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Dr. King and Guaranteed Income: A conversation between Michael Tubbs and Tara Roth


On the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Goldhirsh Foundation and LA2050 President Tara Roth reached out to her friend Michael Tubbs to ask a few questions related to the legacy of Dr. King, and Tubbs’ ongoing work with issues such as guaranteed income and ending poverty.

Tubbs is the founder of End Poverty in California (EPIC), the founder of Mayors for Guaranteed Income, the former Mayor of Stockton, an author, an investor, and an executive producer. ⁠

The Goldhirsh Foundation is an investor in Tubbs Ventures, and was an original funder of then-Mayor Tubbs’ Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED), the first guaranteed income experiment in the U.S. to pilot basic income. Also, the LA2050 Grants Challenge provided funding in 2021 to the Compton Pledge, a project of the Fund 4 Guaranteed Income.

The conversation between Roth and Tubbs is below:

Tara Roth: Hi, Michael! What’s it been, now, seven years since we first met? From those early days before that first guaranteed income pilot you ran in Stockton, until today, A LOT has happened. Could you update our readers on where the guaranteed income movement stands today?

Michael Tubbs: A lot has definitely happened since we first started working together, not just in the guaranteed income (GI) movement but the world and economy in general. The biggest driving force of GI’s rise in popularity is the pandemic – it really cracked open some much-needed empathy among many Americans and leaders to finally see what many of us doing anti-poverty work have always known: the economy is not working for everyday people. And our work in Stockton has laid the foundation for adopting GI as a serious policy solution for this crisis of financial precarity. In just over two years, Mayors for a Guaranteed Income has grown from 11 to more than 100 mayors with dozens of pilots across the country. Those pilots have moved from private to public funding, something unheard of seven years ago. And we’re closer than we’ve ever been to enacting a federal guaranteed income program.

Tara Roth: Monday, January 16 is MLK Day. I think anyone who knows you and your work has heard you discussing the relationship between Dr. King and guaranteed income. Could you share a little about this to any new readers today?

Michael Tubbs: Absolutely, my involvement in this movement is due to the work of Dr. King and his passionate support for guaranteed income as a solution to America’s addiction to poverty in his last book, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? It’s also critical to note Dr. King’s involvement in guaranteed income was inspired by what he learned from a Black woman, Johnnie Tillmon of the NWRO. Her organization advocated for guaranteed income as a way to provide gender and racial equity in an economy that sorely needed – and still needs – it. I’m grateful to also be in community on this work with Dr. Bernice King, who is committed to advancing her father’s vision for an equitable America through a guaranteed income.

Tara Roth: This time last year, you went to Atlanta, to Dr. King’s church, and spoke. What did it feel like to be there, and to do that?

Michael Tubbs: It was an honor and a privilege of a lifetime to even be in the room, much less being given the opportunity to share my own words in such a hallowed space. I was humbled by the experience and inspired to continue my efforts to bring Dr. King’s ideas to fruition.

Tara Roth: About a year ago, in advance of the annual LA2050 Grants Challenge, we asked social impact leaders to tell us about the one issue that matters most to each of you. Here’s what you told our community:

“I care about income inequality because it’s a harmful consequence of our failure to create opportunity for all — especially six million Californians living in poverty. It is fundamentally wrong that the richest state in America has the highest poverty rate. But poverty is not inevitable; it is a policy choice, rooted in distrust of poor people and institutions that do not meet people where they are. We can end poverty by fixing the existing social safety net and overhauling existing institutions like the criminal justice system, the education system, and the housing market to stop poverty before it begins.”

Does that quote also describe the work being done by your organization, End Poverty In California? What else should our readers know about EPIC?

MICHAEL TUBBS: Yes, the view that poverty is a policy choice is foundational to our work at EPIC. Additionally, we believe it's impossible to change the harmful policies that perpetuate poverty without changing the narratives that underpin them. These stories that we're told about why certain people live in poverty – or that some people deserve to be poor – ultimately dictate the policies that so badly need to be changed. At EPIC, we're working to tell a different story – one that makes clear that talent and intellect are universal but resources and opportunities are not. We're doing this narrative change work by touring the state to learn from directly impacted individuals and elevate their voices through written and video content, along with working with mass media storytellers in Hollywood to ensure stories about people in poverty reflect an accurate representation.

Tara Roth: Thank you, Michael. And thank you to everyone reading this. For those of you here in the Los Angeles area, we’ve posted a list of some of the volunteer opportunities we’ve spotted for MLK Day of Service 2023. You can find that list here.

Also, two years ago, we asked a few of our grantees to share what the legacy of Dr. King means to them and their work. Here is a playlist of their video replies.

AuthorTeam LA2050