We’re in This Together: UpTogether’s West Coast Partnership Director Reflects on California Convening

Last month, UpTogether’s West Coast Partnership Director, Elijah Wood, attended the “California Guaranteed Income Now” State Conference, which was hosted by the Economic Security Project in collaboration with Mayors for Guaranteed Income (MGI) and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. The two-day conference took place on January 30-31 in Sacramento, California. It brought together policy experts, researchers, advocates, government administrators, and community organizers to develop a concrete plan of action for achieving a state-wide guaranteed income initiative in California through a bold policy movement. 

UpTogether’s Director of Media Relations Rachel Barnhart sat down with Elijah to ask about his big takeaways from the event.

What was the hot topic?

The hot topic was the recent lawsuit filed against the Abundant Birth Project and how the guaranteed income movement can mobilize and support projects that counteract racist and regressive economic policies in America. The systematic targeting of programs that are focusing on Black and Brown people was a topic that hung over the entire conference .

You got to mingle with a lot of experts and colleagues in nonprofits, even with some state legislators. What was the reception to the UpTogether Approach of Community, Capital and Choice? 

When I spoke to conference attendees about the UpTogether Approach, particularly seeing people for their strengths, they were incredibly enthusiastic. The UpTogether Approach is right in line with the Economic Security Project’s mission of making sure everyone has the stability and freedom to thrive.

I spoke with three different legislators, State Senator Scott Weiner (11th District), State Assemblymember Alex Lee (24th District), and State Assemblymember Corey Jackson (60th District). They were also overwhelmingly positive about the idea of investing in people. 

But we need to overcome the question of how governments can fund direct cash transfers and new social initiatives that work. For example, California’s current budget deficit is going to be continuously used as a reason not to use state funds to expand guaranteed income pilots and programs. 

We’re going to keep hearing, “Tell us how to fund this. You have to give us a compelling argument about how and why this should be funded.”

Using the budget deficit as a reason to not invest in people’s strengths is literal deficit-based thinking - there are so many programs and initiatives in California that don’t efficiently invest in people. We should shift money that we already have directly to people, rather than funneled and filtered through bureaucracy that forces people to prove their worthiness to receive benefits by showing how much they lack.

A table of people workshopping at the conference.

What were some memorable moments?

I was blown away by a session on narrative change led by Jhumpa Bhattacharya, Co-President and Co-Founder of The Maven Collaborative.

She asked, “Who are my people? What do people believe about my people? What is the truth about my people?” 

That resonated with me because we are combating false narratives and stereotypes every day about people experiencing financial hardship. It’s a great reminder to center them and what we know is true.

Another moment came when a colleague from the Restorative Reentry Project asked a direct question about the difference between reparations and guaranteed income programs.

The answer was that reparations and guaranteed income can’t be substituted one for one. We need to be bold about what we are doing, and keep in mind who we are doing it for, and why.

What inspired you?

Back to Abundant Birth Project – Dr. Zea Malawa, Visiting Professor, Health Equity and Anti-Racism at the University of California-Berkeley, talked about how she’s been  taking care of herself in this moment of growth and challenge.

That was a real big inspiration to me and I hope to see more members of our movement be open when they need that help. It felt that the entire conference was a wraparound of support for Abundant Birth Project and other guaranteed income pilots that are being targeted.

How did this conference help with your everyday work?

It reminded me to keep on connecting with folks. I want to make sure my partners are not moving in isolation. UpTogether is learning about and experimenting with mobilizing. Our friends at Economic Security Project are mobilizing. Many other organizations are mobilizing. We are all working to change harmful systems and a legacy of racist policies. There are always resources and people to answer questions. We are not alone.

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