Universal Basic Income is officially part of the California Democratic Party Platform

Last week Democrats gathered in San Diego, and while the top news story might have been incumbent Senator Diane Feinstein failing to secure the party’s endorsement, another groundbreaking moment quietly slipped into the record books. According to a review of the last several decades of platforms, this is the first time that a Universal Basic Income has been included in an official Democratic Party Platform as a strategy for economic justice.

Reaching a new party platform is a process that takes over six months and only happens every other year. “I’d thought a lot about submitting a UBI support platform for a long time, and had submitted it to the 2016 DNC platform without success,” said Rocky Fernandez, who brought the idea in front of the committee this past November. Fernandez serves as the District Director for State Senator Bob Wieckowski, a Democrat from Fremont, California. If that name sounds familiar it may be because earlier this year, Sen. Wieckowski sponsored SB 775, which would have shifted California’s cap and trade program to include a “climate dividend” paid out to every Californian, funding a kind of guaranteed income through a steadily rising price for carbon.

While SB 775 did not pass, Fernandez remained convinced that the idea of a basic income was one worth discussing at the state level. “I proposed it for the platform because I believe that economic insecurity is the worst terror in our society and is completely unnecessary,” said Fernandez. His work paid off this weekend, when the new California Democratic Party Platform was presented to the throngs of politicos gathered in San Diego.

“I think it’s important because it is another step in mainstreaming the idea of basic income,” said Owen Poindexter, a candidate for state assembly in district 15 who himself is running on UBI, “this is another hand hold on the wall we’re climbing.” Poindexter is hoping that the new party platform will make people more comfortable with basic income as a talking point, “this makes it easier for politicians to point to the platform and start a conversation, and it makes it easier for voters to bring it up when they are asking questions of candidates.”

Recent polling has shown that a basic income may just be the kind of big idea needed to motivate voters. According to a Gallup poll released just this week, 65 percent of Democrats said they support the idea of a basic income to insure against technological unemployment. The poll also revealed that younger Americans, those under 35 years old, are most likely to support a basic income. The strongest consensus, however, was found around how to pay for it; 80 percent of those in support of a basic income say that the companies benefitting most from technological advancement should foot the bill.

While some might see the platform as a symbolic gesture, the symbolism alone is significant. The last year of discussion and debate around a basic income has expanded dramatically to include mainstream names in Democratic politics, from California Congressman Ro Khanna to former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Now there is potential for new candidates to turn to the party platform as a playbook for solutions to economic justice, and start a conversation about basic income with their constituencies. “I was at a candidate forum yesterday,” said Poindexter, “and I was able to say, ‘Martin Luther King supported this, Milton Freedman supported this, Bernie Sanders has started to talk about it, AND it is part of the California Democratic Party Platform.’”

Another politician that can be added to that growing list of supporters is Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, who just launched the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration with initial funding from the Economic Security Project. Fernandez recounted the excitement when Mayor Tubbs took the stage at the convention to talk about a universal basic income, “I’m quite certain those three words haven’t been spoken together on that stage before,” he said, “that’s a big deal and another part of this momentum.”

As optimistic as he is about the future for basic income policy in California, Fernandez acknowledges that UBI being included in the official party platform doesn’t mean things will change overnight, “having something in the platform only matters if people step up to organize.” That is exactly what candidate Poindexter has his sights set on, “I think it’s a conversation a lot of people want to have.”