How to build a Citizen Movement for Basic Income
This is the text to be presented at the North American Basic Income Guarantee Conference in New York City on February 28th, 2015. More information on the conference here.
Hello, my name is Jonathan Brun, I previously founded two citizen action groups that successfully lobbied for more government transparency – or what we call open data – in Montréal and in the province of Québec. I am the Québec spokesperson for the Canadian Basic Income Network and the cofounder of the Québec Basic Income citizen initiative. I am a web entrepreneur and obviously passionate about basic income.
This talk is aimed to help those who are looking to organize around basic income. It is of course not a comprehensive guide or contextualized to your environment. I hope it helps some organizers here in the United States and elsewhere structure your efforts, build them out and exert influence. I believe basic income is possible in our lifetimes, but it will require thousands of hours of hard work, dedication and discipline. The following steps are not comprehensive, but I believe they are essential to any citizen initiative.
The five steps I wish to cover today in about 10 minutes are:
1. Building an Identity
2. Getting Organized
3. Spreading the Message
4. Growing a Mouvement
5. Exerting Pressure
1. Building an Identity
The first step to any mouvement is to clearly lay out your own identity. Who is the Basic Income mouvement and why does it exist? When people hear about Basic Income they should immediately have a clear picture in their mind of the organization, its aims, goals and its way communicating. Ask yourselves this, if the Basic Income Mouvement were an animal, which animal would it be?
This need for an identity is essential to any successful organization – non-profit or for-profit. What do we think when we are asked what the World Wildlife Federation is, Greenpeace, the United Farm Workers, the Teamsters, The Tea Party, The Occupy Mouvement, etc. There is an image that comes to mind within a few seconds, that image will define the way people react the following things you say – so it is of the utmost importance.
Part of building an identity is branding. In a modern society, such as the United States or Canada, we have tough competition of people’s attention – and donations (eventually). Our competition is not so much other non-profits or other mouvements, but rather the media landscape in general. People are bombarded with advertisements and content 24/7 – they see advertisements and information all day, every day, on their televisions, radios, computers and phones. If we want to gain even 5 minutes of the average person’s attention, the Basic Income mouvement must be presented in a catchy and professional manner.
This requires a professional logo, powerful copy on websites and printed material, a great catch phrase and even more. The recent social mouvements in Ukraine and Thailand and elsewhere had a number of common features – one of which was a colour. A colour or colour scheme is a powerful symbol – think of the national flags or the major corporations we know about, their colours are a pillar of their identity. This is not recent and includes everything form the thirteen colonies to the french revolutionaries, who used the red white and blue to symbolize their difference with the ruling classes. The Basic Income mouvement should consider adopting a colour that allows itself to be easily identified. This colour would then be used on t-shirts, communications and other items. In Canada, we are adopting purple to ensure we are not tied to a political party and it is a colour that is not commonly used – it also has a link to peace.
The fonts and layout used on the website and the printed materials must also be consistent. Building an identity requires number of pieces, but it should not be taken lightly or disregarded as something for large organizations, well funded political mouvements or corporations. No mouvement can be successful without a strong and clear identity.
2. Getting Organized
It has been said that there are two challenges in building a sustainable mouvement – getting organized and staying organized. Basic Income, in North America at least, has yet to get organized. It may therefore be premature to discuss staying organized, but it is something we should keep in the back of our minds. Part of the reason that the civil rights mouvement fell apart after the death of Martin Luther King, was that its organizational structure was terribly poor. But I digress, let’s discuss getting organized.
Start small, but use scalable models. In the business world, when someone is proposing a new venture, one of the first questions is, “Is it scalable”. Which means, with more capital or ressources, does your model grow in a cost effective manner. If your model cannot grow cost effectively and generate a profit, then you are not scalable, which is a death sentence. While the initial work done by any organization is typically arduous and labour intensive, it needs to lay a foundation on which the organization can sustainably build up its structure.
The beginnings should be simple. The United Farm Workers, led by Cesar Chavez, defended the rights of farm workers, but when they started they did so in a simple format not dissimilar to certain corporations such as Tupperware. They organized discussions at people’s homes, around their kitchen tables, by doing this for five months, they were then able to call a general convention that brought together farmers and their families to define a common way forward.
Now, one challenge with comparing basic income to other social mouvements is this: “Who is most concerned with basic income?” In all likelihood it is the underprivileged and the disenfranchised, though a good article by Geoff Simmons in New Zealand laid out 10 potential people who would benefit most: Students, The Working Poor, Volunteers, Entrepreneurs and a few more. However, should we base a Basic Income mouvement around this group of people – the poor and students, it is likely going to affect our identity – making basic income harder sell to the middle class and the political elites. To ensure a broad base of support for the mouvement, we must create coalition of groups that all have something substantial to gain from basic income. If they have too little to gain, they will not mobilize their ressources to help.
So, getting organized requires that we very actively reach out to anti-poverty groups, right wing government reduction groups, student organizations, volunteer networks and single revenue homes while also explaining the tax benefits to the middle and ruling classes. This process will take a significant amount of time and lots of hard work.
3. Spreading the message
Once a base has been established, the next step is to spread the message. This can be done through a series of tactics. Publicity stunts, such as the coin deposit done by the swiss mouvement help in attracting press attention. Op-eds, and articles in the mainstream press would help as well. But, the key element is the need to leverage existing institutions to help scale the mouvement.
On a side note, we all know there is growing mainstream press coverage of basic income and people in high places murmuring things about it. Even Bill Clinton was seen carrying the book, With Liberty and Dividends for all, that covers the need for Basic Income. However, do not confuse this with spreading the message about a Basic Income Mouvement – we are talking here about spreading the message that a mass citizen mouvement is requesting basic income.
Many successful social mouvements in the United States leveraged powerful organizations that already had scale such as religious organizations. In New York, where religion is perhaps less prominent in people’s lives, we often forget the importance of the Church, Mosque Synagogue or Temple in people’s lives. Everything from the Civil Rights mouvement to the Farm Workers to anti-war mouvements were able to effectively leverage religious institutions to both spread their message and position themselves as a just and holy cause. This piggy back effort can also be applied to other groups such as unions, non-profit groups and celebrities. It can be an important tool to spreading the message farther and faster than what we can do alone.
4. Growing a Mouvement
Once you are organized, a major challenge is maintaining momentum. You must constantly keep your troops motivated, at attention and willing to take action. This can be done in a number of ways.
You can organize events, conferences and common meals. One key element is that the members of your mouvement must see progress and small victories, or else they get frustrated and leave. For example during our effort for more government transparency, we hosted letter writing campaigns where we sent hand written letters to elected officials, many of them got a response, which led them to remain motivated. We also hosted Hackathons, which is an event that brings together technologists and other people to design technological solutions to problems. In Montreal, corruption had been making headlines for the last few years and so we leveraged or piggy-backed on this problem to organize an event called “Hacking Corruption”. The event brought together bureaucrats, technologists, journalists and others to build technological solutions to help fight corruption. Due to its timing, catchy headline and our identity, we were able to get 300 people, 10 politicians and most of the local, provincial and national media to cover the event. The visibility brought us new members, but more importantly it reenergized the existing base of volunteers.
Another thing to mention when growing a mouvement is how to handle motivated highly volunteers. As you grow and attract new people to your mouvement, you inevitably come into contact with highly motivated volunteers who are willing to go above and beyond typical requirements. It is essential that you empower these individual to take action and demonstrate that they are valued by the organization. If you do not, you risk losing them and they may start rival organizations. However, some motivated volunteers, can have difficulty following orders or sticking to a party line, so you must find a way to frame them into something productive that they are satisfied with and that allows you to maintain control over the messaging. This is perhaps one of the more challenging parts of growing an organization and each volunteer who wants to go beyond the typical tasks needs to be treated according to their specificities.
In summary, to grow a mouvement you need to piggy back on existing movements, groups or actions. You need to empower individuals and you must achieve small periodic victories to keep the troops motivated.
5. Exerting Pressure
When civil rights leads met with Franklin Delanor Roosevelt and asked for help for African Americans, he replied “Make me”. By this he meant that the social mouvements must form enough pressure so that the decision makers are obliged to act and have a public legitimacy to do so.
During our efforts to increase government transparency, we identified people within the city administration who were already advocating for our policy. We did this through LinkedIn – which is a powerful tool. We met with these people, off the record, to gain insights into how the city worked and why the policy had not already been done – who was opposing it, who was for it and what were the key roadblocks inside the administration. This is essential information, that is actually easy to obtain, and will pay huge dividends.
You can apply pressure from outside an organization, but your mouvement can also allow people within the organization to apply pressure. When we started the group, there were already people within the city administration who had been asking for such a policy. However, because there was no external pressure on the city, the higher-ups could point out the lack of public support and dismiss the internal demands of the employees. Just as we are competing for the attention of the general public when trying to promote basic income, we are also competing for the attention and decision making time of the powers that be. Our outside group empowered our insider allies to go back to their superiors and apply pressure.
Ultimately, effecting massive change on government or society requires us to identify the current pillars of support for a policy or system and systematically move those pillars of support to our own goals. We do not want the pillars to crumble, as that leads to anarchy (see Libya), but we want to transfer their weight bearing capacities to our structure.
I hope this has been useful information and that you an use it to build a citizen mouvement for Basic Income in the United States.
From Dictatorship to Democracy – Gene Sharp
Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference by David Garrow
Why David Sometimes Wins – Strategy, Leadership and the California Farm Worker Mouvement – Miriam Pawal
Bolivar: American Liberator – Maria Arana
The Black Jacobins – C.L.R James
Walk to Freedom – Nelson Mandela
Ghandi an Autobiography – Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi
René Lévesque, un homme et son rêve – Pierre Godin
The Victory Lab: The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns – Sasha Issenberg
The French Revolution: A Very Short Introduction – William Doyle
http://blog.okfn.org/2011/09/12/how-to-build-an-open-data-initiative-for-your-city/Published on February 24, 2015
The CBC Must do Slow TV and More
Over the past few years I have come to know many journalists at the CBC/Radio-Canada and as a concerned Canadian citizen, I have grown worried about the fate of our public broadcaster. This summer and fall, I had the pleasure and privilege of sitting down with Shelagh Kinch, head of CBC Québec, and twice with Hubert Lacroix, president of CBC/Radio-Canada. The meetings were all a closed-door frank discussions of the challenges our public broadcaster faces in this evolving media landscape.
I went into the meetings as a skeptic, thinking that Lacroix might be doing Harper’s biddings with the cuts he has implementer or thinking that the CBC did not really want to change. During the three meetings, both Hubert and Shelagh expertly outlined the important changes the organization is making to trim costs and modernize its service offerings. They confronted challenges – from Aboriginals who felt left out of the CBC reporting to millennials who hated their simple apps to rural communities who were not getting coverage. They spoke truthfully and honestly and I am now convinced there is progress.
High Tech Solutions
The apps are looking better and specific projects such as the World Cup video player and the Sochi Olympics show the CBC understands the potential for digital tools to compliment and augment content. Yet, the cuts continue and one wonders how much innovation and high quality content they will be able to produce with their reduced staffs and budgets. There is enough commentary on their need for better technology, going mobile and going online – so I will not add to it.
Low Tech Solutions
Though the CBC needs to keep its apps, online solutions and interactive productions up to speed with consumer expectations, there is an area that the CBC has yet to tap. The national Norwegian broadcaster, NKR, recently embarked on a simple, counter intuitive and powerful type of show: Slow TV.
One of their producers recently gave a hilarious and inspiring TED Talk on the subject. The concept is ridiculously simple, film apparently mundane events in real time and show them on television. The Norwegians did a seven hour show that filmed a train crossing the country, then they filmed a five day boat journey from southern Norway to Northern Norway, then a show an 8 hour show that included cutting and burning firewood and most recently, they filmed 8 hours of salmon fishing, it took 3 hours to catch the first fish!
There are a few remarkable things about this. First, over 20% of the Norwegian population tuned in at some point to these shows. Secondly, it build a link between Norwegians as the events filmed were all closely tied to their National identify. And lastly, the shows go against everything you are taught about the modern viewer – that you need action, plot-lines, big budgets and drama to keep someone engaged. Of course, Slow TV cannot replace all forms of television, but it is a beautiful compliment to our frenetic lives and bombardment of our minds with action, explosions and violence.
As you watch these shows, you are forced to slow down your own thinking and you suddenly start to see the layers and nuances that exist in life. You watch someone cutting firewood and you slowly see the scares on their hands, the look in their face and the forest around them. You see details and perhaps you even start to construct a plot. Was this person who is cutting wood a good father? Was he a good son? How did he end up where he is? Of course, you do not and will not get the answers, but just having the time to ask the questions changes the way you see yourself and your fellow citizens.
The CBC should produce Slow TV. They can start with just one show and like the NKR, it should be an annual or semi-annual event. The show should focus on something Canadian and it should help build our national identity. Perhaps the Trans-Canadian train, a long sled ride across the north, a long canoe trip, fishing, or some other event. Slow TV would be a low-tech, low-cost solution that makes Canadians wake up to the need for a National Broadcaster to link us together and maintain our national identity.
No Magic Solutions
Yet, despite progress, there are no magic solutions. A number of interesting statistics were highlighted by Hubert Lacroix. In short, the CBC only receives $29 per Canadian per year and has a mandate to serve all Canadians, in two languages and in six time zones. In contrast, the Norwegian broadcaster, NKR, receives 180$ per Norwegian. Also of note, the cuts did not start under Harper, but have been a continuous trend for the last twenty years. If you also include the current massive migration of ad revenue to online platforms such as Facebook and Google, the CBC is between a rock and a hard place.
It is easy to say, “Be like the BBC” – produce more and better content and you’ll get more funding. However the BBC gets $ 97 per Brit (and there are more of them) and they only have to serve one time zone in one language, it’s like an NHL team competing against a junior hockey team.
Despite the underdog story, the CBC has clearly thought through their options and there are many smart and devoted people working there. They have summarized their strategy in the CBC Plan for Us All, which lays out their attempt to modernize their offerings and go digital. The plan is good, but ultimately not enough. Hubert Lacroix is a very smart man and I believe he is sincere in his attempts to save the CBC, despite what some former Radio-Canada journalists might believe. Beyond government cuts and ad revenue issues, there are problems with the unionized workforce that protects older employees and reduces their ability to hire young digital natives, there are also inherited costs of infrastructure and a perception in Western Canada that the CBC is not worth anything. The list of problems is long, but the key element here is a lack of resources.
At the end of the day, the CBC needs to drive eyeballs and ears to their content and the best way to do that is through high quality and differentiated content – such as Slow TV. Easier said than done. When top-quality productions like House of Cards cost 7 million dollars to produce, for one hour of television and the most costly CBC show ever, The Border, cost 1.3 million dollars an hour to produce, it is clear that the CBC cannot compete with HBO and Netflix. Ultimately the English part of CBC is competing with the United States and so far, Canadians seem to prefer US shows. The CBC could cut a lot of mediocre shows, but that still won’t be enough. And, it is notoriously hard to pick winners and losers based on scripts. The head of a major Hollywood studio once said, “If I had said yes to all the films I refused and no to all the films I produced, I would be in the same place.” With the current funding, the numbers just do not work and there is no clear way the CBC can dig itself out of its current death spiral.
Sure, they could try and emulate some other broadcasters with higher quality reporting. They could try and jump on a variety of internet platforms that the ‘cool’ kids are using, Facebook, Twitter, today and Quartz and Medium tomorrow. Tackling multiple and ever changing platforms is a very hard challenge and likely futile, it requires intimate understanding of the nature of the platforms and constant adaptation to new platforms. It strikes me as unsustainable for the CBC to chase after all these broadcast channels. The only way to bring back the CBC is to produce great, innovative and Canadian content.
To produce great content, in a market that is overshadowed by Hollywood, we need to decide as a society if the CBC is something Canada believes in. At first, I was a skeptic of the CBC’s desire to change or to invest in new talent. They have been slow to move on data journalism, online access to content, mobile apps and data visualization – but they are headed in that direction. Their plan is good and their top brass seem keenly aware of the need to move faster. Now, there remains only one remaining piece in the ‘Save the CBC puzzle’, Canadians.
A public broadcaster is a societal decision. We must decide if we want one and if we do, we must give it the means to fight in a competitive market and produce great content. Each Canadian should contribute, from one source or another, as much as the average of the top twenty countries, 82$ per year. That would nearly triple the current funding and would allow the CBC to actually invest in it’s people, which represent 70% of its costs, and its technology. Frankly, more money is the only solution for our public broadcaster and the only people who can make that happen are Canadians. Canadians need to wake up and choose between a well funded CBC or no CBC at all.
So, in no particular order are four crazy ideas for the CBC.
1. Become a Landlord Not a Tenant.
The CBC is proposing to sell its real estate and become a tenant of newer, more modern buildings. It has closed large buildings in Canadian cities and is downsizing its physical footprint. Instead, the CBC should grow its footprint and use the extra real estate to offer affordable rents to emerging artists and innovative technical organizations who can work with and compliment CBC offerings – helping plant good ideas in the CBC.
2. Move away from Windows and costly web hosting
CBC could likely save millions of dollars by movings its computer terminals away from Microsoft products and movings its hosting solutions to lower cost hosts.
3. Reduce the footprint in Toronto and grow operations in Montreal, or other low cost cities
By moving a good portion of operations to Montreal or other Canadian cities, salaries and real estate costs could be dramatically reduced from the current downtown Toronto operation.
4. Go on a Strike and/or Run
To wake Canadians up to the reality of the funding at the CBC, the staff and administration could hold an unlimited strike. The risk is of course Harper shuts down the CBC, but the upside is he might be forced to increase funding – a little friendly wager shall we say. Hubert Lacroix likes to jog, so perhaps during the strike he could run across Canada – Terry Fox style – to raise awareness for the CBC and its handicap. It could even be filmed as Slow TV!
I hope you will join me in encouraging the CBC and its attempt to modernize and grow for a 21st century audience.Published on February 24, 2015