeat, but that's just the kind of guy Phillip Yin is.
Phil will not become the next Lieutenant Governor of Washington state. He will not be able to give me a job in government. But Phil has already given me the experience of a lifetime. I was lucky enough to be a part of an important political campaign, and I was even luckier that I didn't just have to wave signs and knock on doors. Was the campaign frustrating at times? Yes. Did I gain a lot of weight from eating steaks all the time? Probably. But Phil had faith in my abilities, and gave me the resources and the mouthpiece to prove myself. I am now sure, more than ever, that I am ready to be a career professional.
I'm proud to have been a part of this journey.
I am, and have always been, #YinItToWinIt