A guaranteed income is the best anti-violence program.
Chicago and L.A. establish direct payment to poor people.
As I remind you each time I send out this newsletter, to subscribe at no cost just enter your email address after clicking the button above.
If you would like to donate $5 a month or $60 a year, you can do that after clicking the subscribe button too.
I haven’t written in a couple of days because Anne and I were up in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
It is a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Chicago to Eagle River, Wisconsin. It is the land of lakes, old growth wilderness areas and waterfalls.
Deer and foxes wandered by our front door.
Eagles flew overhead.
We were not exactly off the grid but wifi was weak. Besides, the point was a few days to disconnect.
Driving back down Highway 45, I checked my phone and learned that the Chicago City Council had passed Mayor Lightfoot’s budget.
There are many good things in the new budget that was passed overwhelmingly. I am very pleased that a program of direct cash payments, a guaranteed income to the poorest in our community, was included.
It is a small step. The program will pay 5,000 low-income families $500 a month.
A similar guaranteed income program was enacted almost at the same time in Los Angeles. It includes fewer recipients but a larger payment of $1,000 a month.
I was impressed that the idea to include a guaranteed income came directly from the fifth floor of City Hall.
This mayor is a qualitative change from her immediate predecessors.
Of course, some alders opposed the budget and the guaranteed income. Just as in the old style of Chicago politics, a few of these alders and ward heelers wanted the money funneled through their own so-called anti-violence and anti-poverty organizations.
They would be organizations the alders controlled, just another form of patronage.
To see how that kind of patronage system worked and the role that the great late mayor Harold Washington played in battling that tradition, watch the documentary Punch 9. It vividly describes the Chicago before Harold and his election. It ends with video of the election of our current mayor, Lori Lightfoot.
I would like to see a universal guaranteed basic income as a national program. Just as with programs to expand affordable housing, cities and municipalities can’t be expected to shoulder the financial burden of important social supports like these.
One disgruntled alder labeled it a disincentive to work.
We just came back from the John Deere picket lines a few days before going up north.
I can tell you what a disincentive to work is. It is cutting workers’ wages and health insurance. It is refusing to recognize sick days even in a union shop with a UAW contract.
It is expecting workers who were laid off by the pandemic to return to work as if nothing has changed.
Direct cash payments to the poor is more than just about the money. It is about the same respect that striking John Deere workers are striking for.
A guaranteed income sends the message that we believe people can make the decisions about their lives and how to spend money without some bureaucrat watching over you.
Chicago’s Mayor Lightfoot was able to unite a contentious city council around her progressive budget. It was in sharp contrast to what I’m watching in Congress.
President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better is being stripped of most of what made it progressive.
The Democrats will drop climate change programs and provisions to provide federal paid parental leave, an expansion of Medicare and two years of free community college.
Also dropped is any real attempt to tax the billionaires and corporations.
These progressive components of the bill were basically vetoed by a couple of corporate-owned senators.
“What can the Democrats do?” someone wrote me. “Expel them?”
In Chicago, our mayor provided a model of punishment and rewards to get her program passed.
I support the Progressives in the Democratic Party who stand firm and withhold support for any bill if the leadership continues to try and ignore their demands.
My drawing at the top of this letter is based on the poem, North Woods by Smoky Hoss.
The teeming black waters
Of a wooded creek
To the waterfalls calling -
There is a pragmatic hubris
To the North woods
Set so far from social expectancy,
An un-self-concerned amalgam
Of accepting and being accepted by
Simply living, being, and even dying -
The scent is intoxicating
The sound symphonic
The sight luminous;
Here, these North woods
Home to so much
And community to so few -
Jays sit entwined
Within a bevy of birch branches
Voicing the folly
Of an eastern wind,
In a furry fit of contentment
A squirrel dances with a maple leaf,
And a dropp of dew
Gives itself to a colony of working ants -
Supple, and turbulent
Are the irresistable ways
Of the seasons up here!
Nights and days
Swamps and hills
Frogs and flies
Deer and bear,
All a part
Of the heart and blood of
The great North woods.