An invitation to the UBI community

Starting a conversation about how to navigate a growing UBI candidate landscape

By Stacey Rutland

In the 2020 election cycle we have seen more than 30 candidates run for U.S. Congress on a platform of universal basic income (UBI). We have one candidate in California, David Kim, who has made it through the primary and is now fighting hard in the general election. This is an amazing milestone for Kim, and for the basic income community. If we continue to grow this movement exponentially each year, we may see as many as 100+ candidates run on basic income in 2022. Imagine what it would look like to have a deep field of UBI candidates running in states all across this country.

But with this vision comes a reality: hundreds of UBI candidates means that there will inevitably be many Congressional races with more than one UBI candidate running. We only have to look to recent history to see our future: in 2018 and 2020, as Bernie’s 2016 platform reached widespread appeal, it became common to see 3–5 candidates in a single primary running on Medicare for All, a federal jobs guarantee and other progressive policies.

So, the question the basic income community has begun to grapple with is: how do we navigate things when there are multiple UBI candidates running in the same race?

Of course, the current Senate race in Kentucky provides a glimpse into this: here, two UBI candidates are running to unseat Mitch McConnell (along with a third establishment challenger). All three are duking it out in the lead up to a June 23rd primary. This race has provided the first opportunity for the basic income community to support different and competing candidates, promote their support in public spaces, and engage in deeper discussions. It has provided an opportunity for us to start to dig into the implications of our growing movement.

First, a shared goal

Before diving into ideas, it may be of value to spend a moment on the larger goal for many in the basic income community: getting a majority in Congress who support basic income so that we can get federal legislation passed. This goal frames this entire article, so it’s right here at the top.

To get a majority in Congress who supports basic income some important things need to happen.

  1. Millions more people need to learn about basic income, decide it’s critical to the kind of economic reform they want to see, and make it a priority at the voting booth.

Though this article will primarily focus on UBI Congressional candidates, the role of grassroots growth and political viability of UBI will also factor into the discussion. These three ideas are deeply interconnected.

What could a process look like?

There are two parts to thinking about how we as a large, diverse community of basic income supporters might navigate races with multiple UBI candidates. Some are more process oriented, others are more ideological and cultural. Let’s start with the process side of things — more dry, but good for setting a foundation.

Finding and supporting a diverse set of UBI candidates

The first thing we each as individuals (or organizations) can do is to determine what kind of UBI candidates we think are important to support. Each of us might prioritize different things that lead to supporting different candidates. Making space for these differences seems critical to growing our community and working towards our common goal.

Income Movement thinks that supporting a diverse set of UBI candidates is critical to the rapid growth of the community. What do we mean by diverse?

First, we can think about traditional ideas of diversity. Supporting diverse candidates across race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ages, geographies and more, broadens the overall strength of basic income as a political issue while engaging with diverse voting blocks and winning elections in a variety of districts and states. Income Movement believes fundamentally that it’s important to be on the side of racial and social justice, as it is essential to the economic justice we are fighting for. It’s important to remember that supporters of basic income are diverse and that the Candidates supported by the basic income community should reflect that diversity. We also know that when candidates win seats and start developing basic income legislation they will bring their diverse experiences into the discussion, advocating for different community needs and informing implementation design in ways that could have a huge impact on the success of a basic income program. Diversity, simply put, will strengthen the quality of any basic income proposal in Congress.

We also think that supporting a diverse set of perspectives on basic income is important when choosing which candidates to support. Basic income can be promoted as a solution to help realign our economic system to support working and middle class families. It can be about addressing the rising rates of job loss due to automation and reimagining the idea of “work”. Or it can be about undoing one part of the systemic, structural racism that has plagued our country since its inception and ensured centuries of marginalization and intergenerational poverty for people of color. Of course, UBI would have all of these effects. But having candidates who can speak eloquently to the value of basic income from these different perspectives allows for a variety of points of entry for people to learn about basic income and become a supporter.

We also think it’s important to think about supporting campaigns running on different platforms beyond UBI. For many voters, basic income will be only one of many issues that brings them to the polls. Candidates who are deeply passionate about several issues, of which UBI is one, can be great bridge-builders to basic income. Voters can come to these campaigns because of the candidate’s support on another issue and get turned on to UBI through exposure. We think the role these types of candidates can play in the larger movement is important. Supporting candidates who primarily focus and run on a UBI platform has its place as well, and there are some districts where winning is possible with this approach. However, supporting only these types of candidates might limit our ability to hit a majority in Congress, or greatly slow down the process. It’s also important to note that we don’t need a full roster of UBI purists elected into Congress to get UBI passed. Purists can write the legislation. The rest can sponsor it and vote it into law.

On a larger, strategic level, if a candidate has an important perspective on UBI that is disproportionately underrepresented by current UBI leadership, we think this should be considered as well. Proportional representation is key to the growth of any movement.

Evaluating a candidate’s position on UBI

As more candidates run on a policy of UBI, each of us may find ourselves creating a system for how to evaluate the merits of a candidate’s position on the issue. We think that using metrics like “were they active supporters of Andrew Yang’s 2020 campaign”, or “have they been long-time supporters of UBI” could prevent great UBI candidates from getting the support they need to get elected. Over time, these types of temporal metrics make less sense as the pool of UBI supporters who adhere to them will naturally shrink over time and become a smaller and smaller percentage of the whole. Focusing instead on things like their passion and understanding of UBI may reveal more. Looking at the process by which they came to the idea of UBI, how their experiences inform their decision to support it, and their ability to connect UBI to the needs and struggles of their community can signal what they will bring with them on the campaign trail as well as to the fight on the House or Senate floor when it comes time for passing UBI legislation.

Agreeing that the goal is not for the entire UBI community to support the same candidate

During the early stages of growing a movement and supporting candidates for a “new political issue” like UBI, having multiple UBI candidates in the same race can feel strategically problematic. Fears of splitting the vote in the primary can be significant and real. There can be extreme feelings of frustration or desperation when we worry that an important race with great UBI candidates may not result in a win for basic income simply because there are too many candidates supporting our cause in the race. However, Income Movement thinks it’s important to not let these fears and frustrations influence how we decide to conduct ourselves as a community in these races. We cannot ask one of the UBI candidates to step down to make for a more cohesive vote, or start running a dirty race, pitting one candidate against another in the hopes that one will fail. These tactics can negatively affect the growth of the grassroots community as a whole and could result in a reduction in the number of UBI candidates who decide to run in the next election cycle.

Similarly, we believe we should not demand that everyone in the UBI community support only one of the candidates in each race. We cannot imply that those who support “the wrong” candidate are “less devoted” to the cause, or not “true supporters” of the larger goal. Using Congressional candidate support as “purity tests” for evaluating the authenticity of members of a community is immoral and deeply problematic. When you remove autonomy and choice at the polls, when you pressure your community to vote a certain way “for the good of the issue / party” you find yourself walking down the path towards authoritarianism. The UBI community should have no tolerance for this behavior. Income Movement has no tolerance for this behavior.

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Photo by Katie Moum

At Income Movement, when we come up against concerns of splitting the vote, we remind ourselves that growing and supporting a movement is a long game — it is a marathon. Each election cycle is a milestone towards the goal of reaching a majority in Congress, and there are wins to the larger movement that might not always align with a win at the poles. When multiple UBI candidates run, and both lose in a primary, if the sum of the votes between the two demonstrates a significant voting block, this can demonstrate to other voters and politicians the validity of the issue itself. And if the non-UBI candidate moves on to the general election and loses, they will ask themselves if they would have won if they had supported UBI and reflected the needs of their community. The political establishment will also start to ask these questions. As a community, we can make sure they ask these questions. It will take only one or two election cycles for people to start understanding the political power of the basic income community, and those candidates already aligned with economic justice issues will be inclined to run on UBI in each subsequent election. Hitting these types of political milestones is not as satisfying as a campaign win, but still drives us closer to the final goal.

Principles of conduct: thinking about culture

Now let’s focus on the larger principles and ideals that might help us as a community think about how we want to promote and discuss candidates when more than one supports UBI in a single race.

Bringing empathy and dignity to each race

One of the most inspiring things Andrew Yang brought to the 2020 Presidential race was his clarity and consistency of messaging, always focusing on the strength of his ideas and never tearing down or attacking his opponents or his opponents’ supporters. This seems a fundamental guide in how the UBI community might decide to approach principles for conduct in races where more than one basic income candidate is running (or where there’s only one UBI candidate against others for that matter). When the stakes are high, it’s easy to get mired down in playing dirty politics and employing “my candidate is better than yours” comparison tactics. But we at Income Movement think this is a highly toxic approach that ignores the long term implication for the growth of the community, and, we would argue, is unlikely to have a positive outcome even in the short term.

Why is the tearing down of other candidates and using comparison tactics so toxic and antithetical to our goals? Infighting and bad behavior between supporters of a national political issue such as UBI can: 1) deter new people from wanting to adopt or support the issue because they see a community that does not foster safe, positive interactions or inspire thoughtful engagement, 2) it could attract people who like using dirty politics, aggression and fear tactics so that this group infects the dominant culture and we lose what has inspired so many in the movement to date, 3) it could send very clear messages to people thinking about running on UBI that they might have to compromise their humanity to stay competitive in a race, which could impact their decision to run, 4) it could weaken the overall political strength of the issue because outsiders see the infighting as just that: weakness and division within the group.

Instead, Income Movement thinks a more positive approach makes sense: we in the basic income community could decide to support our candidates by highlighting their strengths and merits and describing how they have personally inspired us with effective leadership. We can take an agree-to-disagree approach when interacting with people in the community who are supporting a different UBI candidate. We can decide not to get personal about it, recognizing that diversity of opinions and ideas makes our community stronger. We can infuse our interactions with respect, empathy, kindness and dignity. We can hold people accountable to this type of behavior and continue the Humanity First principles that Andrew Yang and his campaign created, principles that inspired so many.

An endorsement reflects the goals and values of the organization

Each organization’s one-endorsement-per-race policy is a simple, clear strategy: if an organization endorses more than one candidate in a race, their endorsement essentially has no value. But we think it’s important to note that an endorsement isn’t always about having identified the “best” or “perfect” candidate, it is about an organization identifying the candidate most likely to achieve the goals that they have determined for that race. It’s an important distinction. Sometimes these goals might have everything to do with the quality of the candidate, sometimes very little. Because of this, an endorsement is not a determination of a candidate’s value. Endorsements are guideposts for voters, to help them in their own evaluations of who to support or vote for.

As support for UBI grows, ideally, there will be multiple strong UBI candidates in races all across the country. This will be an indication of the strength and validity of the basic income itself, and will reflect the depth and breadth of the community. In these situations, when endorsements are made, we should not assume that the other candidate is bad or irrelevant. We should look to what the endorsing organization has said about why they endorsed a candidate and then ask ourselves if this aligns with our own goals. Community members can use the endorsement as a launching point to research the candidates and still go through an evaluation process to decide. This will help each of us have confidence and clarity when promoting our candidate of choice.

Moving forward

Over the past weeks people within the basic income community have discussed in meetings and forums a concern about how to navigate political races within the UBI community when they are not centered on Andrew Yang’s campaign. Some talk about unease and growing antagonism when trying to speak openly and honestly about differences of opinion within a community they love. Some are choosing to simply disengage.

We hope that this article continues this important conversation. We think it’s valuable to talk about our hopes for the UBI community and how we can come together and navigate the world of candidate support and endorsements in a way that grows our respect and appreciation for each other and brings new people into the fold. Please use the comments here to share your thoughts, or watch the video of an open forum discussion Income Movement hosted for the basic income community on this topic on July 6th.

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We are a people powered movement working together to pass basic income. | incomemovement.com

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