Grassroots Power Leads Directly to Senate Action
Bringing 2 million petition signatures to Senators leads to an open letter to the Biden administration
By Annie Flom
When we sign a petition or take part in a digital action, we sometimes forget the power our voices can have. A few clicks here, a couple keystrokes there, and your name is added — a simple act that takes seconds to complete. The simplicity makes it easy to assume you didn’t do very much at all. Even as you watch the number of petition signatures increase rapidly, from 300 to 10,000 to 1.5 million, you still wonder: is this going to make a difference?
The same goes for small local actions. Gathering with a few of your friends and community members together to make a statement, whether organizing a modest 10-person protest or delivering a statement to city hall, is empowering. But there remains the nagging question: will it be impactful? Will our lawmakers notice? And if they notice, will they change course and do what their constituents ask of them?
Though we don’t often get answers to these questions, we do know that using our voices to ask something of our government does something powerful: it creates potential. It opens the door for change to walk through.
The basic income community creates this potential regularly, through dedicated action focused on specific outcomes. This potential has perhaps been most directly felt and fully realized early in 2021.
Action to Potential to Impact: Make It Monthly Petition Delivery
On February 4th of this year, Income Movement, in partnership with Change.org and Economic Security Project, facilitated a nationwide Day of Action with grassroots advocates across the country as part of our Make It Monthly campaign. We organized and supported small groups of dedicated citizens as they braved sub-zero temps, while observing COVID protocol, to assemble at their Senator’s offices and demand recurring $2,000 stimulus checks for the duration of the pandemic.
Through this Day of Action, we created a ripple effect moving from the grassroots all the way to the Oval Office. And it all started with a petition.
In April of 2020, Stephanie Bonin created a Change.org petition titled “$2000/month to every American #moneyforthepeople #covid19.” A restaurant owner in Denver, Stephanie was feeling the deep stress and anxiety experienced by thousands of Americans as they saw their businesses collapse under the weight of the pandemic. She and her husband lost their main source of income. They had to let employees go, some of whom had been working at their restaurant for 15 years. Fearing for her family’s financial future, Stephanie created the petition calling for Congress to support families with a $2,000 payment for adults and a $1,000 payment for kids, and continuing regular checks for the duration of the crisis. Stephanie’s petition struck a chord with many Americans: it received over 2,000,0000 signatures.
We knew that we had to harness this momentum. In collaboration with the People’s Bailout, Income Movement worked with local organizers across the country to deliver $2,000 “past-due” invoices to members of Congress. These invoices carried the names of the more than two million Change.org petition signers, and urged legislators to deliver on direct, monthly stimulus support that has been so direly needed since the pandemic began. On February 4th, our community printed out thousands of these invoices and delivered them to the offices of 17 members of Congress. For some cities, an in-person direct handoff wasn’t possible, but the actions nonetheless created meaningful opportunities for advocacy. A prime example is what happened in Portland, OR.
Opening the Door: A Meeting with Senator Wyden
After delivering thousands of past-due invoices to Oregon Senator Ron Wyden’s office, we asked to meet with his office to push the conversation further. As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Wyden’s support is critical to anything related to spending and the economy: his support is key to monthly stimulus checks. We were able to work with the Senator’s staff and set up a meeting to further discuss the needs of constituents on the ground in Oregon and why Senator Wyden as our champion could be powerful in the fight for economic stability during COVID.
And so the ripple effect continued. Income Movement is based in Oregon, so many of us live and work in the state. During the meeting with Senator Wyden’s staff, we shared our experiences as Oregon residents and why recurring cash relief is so critical for our community. We invited policy experts from our partner organization Economic Security Project to the meeting as well, and they helped connect the dots, recommending recurring stimulus checks be part of an automatic economic stabilizers legislation that can keep the economy supported during deep crisis. Previously, unemployment insurance had been the primary tool discussed as an automatic stabilizer — adding recurring checks was a new ask.
From an Online Petition to the President’s Desk
Senator Wyden’s office took this meeting to heart. They worked together with basic income policy experts to craft the language for an open letter to President Biden, urging him to include recurring direct payments in his Build Back Better long-term economic plan to help stabilize the economy.
Sen. Wyden’s letter became a lightning rod for press and debate, and added to the growing chorus of congressional support for direct cash relief. In the weeks after its release, the letter attracted 21 total signatories, including Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Sherrod Brown, Michael Bennet, Tammy Baldwin, and Cory Booker. The Chairs of 5 Senate Committees signed the letter. This marked an important shift for many Senators in their support for direct cash payments to the people.
On March 30, this letter was officially delivered to the Biden Administration. The significance of this letter is not lost on us. It was the result of grassroots efforts by you — our organizers around the country — catching the attention of lawmakers, creating potential for deeper conversations, which in turn led to real policy proposals. Each person who signed that Change.org petition, all two million+ of them, played a role in persuading those 16 Senators to bring that letter to the president’s desk.
While the fight for ongoing checks remains, the American Rescue Plan passed (just days after Wyden’s letter initially started circulating on March 2nd) and marked one of the largest expansions in cash policies ever: $1,400 stimulus checks and an update of the Child Tax Credit that amounts to a $300 monthly guaranteed income per child to nearly every parent in America.
Legislation is built by winning the hearts and minds of people in power. If we continue to create opportunities to tell our stories, we will continue to win people over. All we need to do is trust in our voices — and recognize that with our collective efforts, even the simple act of signing a petition can make a big difference.