S.B. Woo: Us­ing skills to make change BIO

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSSAMERICA - By CAI CHUN­Y­ING and HUA SHENGDUN in Bal­ti­more

Ev­ery time Shien-Biau “S.B.” Woo, for­mer lieu­tenant gov­er­nor of Delaware, hears about US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ap­point­ing an Asian Amer­i­can to his cab­i­net or fed­eral court, he feels a deep sense of sat­is­fac­tion. He knows his hard-fought ef­forts are pay­ing off.

Dur­ing the 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, Woo, pres­i­dent of the 80-20 Ini­tia­tive, a voter­mo­bi­liza­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion serv­ing Asian Americans, sent a ques­tion­naire to all can­di­dates, ask­ing for their pledge to help break the glass ceil­ing for Asian Americans by ap­point­ing more Asian Americans to top fed­eral of­fices and benches.

Joe Bi­den and Hil­lary Clin­ton, both pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, sent in their signed pledge rather early, but not Obama. 80-20 then launched a cy­ber cam­paign, ask­ing its 350,000 or so Asian-Amer­i­can sup­port­ers not to vote for Obama.

A cou­ple of days be­fore Su­per Tues­day, the day when a dozen or so US states in­clud­ing Cal­i­for­nia held pri­maries, Woo got Obama’s pledge in a let­ter. Polls in Cal­i­for­nia only days ear­lier showed that three out of four Asian Americans would support Clin­ton.

“How do you get a politi­cian to do things for you?” Woo, 77, said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view with China Daily. “You study his in­ter­est. Find out where he wants to go. If you can, you put your­self in the way of where he has to pass. The politi­cian can­not reach his goal with­out get­ting through you, so he will ask for your help. You are ready to give help but with a re­quest. When a politi­cian needs to have some­thing from you, then you can ne­go­ti­ate.”

“Things like this com­pletely change Asian Americans’ un­der­stand­ing of pol­i­tics. They used to think that it was all about money, we had to beg, we were no­body,” he added. “Think hard, find the but­ton, try to cre­ate a win-win sit­u­a­tion, then push the but­ton.”

This is at the heart of Woo’s un­der­stand­ing of US pol­i­tics, the re­sult of many years of par­tic­i­pat­ing in pol­i­tics, as well as fight­ing for jus­tice in it.

Woo first tasted the real bat­tle of pol­i­tics in 1984 when he ran for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor of Delaware as a univer­sity pro­fes­sor and a first-gen­er­a­tion im­mi­grant with no name recog­ni­tion.

“We of­ten talked about hav­ing Chi­nese Americans run for pub­lic of­fices, but no one seemed to dare do any­thing. So, I told my wife, if no one wants to do it, then I will,” said Woo, who came to the US in 1955 after fin­ish­ing high school in Hong Kong. He re­ceived PhD in Physics from the Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity in St. Louis and later joined the Univer­sity of Delaware in 1966.

Woo was ac­tive in the Chi­nese-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity. He helped es­tab­lish Delaware’s first Chi­nese School and was its prin­ci­pal. He also was the first pres­i­dent of a lo­cal Chi­nese Amer­i­can Com­mu­nity Cen­ter. His wife, Katy Woo, was of­fice man­ager of then Se­na­tor Bi­den’s state of­fice and a del­e­gate to the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion. The cou­ple dis­cussed pol­i­tics at home a lot.

Woo has never shied away from con­tro­versy. He was the found­ing pres­i­dent and chief spokesman of the fac­ulty bar­gain­ing unit at the univer­sity when it still had an anti-union mind­set. His hard-fought bat­tle earned him recog­ni­tion. He be­came a mem­ber of the school’s board of trus­tees, ap­pointed by the gov­er­nor.

Woo at­tributes his sense of jus­tice to his older brother. Woo ac­ci­den­tally read his brother’s di­ary in which he talked about how wrong it was to treat their sis­ters dis­re­spect­fully due to the tra­di­tional Chi­nese cul­tural norm of re­gard­ing girls as in­fe­rior to boys. It en­light­ened and in­spired Woo.

Woo’s elec­tion ex­cited the whole Chi­nese-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity in the US. Big names gath­ered be­hind him in­clud­ing Nobel lau­re­ates Chen-Ning Yang and Tsung-Dao Lee and renowned ar­chi­tect I. M. Pei. Almost ev­ery Chi­nese-Amer­i­can or­ga­ni­za­tion ren­dered support in one form or another.

Against pre­vail­ing skep­ti­cism from the main­stream, Woo pulled it off, beat­ing two veteran state se­na­tors in the pri­mary as well as an en­trenched Repub­li­can op­po­nent and be­came the first Asian-Amer­i­can elected of­fi­cial at that level in US his­tory.

The Delaware Morn­ing News, Delaware’s only state-wide daily, ran a front page ar­ti­cle un­der the banner head­line: “Wow Woo Won” the next day, with news of the newly-elected Repub­li­can gov­er­nor in the cor­ner.

Four years into the job, Woo de­cided to run for the US Se­nate. He won the pri­mary but lost in the elec­tion. In 1992, Woo ran for US Congress, win­ning the pri­mary by a big mar­gin but los­ing the bat­tle to his for­mer boss, re­tir­ing Gov­er­nor Michael Cas­tle, who joined the elec­tion rather late.

Woo said he learned much more about pol­i­tics after he lost the two cam­paigns. In the mean­time, Woo has never aban­doned his civic du­ties in pro­mot­ing the Chi­nese-Amer­i­can com­mu­nity. In 1991, he be­came pres­i­dent of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Chi­nese Americans, the lead­ing na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Chi­nese Americans in the US.

When the fa­mous “Asia-Gate” scan­dal erupted in 1996, in which Asian Americans, ea­ger to please top run­ning politi­cians dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial and con­gres­sional elec­tions, raised money to the point of il­le­gal­ity and were bashed by both the po­lit­i­cal par­ties and the me­dia, Woo was deeply in­sulted and got wor­ried about the im­ma­tu­rity of Asian Americans’ po­lit­i­cal knowl­edge and skills and lack of po­lit­i­cal clout.

To­gether with sev­eral like­minded prom­i­nent Asian Amer­i­can lead­ers, in­clud­ing Chang-Lin Tien, then chan­cel­lor of the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, Woo founded the 80-20 Ini­tia­tive, of­fi­cially the 80-20 Po­lit­i­cal Ac­tion Com­mit­tee(PAC),with­the­goalof di­rect­ing 80 per­cent of the AsianAmer­i­can com­mu­nity’s votes and money to the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date en­dorsed by 80-20 to make their voices bet­ter heard.

Woo an­nounced in 2000 that he would not run for pub­lic of­fice nor ac­cept any po­lit­i­cal ap­point­ment and be­came an In­de­pen­dent, which of­fi­cially turned him into a po­lit­i­cal ac­tivist and al­lows him to freely use his po­lit­i­cal acu­men to serve common good.

The 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, es­pe­cially in the case of Obama, pro­vided a good tes­ta­ment to how ef­fec­tive Woo’s strat­egy was. The net­work of 350,000 sup­port­ers and 3,150 paid mem­bers en­abled Woo to de­liver a swing bloc vote there­fore in­duced can­di­dates to take Asian Americans’ in­ter­ests into bet­ter con­sid­er­a­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Woo, Obama has kept his prom­ise well, ap­point­ing an im­pres­sive num­ber of Asian Americans to cab­i­net po­si­tions, in­clud­ing for­mer Com­merce Sec­re­tary Gary Locke and for­mer En­ergy Sec­re­tary Steve Chu, and more than tripled the num­ber of AsianAmer­i­can Fed­eral Judges from eight in 2008 to 25 in 2014.

“As a Chi­nese Amer­i­can, I was well aware that almost ev­ery gen­er­a­tion of im­mi­grants, whether Cau­casian, Asian, or African, had to go through a po­lit­i­cal process to be­come equal. It is not be­cause of the color of our skin. It is our weak­ness in po­lit­i­cal knowl­edge and in­flu­ence,” said Woo, who re­tired from the Univer­sity of Delaware in 2002 after serv­ing 36 years.

“I am hurt­ing my own po­lit­i­cal ca­reer by be­ing a mav­er­ick, but I am will­ing to do it. All of us have to stand up for our rights,” he added.

Sheng Yang con­trib­uted to the story. Con­tact the writ­ers at charlenecai@chi­nadai­lyusa.com


Shien-Biau “S.B.” Woo is pres­i­dent of 80-20 Ed­u­ca­tional Foun­da­tion and for­mer lieu­tenant gov­er­nor of Delaware.

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