A Letter to Basic Income Advocates

Dear UBI advocate friends,

Food for thought, or maybe I just need to get some sleep:

In the past 6 days, Deia and I have received over 6,000 emails from people applying to be subjects in our UBI pilot and film, called Bootstraps. They are still coming in fast. If you’re unfamiliar, you can check out the campaign page at bit.ly/bootstrapspilot.

This influx happened mostly by accident, since we were not planning to take applications, but the news media that wrote about us decided to spin it as if we were doing just that. It made for very eye catching headlines. It also made us anxious about the message getting out there. We agree that the UBI movement must be ready to be measured and on point in the face of the growing debates to come, and messaging is important.

I was at least uplifted that we were suddenly getting a surge of attention. And then I was overwhelmed by the flood of stories in my inbox and the ensuing lack of sleep. Then I was distraught that we are still struggling to get any contributions to our campaign. From the beginning, we had assumed we would have a solid supporting base in this UBI community for our project, both in contributions and advocacy, yet after two weeks of intense campaigning we've had only 60 or so contributors total, many of them newcomers to UBI. Many more, granted, seem to have started to follow along with varying levels of interest. Some are certainly rooting for us, and that's lovely, but we're trying to engage in a team sport here, and so we need teammates, not spectators. It keeps me up at night wondering why we are as yet failing to inspire the UBI family. Do we need catchier memes, more content? We're posting edited, stylized interview footage (our #UBItotd series) every day for free dissemination to act as a repository of handy tools for the movement.

The campaign has been six full-time, income-less, credit-card-saddling months in the making. Do we need higher profile media coverage, I wonder? Do we need a celebrity or two to pull for us? Do UBI advocates just have too much on their plates already? "Probably" is the answer I come up with to all of those questions. If we keep plugging, perhaps eventually this thing snowballs into something truly viral, I try to reassure myself. Who knows with these things?

And yet, we haven't even had success in attracting many friends and family to get on board. As an actor, I've witnessed countless off off off Broadway passion projects crowdfund more readily. And we're purportedly doing something immediately charitable and unselfish, forwarding a greater and common cause, and even offering a chance for donors to partake and win a UBI. Days go by with two or three $10 donations. We REALLY must be missing something here. We emailed a list of nearly 4,000 people when we launched two weeks ago. What gives?

I wonder if maybe it's the concept of UBI itself that is the issue here in the US. Other American crowdfunds have also struggled to provide more than 1 or 2 basic incomes whereas Germany's Grundeinkommen has funded many. What is it that makes Americans hesitate where Germans get inspired and jump in?

Many of us witnessed the Intelligence Squared debate in which UBI was handed a definitive defeat with only a few disingenuous assurances of mathematical infeasibility coming from convincingly credentialed expert opponents. I found it quite foreboding. Is this what the movement is in for? Quick dismissal on a grand scale? Are Americans at large trained to be so cynical and skeptical by now that we're destined to naturally incline against a commonsense idea like UBI? That would not be good at all. Hell, we're going to need the people to come along if we ever want to pass anything.

Feeling discouraged, I wondered how Deia and I are going to figure out how to become useful advocates in the cause. Our plan is the film, but we have to get people to buy in to the concept to fund us first, and then again to watch it when it's done. It seems like a no-brainer to us, but then again so does UBI.

Then it sunk in. We are already advocating! And we're doing it on a pretty significant scale, all things considered. All the submissions I read these last few days, they are almost entirely from outside of the UBI advocacy bubble we've been floating in these past 6 months or so, the people who like myself are members of every Facebook UBI group available.

I’ve read, or at least skimmed, over 1,000 of the submissions we’ve received. Since we are now advertising that they are legitimate applications, I figured I had better hold up my end. going to have to get some interns to help out at this point.

The stories are breathtaking and real, heartbreaking and honest, questioning and hopeful, but almost all are new to the topic, and almost all are fascinated and excited by it. The general principle of our film seems to be working already, unintentionally and 2 years ahead of schedule. We’re forcing the public not to imagine what others might do with free money, but instead what they themselves could finally pursue with guaranteed security. Thousands of fresh eyes have been opened to the concept of universal basic income this week, in a positive light, and by our project directly. These are mostly eyes that would otherwise never come across, let alone open and read, another UBI article appearing in an academic context.

UBI, approached introspectively and internally, rather than as an academic lesson, is an argument that sells itself, the essential argument we’ll need to make if we’re going to take UBI mainstream Bernie style. It’s the force of an unstoppable wave bubbling up.

This argument, this film, just needs a catalyst. If not you, the advocates, then to whom can we turn? Our film needs funding. I’m asking each and every one of you to set aside your hesitation and stop waiting for whatever you’re waiting to see to give you confidence in this effort. It’s not just a film or a pilot. It’s what the movement currently lacks. It is the PR wing that any successful public venture needs. It is going to make a difference, because it is bold, because nobody else is doing it, and because it is asking the right questions to the right people.

I'm asking each one of you to put a little bit of your money where your heart is today and contribute, I don't care how much, but something, so we can see your name on the list, and then spread it to your networks. We can depth charge this wave. Share it with your friends, send personal emails, passionately defend it. There are thousands of us in this community now. We can flex our muscles.

It's a hell of a presumptuous thing to ask, I am quite aware, but I'm not asking for me. I'm not going to see a penny of it. I'm asking for you.


(Twitter, FB, @bootstrapsfilm)

If you’d like to support my partner Deia Schlosberg and me in our quest to shine a light on basic income — I’ll continue writing, we’ll continue releasing our UBI Thought of the Day short video series with experts from around the country, and we’ll culminate with the feature film Bootstraps in time for the 2020 election — please consider making a one time or recurring pledge to our production fund via our fiscal sponsor, International WOW Company 501(c)3. All contributions are tax deductible. Thank you!