An Imperfect Idealist

A perspective by Ignatius Ding on Barry Chang.

Editor's note: This article, written by Ignatius Ding, reflects only his views and opinions, not this publication.

It was almost midnight right before Christmas more than two decades ago. I stopped by his office and found him sitting behind a huge pile of Christmas cards—over a thousand of them—madly signing each one by one, non-stop. The odd scene intrigued me to ask what was going on, why he was signing in such a hurry and who he was sending so many cards to.

“He” is Barry Chang.

It turned out that he had just learned from a member of the local Amnesty International that writing to prisoners of conscientious jailed by authoritarian regimes, at times, would help lessen their suffering in silence and even led to reduction of their days in living hell.

“Hey, this is a good investment of time!” I said to myself. So, I decided to join him on this seemingly “Don Quixote” style crusade that night and the following 20 Christmas seasons.

Before long, hundreds of others across the Bay Area, then in many other cities and countries joined this annual Christmas campaign writing to those in prisons and/or their families.

Over the years, we added and replaced many names on the list of persecuted as we learned the release of about two-thirds of them from behind bars. Our low-key effort paid off.

To me, Barry Chang is a genuine idealist and living proof of the concept of “Power of One” that my other dear friend, the late best-selling author Iris Chang, was often preaching to her audience.

This positive experience not only just affects those who we supported, but also every one of us involved.

How did we really know our yearly drive worked?

Well, we actually received a number of cards or “thank you” letters slipped out of the prison camps. Some of the prisoners were eventually let go early on parole and sent into exile in the U.S.  Many of them joined us to sign cards each year.

Fifteen years ago, I went to meet with one prominent dissident at SFO as he stepped off the plane. Among the first things he asked me, he wanted to know “who Richard Gere is” because a trustee in his jail block told him about a report in the Voice of America broadcasting this big Hollywood movie star had written an open letter to plea for his release.

I instantly knew what that was. My friend, in fact, only contacted Gere to solicit his help, but did not meet with him until many years later.

In 1996, Chang became one of the founders of Vision New America, a non-profit foundation that promotes the civic participation of underrepresented groups through public policy internship programs, educational forums and community events, including the sponsorship for hundreds of local high school and college students to serve in congressional offices as interns.

He saw the best way to get our youth involved in the civil and community services, political and participatory process to, you may guess, “participate to get first-hand experiences.”

Vision New America is still going strong after 15 years actively serving the Silicon Valley community.

With his firm belief in democracy and social justice, he devotes much of his energy to various human rights causes, and wholeheartedly embraces fair political practices, and supports good candidates for local, state and federal offices.

He actively raised sizable political contributions for a number of office seekers. His unparalleled enthusiasm and superb ability in fundraising was wildly known to many from coast to coast. Journalists nicknamed him the “super volunteer” or “high octane activist.”

His past patrons include former Washington State governor and current U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke, Congressman Mike Honda, Assemblyman Paul Fong, former Assembly majority leader and current Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan and many local officials, including former Cupertino Mayor Michael Chang, former Cupertino Union School District (CUSD) Board president and current trustee Ben Liao, former Board president T.N. Ho of the Santa Clara County Board of Education, and San Jose Councilman Kansen Chu.

The list is long and diverse.

In 1995, he went into local politics by accident of sort.  That was quite a surprise to some of us.  It turned out that he became a candidate himself only after his months of search for someone to run for an open seat on the CUSD Board failed.

Somehow, his eight-year CUSD tenure changed his perspective on local offices and he became very engaged to make a difference on the home front and to the political system, from the bottom up.

His stellar performance on the board to hold superintendents and district staff accountable, initiate new and innovative programs, strengthen CUSD financial prospects while expanding and modernizing school facilities was exemplary.

His time for the first-term on the Cupertino City Council since 2009 has been even more remarkable. 

In addition to tending the tedious city affairs in general planning, commercial zoning, traffic, finance, building a dog park, or a walkway to Blackberry Farm, the new councilman was drawn into a controversial issue. 

He was alerted by city residents regarding the rampant and continuing violation of state environmental and safety laws for years by a foreign multi-billion conglomerate.

The outstanding but unenforced Notices of Violation issued by the federal, state and local regulatory agencies severely threaten public health, cause permanent damage to the environment, continue to pollute the air and water, and the deadly chemicals released by an aging rock quarry and adjacent cement plant are seeping into the Bay and our food chain.

Despite collusion by local and state politicians and agency staff, he led the fight and recently won a landmark reprieve from the State Office of Mine Reclamation (OMR) to issue a to this corporate culprit——that it must address and remedy all cited violations that have been overdue for five years or longer or it will be removed from the state official list of pre-qualified suppliers (AB3098) and disallowed to sell products to any state and local agencies.

That was a real wake-up call to the quarry/cement company and its partners-in-crime. The business giant immediately hired the area’s best lobbyist to lobby Governor Brown to intervene.

That has failed miserably.

Separately, a frivolous lawsuit was filed against our courageous councilman in Superior Court while a .  Two well-known dirty trick “political consultants” appear to be orchestrating a misinformation drive.  A blogger in Southern California has dedicated his website to attack the grassroots effort to stop the mega-polluter in Cupertino.

It appears that certain petty information has been fed to media in a brazen personal attack and character assassination against my friend.

Is he perfect? Of course not!! Who really ever is?

Maybe, he is not the most patient man in the world, but more than anything else he is absolutely honest and principled—a supreme quality that we want in politicians from Cupertino to Sacramento and Washington.

No, he is not a “one-issue politician” as one Mercury News columnist has insinuated, but a single-minded idealist believing in “there is a will, there is a way” for the good of the people. 

You all know him…again, his name is Barry Chang, first-term council member of Cupertino.

Author:  Ignatius Y. Ding is a 33-year Cupertino resident, international human rights activist and businessman with a solar energy product marketing and manufacturing firm in Mountain View


Jessie Chou August 17, 2011 at 07:54 PM
The history of Mr. Rowen is no secret Ignatius. He's a world-class nut-case. All of us in the local political consultant community are well aware of his history. He's become a non-entity in Santa Clara county politics, and no one pays any attention to his rantings anymore. Readers can Google "metroactive rowen" if they are interested in what Ignatius is referring to, but that happened 15 years ago. Time to move on and not lose focus. Rowen's statements clearly demonstrate that he has no knowledge of the Lehigh issue, so why are people even dignifying his strange statements with responses?
James Rowen August 18, 2011 at 12:25 AM
Interesting commentary from a guy who referred to Rich Robinson as a "hate man." Hmm, also interesting is the statement of Iggy Ding that he is a state appointee. As for Jessie, I won't be able to chat as I am busy reviewing the appoint I received to my city's charter review committee. Also the famous metro article, right after that, I was unanimously reappointed to my city's civil service commission.
James Rowen August 18, 2011 at 01:15 AM
"\ to intimidate us?" there is an intimidation when someone says, we have something on you
James Rowen August 18, 2011 at 01:23 AM
There is a law about claiming to be a state appointment, and not being one. right, ignatius?
Jessie Chou August 19, 2011 at 05:17 AM
The cement plant has filed a lawsuit which delays their removal from the AB 3098 list. As usual, they find a way to delay compliance with environmental laws. Meanwhile the county is give a private company a valuable gift, the county road that runs through the quarry. Which city council candidates have stated that they will push for enforcement of toxic polluter laws and which city council candidates will give the cement company a get out of jail free card? It's pretty clear from reading their ballot statements. Which candidate was urged to run by a cement company employee?


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