Meet June Liu. She’s Jagmeet Singh’s former CA, the field fundraiser at the BC NDP, and now an NDP candidate in this election.
June sat down with Metric’s Creative Director, Robin Steudel, to discuss fundraising, campaigning, and being an Asian woman in progressive politics.
What made you interested in politics?
I was a really loud and outspoken kid. I was that kid on the playground getting into fights on other people’s behalf. I think my parents, most of all my mom, decided “Okay, she has this passion for trying to do the right thing. Let’s channel that into something constructive, so she doesn’t rip out somebody’s hair.”
Tell me about fundraising. How do you do it?
At the core of it, it’s not hard. The reason we fundraise is because we want to make lives better for people. When I encounter my friends, or their kids, I think, “I want to build a better future for you. I want to make sure that you’re growing up in a more equitable, more fair world and that you have more access to things than I do.”
You have to reach into yourself and find what it is that compels you. Like, if you’re fundraising for an environmental organization, what is it that really matters to you? Maybe you saw a documentary about the dwindling populations of polar bears, and that stuck out to you. You have to dig deep and find what drives and motivates you, so you have that fire within.
People can always tell when you don’t believe what you’re saying. Like, even if you paid me to fundraise for a Republican, I wouldn’t raise any money because I would just sound sarcastic the entire time. Like, “Oh no, whatever are we going to do with only three jets for this Congress person? They need a fourth private jet. How will they survive without it?” That’s how it’d come across because that’s what I’d be thinking.
How has fundraising changed during the pandemic?
I think connecting with people on a human level works, especially in person. And that’s definitely harder in pandemic times. But people are still really into interactive events. For example, everyone wants to hang out with John Horgan.
Food delivery combined with eating online together has worked super well. All of us are craving that ‘dining out with friends’ experience. Or even mailing something as simple as a tea bag, and saying, “Let’s have tea together.”
In the absence of in-person human interaction we can still create that neighborhood community feeling. It’s reconnecting people with their communities. It’s reminding them that, “Hey, you are a part of something bigger, and your actions impact those around you.”
How do you sell tickets for these events?
Nothing works better than a phone call. Nothing works better than some somebody saying, “Please buy a ticket and hang out with me.” That personal touch really is what compels people.
Is anyone out there having success doing email fundraising?
Yeah! Our emails definitely work. As much as people say they hate getting them, they sure as heck do love donating to them. And I will say I’m one of those people that falls for it. I got a fundraising email from someone today, and she mentioned her grandma, and I was like, “I guess there’s 20 bucks.” So emails absolutely do work.
Do you have any advice for small organizations who are looking to start fundraising?
I think the biggest thing is that you just can’t be shy about it. There’s no beating around the bush, just get to the point, and people will respect that.
Switching gears, can you speak to your experience as a woman of colour working and running in politics?
I think that in politics—including in progressive politics —you get all kinds of people: some who are allies and some who aren’t. There’s work that progressives need to do. The biggest thing that I’ve had to learn is to really find my voice and stand my ground. A lot of times, there are misconceptions about Asian women: that we are docile, we’re submissive, we’re quiet.
I’ve never been quiet in my entire life. I came out as a force of chaos. But subconsciously or not, people have the tendency to silence me. It definitely takes the work of other allies speaking up. But it also takes finding that peace within myself.
I think in those times it’s important for me to speak up, because if not me who else?
What kinds of things can we do to make progressive spaces more genuinely inclusive?
People and progressive groups need to take the time to really think about who they have representing their space and their movement. It’s important to have representation without tokenization.
What do you think sets your candidacy apart?
There are a lot of people of colour living here in Surrey. It’s actually only about 46% white. And yet we’ve only had a handful of elected representatives who are people of colour.
Representation matters. As a young Asian woman, growing up seeing Jenny Kwan being an MLA and an MP, and seeing Katrina Chen, Anne Kang, Bowinn Ma in the public sphere definitely made me think, “Oh, hey. I look like her. We speak the same language. Maybe one day I could be like that.” And now, I want other women and girls to see me as somebody who is their team member, as a collaborator, as somebody that is here to work with—and represent—them.
Tell us about your connection with the City of Surrey.
Well, I grew up here. I actually used to work for the City and sat on the Social Planning Committee as a youth representative. I saw firsthand the importance of social policy and really doing what you can at every level to ensure that people are able to access the things that they need. It’s been really eye opening. Through seeing what needs to be provided, you also see the barriers. And that really just made me think well, what can I do?”
What would your priorities be?
First of all, consultation. If you’re not talking to people, you’re not representing them. That’s what’s been a driving force for me. I want to talk to people, I want to know what people need. I want to deliver what my community needs. I’m that person who can do it.
Sustainable development, inequality and housing are big for me. For the love of God, stop building million dollar condos in a place where the median income is $45,000! People get pushed out of their neighbourhoods. You don’t want to uproot a third grader for example, and send them to a different school just because a developer bought out all the land and now their family can’t afford to live there.
How are you planning to connect with people for your campaign?
A really big part is meeting people where they’re at, even if I can’t reach them at home. Let’s say you live in a high rise; it’s not necessarily accessible. I still want to be there in your community at a park nearby and have those conversations. I want to make sure that politics is accessible to everyone.
I want to make sure that we aren’t leaving digital campaigning behind either. At the end of the day, while these tools come with some barriers, they do remove a lot of others. That’s something we’ve seen in the pandemic too.
And, people are getting creative in the pandemic! There’s a city councillor in Taiwan who actually has an Animal Crossing constituency office. It’s so good!You can actually go to her constituency in the game, and submit genuine real-life questions about your community, and her office will reach out and help you. Fun and accessible!
What messages do you want to share with people during your campaign?
I want to remind people that politics affects your everyday life—from the moment you wake up and brush your teeth. Your toothpaste is regulated by laws to keep you safe. Your water comes from your local government and they need to make sure that it is drinkable, that it’s not going to hurt you. Politics is everywhere. Everything you do is related and you should care because your voice matters.