Inspired By MLK, Stockton’s 27-Year-Old Mayor Is Giving Away Money To End Poverty

Written by Ann Brown

Extreme poverty is returning to America, according to a 2017 United Nations study. This is evident in an area of California just two hours away from tech-rich Silicon Valley.

In 2013, Stockton, California became the most populous city in the U.S. to file for bankruptcy. The city of 300,000 was undone when the housing bubble burst. Its basic operating expenses had become overly dependent on developer fees and increasing property tax revenue that failed to materialize, CNBC reported.

When Michael Tubbs, 27, was sworn in as mayor of Stockton, he wanted to do something to reduce poverty. While the city is recovering from bankruptcy, nearly a quarter of residents still live below the poverty line.

The Stanford-educated native son went to work right after his January 2017 inauguration. His goal? Bring “basic income” to all.

“In college, I was fascinated by Martin Luther King,” Tubbs said in an interview in The Root. “I remember in my sophomore year, reading ‘Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community,’ where King talked about either a federal work guarantee or a universal basic income. This was right before he was murdered. It always stayed in the back of my mind, like, Wow, whatever happened to that? Is that what the Poor People’s March was going to be about?”

Tubbs began pondering ways to make a change.

Michael Tubbs, 27, the youngest Mayor of Stockton, Calif. Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty for the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.

Stockton’s youngest mayor started talking to people from the Economic Security Project, a network of activists, policymakers, academics and technologists that is co-chaired by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. The organization happened to be looking for a city for a basic-income demonstration and had $1 million to invest, The Root reported.

Stockton partnered with the Economic Security Project (ESP), and Tubbs created the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) with the $1 million investment. The city will seek investments to create guaranteed income to its residents.

The concept of a guaranteed income continues to be all the rage in Silicon Valley, where tech titans such as Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have long proselytized about its benefits, perhaps in as much an effort to be forward-thinking as to stave off criticism as automation and technological innovation continue to take jobs from human beings,” The Root reported.

The concept is far from new.

“I come to this idea from the black freedom movement, where both the Black Panther Party and the 10-point platform call for guaranteed jobs or guaranteed income,” said Dorian Warren, co-chair of the Economic Security Project and president of the Center for Community Change Action. “Also, Dr. King in the last year of his life had come around to support the idea of guaranteed income, which is the same as universal basic income; it’s just different language.”

For Tubbs, it seems like the perfect solution to help end poverty not only in his city but elsewhere in the U.S. But SEED has gotten some backlash on social media.

Former game show host Chuck Woolery tweeted about the program, branding it as “free money for the poor” in a “bankrupt city.” Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin tweeted, “You’ve got to be kidding…” and linked to a conservative website that described SEED as giving away “money for nothing.”

Thus far SEED program has raised $1.25 million, and Tubbs expects the program to be up and running in the fall or winter of 2018.

“Our end goal is to change the conversation we have around poverty, the working poor and the lower middle class in this country,” Tubbs told The Root. “I think far too often, we paint folks in these caricatures, that they’re not deserving of opportunity. But I want to elevate the discussion, pick it up where Dr. King left off. No one should have the floor pulled out from the bottom of them in the richest country in the world.”

Ann Brown
Image Attribution: Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs responds to a question during his appearance before the Sacramento Press Club, Tuesday, July 10, 2018, in Sacramento, Calif. Tubbs, 27, is one of the nation's youngest big city mayors and has launched programs to provide universal basic income to a group of low-income residents and guaranteed college scholarships for public high school graduates. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)