This segment originally aired on KQED. Listen below:
“It was actually in the late 90’s I came across his speech he gave in 1967 at Stanford University in your neck of the woods, Alexis, where he also talks a lot about a guaranteed annual income and makes the case for it. He actually cites the numerical amount by the economist at the time, John Kenneth Galbraith and I was so struck because in the late 90’s we had just finished a very awful, horrific policy debate that those of us who care about poverty in this country lost and that was welfare reform in 1996. So when I came across his thinking and quotes around guaranteed annual income as he called it, I was struck and thought that’s just way out there.
That’s really Dr. King dreaming.
And here we are and here we are in 2023. And I have to mention my colleague and co-founder Natalie Foster who wrote a great piece yesterday in The New Republic talking about the hundred guaranteed income pilots in places around the country in the last five years. That is the expression, frankly, of where Dr. King’s thinking and theorizing was at the time and campaigning. And especially there’s a project actually in Atlanta and rooted in the same ward where Ebenezer Baptist churches and so that’s a reason for optimism and hope around how far we’ve come from the late sixties. And I think as more and more people experience the idea of guaranteed income not just in theory but in fact in these pilots.
You might also include and Natalie talks about this the six month experiment around the expanded child tax credit in 2021 in which parents of children essentially got a guaranteed income for children for the first time in this country. Which resulted in the lowest let me say this super clearly resulted in six months in the lowest child poverty rates ever in this country’s history, especially for Black, Indigenous and Latino children. So obviously that was a temporary measure and we have to continue the fight to get it reenacted. But I’m just struck by how in the last five years this idea has gone from the margins to the mainstream.
And I think if Dr. King were alive now, he would tell us to keep organizing.
Last thing I’ll just say on this, it’s not lost on me that the effort around a guaranteed income in the 60s was really led by poor black women who were on welfare, the National Welfare Rights Organization, who pushed, in fact, Dr. King on this idea. It’s not like he came up with it all by himself, but he was really being pushed by other parts of the movement. I’m thinking of Johnnie Tillmon and the National Welfare Rights Organization in particular, who really, really was advocating and organizing around this idea, which Dr. King and people choose to ignore this aspect of his thinking and strategy in the latter parts of his life, he was there on this idea, which in some ways was prophetic.”