Editor’s note: UNC professor Jonathan Weiler, an INDY Voices columnist, headed to the not-so-frozen tundra of Iowa this weekend to be the INDY’s official Iowa Caucuses Correspondent™. His first dispatch comes from Boone, Iowa, about an hour outside of Des Moines, where he’s hanging out with long-shot entrepreneur Andrew Yang and supporters. 

Andrew Yang is probably best known for having pledged that, as president, he would give every American $1,000 a month (sign me up!). And when his event kicked off on Saturday in a meeting room adjacent to a Mexican restaurant, it was the first thing Yang brought up. Yang repeated throughout his 30–40-minute talk that he was a “numbers guy.” (Some of his supporters wore baseball caps with the word “MATH” on them.) Among the numbers Yang shared was that our private data is now worth more than oil. But, he asked, where is all that money going? Facebook, Amazon, Google and other big tech companies. In other words, Yang argued, we the people should be shareholders of the richest country ever, and that $1,000 a month is a dividend check for all the wealth we’re generating for rich corporations.

But Yang doesn’t see people as corporate bots. His campaign slogan is “Humanity First.” And he spoke eloquently about the mistake we’re making in assessing people’s value only by their economic worth. This left all sorts of basic human endeavors uncounted, economically speaking, and undervalued, including family members who take care of sick loved ones, volunteers in community organizations, artists, writers, and more.

Yang spent relatively little time attacking President Trump (though he did say he was the exact opposite of Trump since he is “an Asian man who likes math.”) Instead, Yang said, our problems predate Trump, as job losses in manufacturing and retail have denuded small towns and denied people the opportunity to provide for their families. In turn, the U.S. has witnessed a surge in “diseases of despair,” as many have written, including spiking suicide rates, growing mental illness, and declining life expectancy. Meanwhile, more Americans are saddled with credit card debts and student loan payments they cannot make. (Yang pledged to forgive a “significant” chunk of the $1.6 trillion of accumulated student loan debt).

The somewhat unusual venue was packed, with 200 or more people sitting or standing shoulder-to-shoulder in tight quarters. Yang himself was both a bit stiff and funny. He repeatedly said he wasn’t really a politician and, apart from the fact that he’s never held elected office, his style reflected his lack of political polish. He joked with the crowd quite a bit, was charmingly self-effacing, and took some questions from the audience in a comfortable back and forth.

As is obligatory for all candidates, Yang asserted confidently that he would win Monday night, that he was the candidate Trump most feared, and that he would be president a year from now. That all seems unlikely, but Yang has clearly struck a chord with some people, as a younger, less intense, and more techie version of Bernie Sanders—a kind of populist ready to rewrite the rules of American capitalism to create a fairer, more humane society.

Comment on this story at backtalk@indyweek.com. 

Dispatches from Iowa was made possible by contributions to the INDY Press Club. Join today at KeepItINDY.com