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Open Letter to the Biden Campaign on “Unprepared”

By September 14, 2020April 10th, 2021No Comments

Open Letter to the Biden Campaign on “Unprepared”


May 12 · 13 min read
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To add your name to this letter, go to:

Media Contacts:

Grace Pai, Asian American Midwest Progressives //, (310) 433–1107

Michelle Liang, NAKASEC Action Fund //, (925) 286–7948

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We are community leaders, educators, writers, and artists who are profoundly disappointed and concerned by the Biden campaign’s recent “Unprepared” ad, and its strategy to attack Trump on the grounds that he “rolled over for the Chinese.”

We share the Biden campaign’s goal of defeating Trump in November. And we acknowledge Vice President Biden’s leadership in condemning racism against AAPIs. We are concerned, though, that “Unprepared” feeds into one of the right’s core narrative strategies, which is to identify COVID-19 with China. Trump’s performance confronting COVID-19 will be a decisive factor in this year’s election, and given his failures, his only hope of reelection is to shift blame onto a scapegoat: China. By pushing a message that attributes Trump’s failures to his relationship with China, the Biden campaign reinforces Trump’s own core narrative. This may well backfire.

Ultimately, “Unprepared” plays to rather than challenges the right-wing nationalist movement and its worldview. We highlight a number of threats that emerge from this.

The threat of anti-Asian racism. When hateful rhetoric goes unchallenged, it leads to racism and violence against people of color. Black, Latinx, and indigenous communities have lived through these realities, and Asian Americans are no exception. The right’s attempt to blame China for the COVID-19 crisis in the U.S. has led to a sharp increase in racist harassment and assault of people of Chinese descent and others perceived to be of Chinese descent. One effort, Stop AAPI Hate, has recorded nearly 1500 such incidents in the past month. People have been insulted, spat on, beaten, and injured; in one incident a man attempted to murder a family, stabbing children aged 2 and 7, allegedly because he believed they were spreading COVID-19. The “Unprepared” ad may make this worse.

The Biden campaign’s “Unprepared” ad exacerbates anti-Asian racism in many ways, none clearer than when it implies that the country would have been saved by a stricter travel ban on China. This is misinformation that reinforces Trump’s racist and harmful efforts to identify the disease with China and Chinese people. Public health experts agree that travel bans are a poor tool for containing pandemics, and the outbreak in New York, the worst in the country, mostly came via travel from Europe, not China. The containment and mitigation strategies we most needed to see from the Trump administration have little to do with confronting China. The Biden campaign should criticize Trump’s catastrophic mishandling of COVID-19, but this should be grounded in real public health solutions to COVID-19, not racist misinformation.

The threat to the future of the Democratic Party. Playing to right-wing nationalism and fanning anti-China sentiment will also come at a cost at the ballot box. It will alienate not just Asian American voters, but also a broader population of progressive and antiracist voters, including younger voters. This jeopardizes the future of the Democratic Party, which lies in building a multiracial progressive coalition and bringing younger voters into the fold. The Biden campaign has demonstrated its understanding of this by reaching out to Senator Sanders and his base, and Vice President Biden himself has spoken out strongly against Trump’s xenophobia and racism, but the anti-China messaging strategy exemplified by “Unprepared” undermines those efforts. This is not just cynical, it is also short-sighted.

The threat to international cooperation and public health. Tensions between the U.S. and China have damaged efforts to confront COVID-19 by undermining urgently needed global cooperation around the provision of medical supplies as well as research into treatment and a vaccine. While many of us have been critical of the Chinese government and its initial response to the COVID-19 outbreak, it is clear that U.S.-China cooperation is an urgent and overriding priority until the pandemic is under control. State and local governments, hospitals, and civil society organizations across the country are building life-saving links to China and elsewhere in order to procure medical supplies and other resources, and the federal government has threatened these connections rather than supported them. This has made the country as a whole less safe. The Biden campaign should champion the need for international cooperation — particularly strengthening and supporting the World Health Organization — without undermining it by fueling greater hostility towards China.

Our demands: The country’s greatest priority at this moment is to beat the COVID-19 crisis, and this requires embracing principles of antiracist solidarity and international cooperation. The Biden campaign can and should beat Trump and the GOP with a message centered on our real public health needs and the progressive values that are required to meet those needs. The “Unprepared” ad must be taken down, and all campaign messaging that fuels anti-Asian racism and China-bashing must end. We refuse to allow the Biden campaign to sacrifice our dignity in the name of political expediency.



Michelle Chen, Journalist
Wei Chen, Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance (Philadelphia, PA)
Calvin Cheung-Miaw, PhD student, Stanford University
Tobita Chow, Director, Justice is Global
Michelle Liang, NAKASEC Action Fund
Timmy Lu, Executive Director, AAPIs For Civic Empowerment
Laura Misumi, Executive Director, Michigan Asian American Progressives
Grace Pai, Director of Movement Politics, Asian American Midwest Progressives (Chicago, IL)

National Organizations
AAPIs for Civic Empowerment
Action Center on Race and the Economy
APA for Progress PAC
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, AFL-CIO
Black Voters Matter Fund
Chinese American Progressive Action
Donors of Color Action
Equality Labs
The Jewish Vote
Justice is Global
NAKASEC Action Fund
Movement Voter Project
People’s Action
Preston-Werner Initiatives
Progressive Democrats of America
Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)
United We Dream Action
Working Families Party

State and Local Organizations
AHRI for Justice (Fullerton, CA)
APEN Action (Oakland and Richmond, CA)
Asian Pacific Islander Political Alliance(PA)
Asian American Advocacy Fund (Atlanta, GA)
Asian American Midwest Progressives (Chicago, IL)
Asian Americans in Action (Orange County, CA)
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance — Illinois (APALA-IL)
Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO)
CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities (NY)
Chinese Progressive Association Action Fund (San Francisco, CA)
Chinese Progressive Political Action (Boston, MA)
CHIRLA Action Fund (Los Angeles, CA)
Citizen Action Wisconsin
Congregations Organized for Prophetic Engagement (San Bernadino, CA)
Durham For All (NC)
Ground Game LA (Los Angeles, CA)
Inland Empire United (CA)
Iowa CCI Action
Korean American Center (Irvine, CA)
Maine People’s Alliance
Michigan Action
Michigan Asian American Progressives (Detroit, MI)
Michigan Liberation
Nevada UndocuCouncil
NYC Asian American Democratic Club
Organization of Chinese Americans — Westchester and Hudson Valley Chapter (NY)
One APIA Nevada
OPAWL — Ohio Progressive Asian Women’s Alliance
The People’s Lobby (Chicago, IL)
Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada Action Fund (PLAN Action)
Power CA Action
Reclaim Philadelphia (PA)
Showing Up for Racial Justice — Albuquerque, NM
Showing Up for Racial Justice — Baltimore, MD
Showing Up for Racial Justice — Houston, TX
Showing Up for Racial Justice — Marin, CA
Showing Up for Racial Justice — Montgomery County, PA
Showing Up for Racial Justice — Northern Virginia
Showing Up for Racial Justice — NYC
Showing Up for Racial Justice — Sacramento, CA
We The People — Michigan

Elected Officials
Nikki Fortunato Bas, Oakland, CA Councilmember
Stephanie Chang, Michigan State Senator
Helen Gym, Philadelphia, PA City Councilmember At-Large,
Sabrina Javellana, Hallandale Beach, FL Vice-Mayor
Jillian Johnson, Durham, NC Mayor Pro Tempore
Ron Kim, New York State Assemblyman, District 60
Eric Mar, former member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors
Gordon Mar, member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors
María Poblet, Commissioner, Berkeley Rent Board
Jean Quan, former Mayor of Oakland, CA
Rigel Robinson, Berkeley, CA City Council
Dai Thao, St. Paul, MN Councilmember
Sheng Thao, Oakland, CA Councilmember
Marny Xiong, Chair, St. Paul, MN Public Schools Board of Education
Nelsie Yang, St. Paul, MN Councilmember
Norman Yee, President, San Francisco Board of Supervisors
S.B. Woo, Former Lieutenant Governor of Delaware; President, 80–20 Educational Foundation
Arti Walker-Peddakotla — Oak Park, Illinois Village Trustee
Neil Abercrombie, Former Governor of Hawaii

Community Leaders (organizations listed for identification purposes only)
Geraldine Alcid, Filipino Advocates for Justice (Oakland, CA)
Mia Barnett, Nissei Progressives
Pam Campos-Palma, Peace & Security Strategist, Vets For The People
Daniel Chao, Chair, The 1990 Institute
Jerry Chen, Founder, Chinese American Culture Society
Karen Chen, Executive Director, Chinese Progressive Association (Boston, MA)
Ralph Cheng, Palo Alto, CA
Lian Cheun, Director, People Power Action
Jung Hee Choi, Deputy Director, Power California
Nicolas Daily, Interim Dean of Equity and Inclusion, Upland, CA
Henry Der, Friends for Educational Opportunities in Chinatown
Brian Farrell, retired Santa Rosa City attorney, Vallejo, CA
Alfred Foung, Founding President, LA 80–20 PAC
Buck Gee, Committee of 100
Shagufta Hakeem, Researcher, Duke University
Susan Hayase, Former Vice-Chair Civil Liberties Public Education Fund, San Jose Nikkei Resisters
June Hibino, Nikkei Progressives
Yu-Chi Ho, Co-founder, 80–20 organization; Professor Emerita, Harvard University
Beth Huang, Boston Democratic Socialists of America
Floyd Huen, doctor and community activist, Oakland, CA
James Hsue, Chinese Americans for Peace
Miranda Hsue, Chinese Americans for Peace
Richard Katsuda, Co-chair, Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress
Kate Kizer, Policy Director, Win Without War
Kathy Kojimoto, Political Organizer, Tsuru for Solidarity
Cecilia Lavan, Sister, Dominican Sisters
NTanya Lee, Community Organizer, Philadelphia, PA
Pam Tau Lee, Chairperson, International Coalition Human Rights in Philippines — US
Suzanne Lee, President Emeritus, Chinese Progressive Association
Allen Lo, 80–20
Jeannie Low, Communications co-chair, Save Our National Archives
Cayden Mak, Executive Director, 18 Million Rising
Allison Mark, Media Fellow, Asian Americans Action Fund (Chicago, IL)
Kathy Masaoka, Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress
Mara Moy, Treasurer, Treasurer, Organization of Chinese Americans — Fairfield County
Tram Nguyen, Co-Executive Director, New Virginia Majority
John Ota, Tsuru for Solidarity
Simon Pang, US Sino Friendship Association
Jeannie Park, Board Co-Chair, Donors of Color Network
Sonia Pulgar, Executive Director, Summit, NJ
Howard A. Rodman, past president Writers Guild of America West; professor, University of Southern California
Tavae Samuelu, Pacific Islander community leader, Long Beach, CA
Lakshmi Sridaran, Executive Director, South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Carl Takei, Attorney, ACLU
Julie Tang, Retired Judge, co-chair, “Comfort Women” Justice Coaltion
Minna Tao, Oakland, CA
Alex T. Tom, Executive Director, Center for Empowered Politics
Maeley Tom, Co-Founder, Association of Asian American Investment Manager
Jean-Huy Tran, President, San Diego AAPI Democratic Club
San Tran, Board Secretary, Chinese Progressive Association
Alix Webb, Executive Director, Asian Americans United
Michael Williams, Co-Founder, Coalition for a Diverse Harvard
Ann Wong, Board Co-Chair, Chinese Progressive Association (Boston, MA)
Helena Wong, Director, Seeding Change
Dennis Wu, Chair, APAPA San Francisco Chapter
Lisa Xu, Union Organizer, UAW Local 5118
Alvina Yeh, Executive Director, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance
Sophia Yen, Physician and CEO
Kai Zheng, Executive Director, NYS Assembly Asian Pacific American Task Force
Karla Zombro, Vice President of Field Strategy, California Calls
Laura Pho, Chair, Asian Americans Impacting Virginia — Henrico, Virginia
Kazuya Sato, President, Cincinnati Chapter Japanese American Citizens League
Michael Wong, Vice President, Veterans for Peace, San Francisco Chapter 69

Educators (organizations listed for identification purposes only)
Angie Baecker, Doctoral Candidate, University of Michigan
Emily Baum, Associate Professor, University of California, Irvine
Natalie Berger, educator, Merrimack, NH
Mary Brazelton, University Lecturer, University of Cambridge
Julie Broadwin, substitute teacher, San Diego, CA
Keith L, Camacho, Professor of Asian American Studies, UCLA
Lokki Chan, education specialist, New York, NY
Changfu Chang, Professor, Millersville University of PA
Gordon H. Chang, Olive H. Palmer Professor of History, Stanford University
Zahid Chaudhary, Associate Professor, Princeton University
Mark Chen, Professor, University of Washington
Ying Chen, Assistant Professor of Economics, The New School
Margaret M. Chin, Associate Professor, Hunter College
Joon Nak Choi, Adjunct Associate Professor, Hong Kong
Richard Chu, Associate Professor of History, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Jenifer Chun, Associate Professor, UCLA
Steve Cohn, Professor of Economics, Knox College
Lan Danh, teacher, Elk Grove, CA
Mary Danico, Weglyn Endowed Chair and Director, Asian American Transnational Research Initiative, Cal Poly Pomona
Pawan Dhingra, Professor, Amherst College
Harvey Dong, Lecturer, Asian American & Asian Diaspora Studies, UC Berkeley
David Eng, Richard L. Fisher Professor of English, University of Pennsylvania
Jia-Chen Fu, Assistant Professor, Emory University
Lyman Gamberton, PhD Candidate in Anthropology, SOAS, UK
Kevin Garrido, secondary school ELA teacher, North Bergen, NJ
Grace Shu Gerloff, Doctoral Candidate, Lansing, MI
Kim Geron, Professor of Political Science, California State University — East Bay
Andrea Geyling-Moore, History Teacher and Community Engagement Director, Milton Academy
Arunabh Ghosh, Associate Professor, History Department, Harvard University
Joshua Goldstein, Associate Professor of Modern Chinese History, University of Southern California
Philip Kan Gotanda, Professor of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, UC Berkeley
Akhil Gupta, Professor of Anthropology, UCLA
Anthony Hale, Program Director, Albany, CA
Lauren Hirshberg, Assistant Professor of History, Regis University
Madeline Hsu, Professor, UT Austin
Stephanie Hsu, Associate Professor of English and American Studies, Pace University
Danian Hu, Professor of History, The City College of The City University of New York
Alice S. Huang, Professor, Caltech
Satsuki Ina, Professor Emeritus, California State University Sacramento
Kerri A. Inglis, Professor of History, University of Hawaii at Hilo
Russell Jeung, Chair, Asian American Studies, San Francisco State University
Moon-Ho Jung, Professor of History, University of Washington
Elsa Kania, Doctoral Candidate, Department of Government, Harvard University
Betty Kano, San Francisco State University
Christian Kiefer, Professor of English, Ashland University
Kevin Y. Kim, Professor, UCLA
Ju Yon Kim, Professor of English, Harvard University
Richard S. Kim, Professor, UC Davis
Dorinne Kondo, Professor of American Studies and Anthropology, University of Southern California
David Kotz, Professor Emeritus of Economics, University of Massachusetts at Amherst
Marci Kwon, Assistant Professor of Art History, Stanford University
Theresa de Langis, Professor, Bellingham, WA
Eugenia Lean, Professor, Columbia University
Erika Lee, Professor of History and Asian American Studies, University of Minnesota
Namhee Lee, Associate Professor, UCLA
Robert G. Lee, Associate Professor of American Studies, Brown University
Sandra Lee, Associate Professor of English, Columbia, MD
Shelley Lee, Professor of History and American Studies, Oberlin College
Zachary Levenson, Assistant Professor of Sociology, UNCG
Scarlett Lin Gomez, Professor, UCSF
Andrew Liu, Assistant Professor, Villanova University
Joe Lockard, Associate Professor, Arizona State University
Michael Lou, Faculty, Milton Academy
Andrea Louie, Professor of Anthropology, Interim Co-Director of Asian Pacific American Studies Program, Michigan State University
Lisa Lowe, Professor of American Studies, Yale UniversityCynthia Mach, Educator, San Francisco, CA
Valerie Matsumoto, Professor, UCLA
Anne McKnight, Associate Professor, UC Riverside
Jenny Medina, Professor of East Asian Studies, Brooklyn, NY
Philip Merrick, English Teacher, Baltimore, MD
Cynthia Ng, Educator, Alameda, CA
Mae Ngai, Lung Professor of Asian American Studies and Professor of History, Columbia University
Duy Nguyen, Adjunct Associate Professor, Columbia University
T. Nguyen-Vo, Professor, UCLA
Rachel Esplin Odell, International Security Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School
Christina Ong, Doctoral Candidate, University of Pittsburgh
A. Naomi Paik, Associate Professor of Asian American Studies, University of Illinois
David Palumbo-Liu, Louise Hewlett Nixon Professor, Stanford University
Ben Parker, Assistant Professor, Brown University
Anna Pegler-Gordon, Professor, Michigan State University
OiYan Poon, Associate Professor of Higher Education, Colorado State University
Takeo Rivera, Professor, Boston University
Poulomi Saha, Assistant Professor, UC Berkeley
Sigrid Schmalzer, Professor of Chinese History, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Travis Seifman, Postdoctoral Researcher, University of Tokyo
Matt Shutzer, Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard
Mark Haskell Smith, Associate Professor, UC Riverside
Paul Spickard, Distinguished Professor of History, UC Santa Barbara
Masao Suzuki, Professor of Economics, Skyline College
Renee Tajima-Peña, filmmaker and professor, UCLA
Jack Tchen, Professor, Rutgers University
Evelyn Teng, Professor Emerita, USC
Diane Tepfer, Adjunct Professor, UMGC
Virginia Trufan, Graduate Student, Seattle, WA
Darwin Tsen, Assistant Professor of Modern Languages, Carthage College
Michael G. Vann, Professor of History, California State University Sacramento
Naoko Wake, Associate Professor of History, Michigan State University
L. Ling-chi Wang, Professor Emeritus, UC Berkeley
Devra Weber, Professor Emerita, UCLA
Isabella Weber, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Stephen Wertheim, Research Scholar, Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, Columbia University
Gabriel Winant, Assistant Professor of History, University of Chicago
Janelle Wong, Professor, University of Maryland
Kent Wong, director, UCLA Labor Center
Vivian Wu Wong, Teacher, Milton Academy Asian Society
Judy Tzu-Chun Wu, Professor, UC Irvine
Timothy Yang, Professor, Athens, GA
Irene Yen, Professor
Genevieve Yue, Assistant Professor, The New School
Nancy Wang Yuen, Sociologist, Biola University
Min Zhou, Professor, UCLA
Sally Gati, City College of San Francisco
Steven I. Levine, Retired Professor, University of Montana
Ralph Litzinger, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University
Gloria G. Milhoan, Retired Educator, City College of San Francisco
Eric Schluessel, Professor of Chinese History, the George Washington University

Artists and Writers (organizations listed for identification purposes only)
Ellen Bepp, artist
David F. Brown, writer
Sarah Burns, Senior Fellow, Just Foreign Policy
Wilfred Chan, writer
Michelle Chen, journalist
Carolina Do, actor
Mari Blaise Donovan, writer
Jenn Fang, Founder,
Sarah Fuchs, writer
Dianne Fukami, documentary filmmaker
Shinhee Han, therapist and writer
Greg Hauenstein, founder, One Voice Message and Media
Margaret Honda, artist
Brian Hu, artistic director, Pacific Arts Movement
Karen Ishizuka, writer and curator
Jon Jang, composer and pianist
Laura Joakimson, writer
Valarie Kaur, founder, Revolutionary Love Project
Samuel Klein, illustrator
George P. Koo, commentator, Asia Times
Duane Kubo, producer, J-Town Community TV
Lucien Kubo, Asian American Woman Artist Associatio
Kaiser Kuo, co-host of Sinica Podcast
Jenny Lam, artist
Marie Myung-Ok Lee, writer in residence, Columbia University
Genny Lim, San Francisco poet laureate
Paula Mack, performance artist
David Naimon, writer and host of Between The Covers
Viet Thanh Nguyen, writer
PJ Raval, filmmaker
Nikil Saval, writer
Naomi Schneider, editor
Leon Sun, artist and writer
Cynthia Tom, visual artist
Eddie Wong, editor and publisher of East Wind E-zine
Helen Zia, author

Concerned Individuals
Neely Baugh-Dash, Nashville, TN
Rebecca Bedwell, Tucson, AZ
Katherine Beutner, Cleveland Heights, OH
Debjani Bhattacharyya, Philadelphia, PA
Autumn Boylan, Sacramento, CA
Gayle Chan, attorney, San Francisco, CA
Ying-Ying Chan, San Jose, CA
Ravi Chandra, San Francisco, CA
Rebecca Chang, retired engineer, Fremont, CA
John Chen, Danville, CA
Shirley Chen, architect, Sunnyvale, CA
Iona Cheng, doctor, Oakland, CA
Edward Chi, PhD, Los Angeles, CA
James Clary, Broomall, PA
Ryan Cook, educator, Atlanta, GA
Cynthia Compton, Orem, UT
Elia Cuomo, Aventura, FL
Gordon Endow, Bay Area, CA
Beverly Fang, Washington, DC
Kirsten Firminger, Durham, NC
Steve Fujimara, San Jose, CA
Ashleigh Griffin, Covington, WA
Patty Haltom, Twisp, WA
Katherine Hayes, Oxford, OH
Nancy Hellen, South Burlington, VT
Aaron Hood, College Park, MD
Kelly Hui, Lexington, MA
Zach Humphrey, Jupiter, FL
Lo Jee, New York, NY
Thuy Dao Jensen, Houston, TX
Gregory Jue, retired business administrator, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL
Carol Ku, retired programmer, San Jose, CA
Naili Ku, engineer, San Jose, CA
TK Kuo, San Mateo, CA
Angela Le, Moraga, CA
Kiara Lee, Los Angeles, CA
Peter Lew, PhD, Scarsdale, NY
Christina Liang, consultant, Sacramento, CA
Brian Lin, Los Angeles, CA
Joyce Lin, Oakland, CA
Amy Mars, librarian, St. Paul, MN
Christine Mars, Assistant Researcher, Lawrence, KS
Lori Matsukawa, Seattle, WA
Kaitlyn Moore, Boone, NC
Gail M Newman, Williamstown, MA
Lan Ngu, Salt Lake City, UT
Albert Nguyen, Hayward, CA
Bich Nguyen, Corona, CA
Khanh Nguyen, San Diego, CA
Lan Nguyen, Seattle, WA
Theo Nguyen, Minneapolis, MN
Thuan Nguyen, Santa Barbara, CA
Tin Nguyen, attorney, Charlotte, NC
Catherine OKeefe, Irvington, NY
Tom O’Keefe, New York, NY
Victoria Pham, Atlanta, GA
Heather Phillips, Chicago, IL
Krystal Phu, Sudbury, MA
Rachel Pirani, Collierville, TN
Deirdre Purcell, Lowell, MA
Abigail Rose, Honolulu County, Hawai`i
Joya Saxena, San Diego, CA
Nathalie Selleslags, Associate Social Worker & Residential Counselor, Ojai, CA
Salma Shariff-Marco, Fremont, CA
Tony Shen, Oakland, CA
Eugenio Smith, Business Owner, Transforming Strategic Direction LLC, Portland, OR
Ollie Steates, Augusta, GA
Emily Steelhammer, Oakland, CA
Andrew Stern, mental health professional, Oakland, CA
Alex Teekell, Los Altos, CA
Binh Tran, Henderson, NV
Daniel Tran, Camarillo, CA
Thu Tran, Seattle, WA
Elsa Tsutaoka, Berkeley, CA
Adrienne Walser, South Pasadena, CA
Andrew Wang, Palo Alto, CA
Jennifer Wang, Washington, D.C.
Fred Wax, Seattle, WA
Diana Williams, Santa Monica, CA
Victoria Winner, Salina, TX
Jeremy Wu, McLean, VA
Linda Tsao Yang, Davis, CA
Mark Zeiter, San Francisco, CA