An Open Letter To Senator Obama from 80-20

Dear Fellow Asian Americans:

The following is an earnest, sincere and final attempt to reach Senator Obama. Please read it carefully to understand the issues. If 80-20 decides to engage in a great struggle, it will be to defend YOUR rights to equal opportunity in workplaces and equal justice in Federal courts. We already have iron-clad commitments, signed by Senators Clinton and Edwards. We cannot risk having such commitments possibly replaced by vague, non-measurable promises from “The Obama campaign,” not signed by anyone.

An open letter to Senator Obama

Dear Senator Obama,

This is an earnest, final attempt by 80-20 Educational Foundation to reach out to you and ask for your hand of friendship and support. I promise to dutifully relay your response to the leadership of our Asian American community by 12 noon Central Time on 1/15/08. Depending on your response, our community may be forced to choose sides in the Democratic primary. We had not planned on that. If we hear from you affirmatively, we will remain neutral.

You are a candidate for change. Is it reasonable for us to hope that the change will include us? Here are the main grievances of the Asian American community.

Believe it or not, Asian Americans have the least opportunity to enter management when compared with Blacks, Hispanics and women; the slowest rate of progress toward equal employment opportunity in spite of having the highest educational attainment. Our comprehensive study covered private industries, universities and the Federal government. Our data and calculation have been independently verified by the EEOC.

In addition, only 0.6% of our Title III Federal judges are Asian Americans. Not even one of the 179 federal appellate judges is an Asian American— this in spite of the fact that 5% of legal professionals are Asian Americans, many from nation’s top law schools!

To remedy the above are the specific goals of our questionnaire. We are not seeking political favors. We are seeking civil rights. Senators Clinton and Edwards have replied with all yeses. Each wants to help make us become equal citizens, when she/he becomes the president. Since you are the candidate for change, why are you hesitant to commit to give us equal opportunity?

As a skilled lawyer, you know that an agreement is worthless if conditions and terms are not measurable. The statement sent to me by your campaign has non-measurable promises to “advance the interests [of Asian Americans]…”; non-specific statements that you are “committed to appoint.[AsAm].” or “build upon your work as a civil rights lawyer.” These sweet words are not measurable and are routinely uttered by politicians that will satisfy only the naïve, and gullible. I believe you are not that kind of leader.

Your staff publicly claimed that they were “unable to reach agreement with leadership of the 80-20 Educational Foundation over concerns with the wording of the questionnaire.” That is false. No specific proposal to change the wording was EVER made to me. You may want to instruct your staff to find that proposal or failing to find it, to immediately draft one and send it to me as the proof of good-faith from the Obama campaign.

We want very much to work with you, Senator Obama, and the ball is in your court. The opportunity is yours to take, and history yours to make.


SB Woo, President
80-20 Educational Foundation, Inc.



  1. This is an ongoing issue with Obama and 80-20. It’s a matter of he said, she said. I am on the 80-20 email list and they have sent multiple emails to vote against Obama for his refusal to sign onto their commitment. Obama’s campaign contends that they were not allowed to change the wording as Clinton and Edwards were. However, 80-20 denies this in this letter, and claims that the Obama campaign has lied. I totally trust and respect S.B. Woo. Thus, I am more apt to believe him over the Obama campaign.

    So it should be interesting to see how effective 80-20 can be in mobilizing Asian American voters to vote against Obama on February 5th (Super Tuesday) in states with sizeable Asian American populations such as California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois, and Massachusetts.

  2. Hi,

    I’m the author of the two posts linked by Jeff Lam above.

    You are absolutely right that this issue is a “he said, she said.” That is why I urge you and others to go beyond the unverifiable claims of any group or party, whether Obama’s campaign or 80-20, as to the actual events, none of which any of us were there to witness. I urge you to evaluate Sen. Obama’s record on AAPI issues independently. Ultimately, you must make your decision not based on what other people say is reality, but what facts you can discover for yourself.

    In my two posts responding to 80-20, I have attempted to offer just such facts about Sen. Obama’s actual record and history instead of focusing on the narrow, particular dispute at issue. As I stated, when I went to law school in Chicago and Sen. Obama was still teaching there, I had the opportunity to see his work as a state senator and see what he was like as a person. Every Asian American community leader I knew in Chicago spoke highly of Sen. Obama’s commitment to AAPI issues throughout his career, and how he was a reliable, unwavering voice for AAPI concerns in the Illinois State Senate. If you want to know what he has done for Asian Americans, look at his legislative record. Talk to Asian American leaders in Illinois who have been working with him for years. Talk to his US Senate Chief of Staff and Legislative Director, who are both of APA descent. Talk to my friend and law school classmate Priya Bhattia, who heads the Chicago chapter of South Asians for Obama. Talk to the other Asian American political organizations that have endorsed him. Look at his policy platform for AAPIs. Look at the fact that he has more resources devoted specifically to the AAPI community of any of the major presidential candidates.

    To offer one example, one of the questions that Obama supposedly refused to answer was about appointing Article III judges (federal judges). Woo implies that not answering the question means Obama is not committed to this principle. Yet in fall 2005 at the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association National Convention in Chicago, Sen. Obama gave a speech where he specifically mentioned the need to fight for more APA judges on the federal bench (as well as issuing a call to APAs to be more actively involved in electoral politics). I know that because I was there.

    The problem with 80-20 is not that they criticize Sen. Obama, but the manner in which they have done it. First of all, it is completely irresponsible, not to mention a logical fallacy, to argue that to refuse to answer a questionnaire from one APA organization means that Obama must not care about APAs. Even if the charge were true, there are plenty of other reasons why someone might refuse that have nothing at all to do with their position on APAs. Second of all, the sheer vitriol of the rhetoric is disheartening. If Sen. Obama were David Duke, that may be understandable. But to attack a proven progressive who grew up in Indonesia and Hawaii as some kind of anti-Asian racist is terribly misleading. (I also think one shouldn’t underestimate the value of having lived abroad for being able to empathize with first generation immigrants who know what it’s like to live somewhere besides America.)

    Ultimately, if we get bogged down with the details of what exactly was said between the two camps, we’ll never resolve the issue since none of us were there. Rather than obsessively parsing the meaning of a tussle over one questionnaire, wouldn’t all of us be better served by spending that time researching the known facts, the record, and talking to the people in positions to know most about what Obama has done over the years, especially before he was nationally known? I know the Asian American community is more sophisticated than to just take their cues from one organization, no matter how hard working or successful in the past. Just like the black community knows that Farrakhan, Sharpton, Jackson, Bond, Mfume, etc. each speak for themselves and their organizations, not necessarily the community as a whole.

    I’ve gone to talks with S.B. Woo. I’ve even had the opportunity to chat with him a few times. I interned at OCA when 80-20 was just starting up, and he was working with organizations such as OCA on the project. One of his relatives went to college with me. He’s done a lot of things worth admiring and applauding. But that does not mean he has earned the right to be the final say on every issue or claim that his views represent the interests and perspectives of all Asian Americans.

    Ramey Ko
    Asian Americans for Obama

  3. I appreciate your passionate advocacy for Barack Obama. If he ends up winning the Democratic nomination, I will totally support him. However, until then, I am a Hillary Clinton supporter. I think Obama speaks very inspirationally, but not substantively. My question still is where’s the beef? He offers no specific policies to bring about the change he says he’ll bring. I don’t doubt Obama has a good track record with AAPI’s in Illinois. However, Hillary Clinton also has a great track record with AAPI’s.

    80-20 might not be perfect, but I appreciate their efforts to create a solid AAPI voting bloc to empower the AAPI community in the political arena.

  4. I will vote for Sen. Obama. I can’t reconcile voting for John McCain who has no interest or understanding for our concerns. Sen. Obama has championed our causes in Chicago and just because he didnt respond the way you wanted doesnt make him not willing or a advocate for our civil rights. I will be voting for HIM and all of my KOREAN FRIENDS WILL BE TOO!

    Sue Jung

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