Policy Lab

Policy Lab is a platform for brainstorming policies that affect the lives of American people. The Covid-19 pandemic is exposing and worsening the inequality in our society as the results of the decades-long policy decisions made in favor of capital owners over workers.

Many of us—teachers, nurses, small business owners, artists, bank tellers, factory workers—don’t feel that we are well represented by either of the political parties. In fact, the chances of someone from a middle to low-income household, especially for a person of color, to win a seat in Congress are much slimmer than those from affluent households. If we want our laws to reflect the needs of us, the majority, we need representatives from our same background.

While this would entail changes on many levels—welfare, education, justice, etc.—the first step, to amplify the voices of the under-represented majority, is already under way in various grassroots actions. Through this Policy Lab, we hope to contribute to this global effort by providing a platform of communication among policy makers, candidates, and voters from various fields.

We begin with round table-type discussions with a different theme each week, with guests representing diverse views, in the framework of how related policies should be formed or reformed. But this project does not end at the podcast. The recordings will be categorized, tagged, and accessible to the public. They will be organized by topic so it’ll be easy to find relevant clips that can be used by candidates, policymakers, and grassroots organizers.

Our goal is to find partnering organizations throughout this country who can host their own Policy Lab Podcasts with their audio clips joining the master archive. Over time, we’ll have a library of policy ideas that will reflect local nuances, all organized and searchable in one place. 

Our first podcast will launch in January 2021.

UBI-Specific Deep Canvassing

With a majority of American citizens set to receive stimulus checks, there is no better time to reach out to voters about Universal Basic Income.

Deep canvassing is a technique that is quietly gaining momentum. Although it has been in practice for centuries, the term was coined by David Fleischer, who leads the Leadership LAB of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, after the passage of Proposition 8 in the 2008 California ballot measure, banning same-sex marriage in the state. This devastating loss propelled Fleischer to go to the heart of those who voted for the measure, coming up with an initiative that resulted in a 1 in 10 success rate in changing the voter’s mind.

Unlike conventional canvassing which involves scripted questions and targets voters who already agree with the viewpoint of the canvassers (as in Get Out the Vote campaigns), deep canvassing reaches out to voters who may disagree with the canvassers’ position.

The essence of deep canvassing is to build trust of the voters so that they become more open to ideas they are opposed to. For this reason, it is more suited for issue advocacy than for political candidacy.

Instead of firing off bullet points of questions, deep canvassing starts with listening. Typical sessions last 15 to 20 minutes and it is not uncommon to revisit the same voter multiple times over several months or years. It is a slow, long-term process, and therefore not a good tool for an election season. Rather, it is a powerful foundation-building process that leads to winning an election or a ballot measure if conducted a year or two in advance.

Moreover, it is proven to produce long lasting results and provide valuable information, the kind that is not easily conveyed in numbers and check marks. It is a way to build a meaningful network that gives power to organizations and candidates who are willing to put in the time and work.

But perhaps the most valuable aspect of deep canvassing might be that it builds empathy on both sides. People who volunteer to deep-canvas already have a high level of empathy, but they don’t often find opportunities in social situations to speak to people who hold opposite views. With adequate support and training, deep canvassers develop a high level of emotional intelligence and become valuable assets to the community.

We are currently in research and development for deep canvassing specifically designed for UBI advocacy. Our first step is pandemic UBI phone banking, in which volunteers will be calling their friends and family to find out how they feel about UBI, now that its concept has become familiar to many Americans. Make sure to sign up for our newsletter to receive updates.

Photo:Jeffrey Fountain/Courtesy of Los Angeles LGBT Center

Rondout Gardens Basic Income Project

The idea for this project came in January of 2020 when I canvassed to collect signatures for the Democratic Presidential candidate Andrew Yang as his delegate. Rondout Gardens is a low-income housing project located in Kingston, New York. My mother used to live nearby, so I had driven by it numerous times.

I think that the poverty here kind of separates you from the rest of the city. There’s a certain amount of shame about living here. I noticed that— it’s like the other side of the tracks, in a way literally.

From Lost Rondout

But it was not until I went there to knock on doors that I understood what people meant when they said that “the poverty here separates you from the rest of the city.” After a whole row of historic buildings were destroyed in a tragic urban renewal project in the early 20th century, this project was built to accommodate residents who lost their homes in the event. Unfortunately, it became the most segregated part of Kingston, a fact that remains true today. This history is eloquently told in Lost Rondout, a heartbreaking documentary by Stephen Blauweiss & Lynn Woods (link time-stamped):

Kingston is fast becoming a hub for tech and creative professionals, and has been attracting developers for some time. As the town has transformed, Rondout Gardens, cut off from the rest with physical barriers and trapped by social barriers, felt left behind and ignored.

People who answered the door had an expression of hopelessness. But once I explained what I was there for, they showed a wary tenderness. When they grasped Andrew Yang’s policy of giving every citizen $1000 a month with no strings attached, most of them grabbed my pen and signed the petition with a seriousness that I didn’t see anywhere else. This experience left a deep impact on me.

There was a young mother with a few small children. She was too young to be completely hopeless, but I could tell she was tired and stressed. I could see, as I was talking about UBI and what that could do for her kids, she became curious. I could see on her face that she got it.

In many ways, Rondout Gardens is ideal for a basic income pilot. It is physically isolated, making it easy to visually track the change, as well as to collect data. At the same time, it’s also very tricky because extra income would jeopardize their eligibility for their assistance. And understandably, the housing authority would not want us to portray the project as desolate.

I believe there are creative ways to work around any obstacles and limitations, perhaps even leading to something unexpected and fruitful. One thing we are sure of is that whatever we do, story-sharing will play a large part.

We are in the exploratory stage of this plan, with Jennifer Schwartz Berky (see clip below), former Ulster County Legislator who was instrumental in establishing the Human Rights Commission during her tenure, as our lead advisor.

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Keiko Sono, Director