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Universal Basic Income Is the Heart of This Queer Candidate's Platform

James Felton Keith

James Felton Keith, New York's first black queer congressional candidate, believes we all deserve a raise.

As 2019 marked the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and half a century of queer liberation, the mood on the ground was undoubtedly jubilant, and it felt like a triumph over an era that we can finally put behind us. This year was also the first year that the United States hosted WorldPride, but I didn't join the celebration. Instead, I joined 45,000 others at the Queer Liberation March -- a grassroots movement committed to raising awareness of some of the most disenfranchised members of our society and the ongoing challenges that queer communities still face.

This is in no way to say that the ongoing shift of queer culture to the mainstream is a negative, but that the fight for inclusion continues both inside and outside of the change. Despite the progress we've made in the last half a century, we're currently at a critical juncture in society, as rights -- not just for the queer -- are being challenged by acts like the move to legalize discrimination. The rise of queerness as an identity is going to challenge our children's children's understanding of what it means to be a person and demand respect. Queer folks will be at the forefront of that fight with our lives on the line.

Our broken economy and biased policies are already accelerating the gap between rich and poor every day. Despite increased cultural acceptance, studies show the LGBT population is already statistically more likely to be economically disadvantaged, to lack access to sufficient nutrition and to have household incomes below $24,000. When that also squares with a disenfranchised gender, race or social class, the struggle for agency and equity gets even deeper.

That's why my leading policy is the Universal Basic Income. I want it to raise the income floor and get every person at least an extra $1,000/mo that they are owed from the influence of their culture on our society. We're planning a Basic Income March on October 26 to kick off our campaign -- and it is mostly led by queer activists.

As someone who is often approached about stigma and educating the disenfranchised communities of our world, my response is simplistic: tell more stories. But how can that actually turn into something tangible? Into something that can offer better agency and equity to the disenfranchised?

I was trained as a process engineer so my skill set is to structure organizations to function well.

SlayTV, a media network for the black queer community, is one example. When I met the co-founders, Sean and Terry Torrington, the company was made up of around 30 artists who had zero access to the advertising industry. I just added the corporate structure so that it could transform into a labor union of creatives and give agency to the company, allowing them to shape the narratives for themselves and their clients.

Institutions and corporations are often thought of as inherently bad, but any corporation is only as ethical as the people behind it. We can use the exact same structures but set them up in a way that works for the disenfranchised. This not only supports our communities and gives us the agency to shape narratives, but works to give us equity over time as awareness grows.

Cultural futurism is good for us morally, and good for business, because the more people who know what they are owed, the more they can tell companies what products and services they deserve, via their data, and the ecosystem of valuable contributions just expands for us all to get our pieces of the pie.

As the tide of bigotry rises across the globe, it's not just queer rights that are at stake. Right now everything from reproductive freedoms to the simple ability to walk down the street without the fear of a hate crime are under threat. Supporting agency and equity for the disenfranchised is a critical way to reverse the tide, but it has to be done with a framework that includes every single member of society.

Inclusionism is my core ethic and the code for equity is the way we institutionalize these changes:

1) All people have intrinsic value.

2) All people derive their value from interaction with others.

3) All people should have equity in the value that is created from our interaction.

These principals guide my work above all else, whether it's technology, politics or economic theory. You can explore the conversations around this theme at the Inclusionism Podcast and see how this code can influence the distribution of agency and equity to all contributors.

James Felton Keith is New York's first queer, black congressional candidate, running for Congress in New York's 13th District. Raised in Detroit, James is a major proponent for a Universal Basic Income (UBI) that gives citizens an asset holder stake in American companies that profit not only from their data, but from their culture as well.

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