If you’d told me at the start of 2020 that within six months I’d be organizing a rally for universal basic income, I probably would have stared at you blankly. Or spit out my morning coffee. Before COVID hit, I had given basically no thought to whether or not I supported what had always struck me as a quirky policy idea.
My foggy memory of the early days of lockdown won’t allow me to pinpoint the exact moment a bolt of insight changed my view. But when it hit me, it hit me: Much of what causes people and families to fall through the cracks in our society is outside their control, and their needs should be met regardless—as a human right. Further, if every citizen’s basic needs were automatically met, it would empower us all to build richer lives and put our time and energy into endeavours that enrich our communities and stimulate the economy. (Full disclosure: I’m a newbie in a movement that many far-sighted people have been committed to for decades.)
I began to feel a fire in my belly, so I got to work researching, poking around to see what kind of UBI advocacy was being done locally and nationally. Through a Toronto-based advocacy group working to spearhead rallies all over the country for International Basic Income Week (in September), I found myself volunteering to organize a rally in Edmonton, because no one had yet done so. I knew a rally was a big thing to take on, with two small kids at home (full time, given school closures) and with the pandemic’s ever-changing circumstances. But I’d become passionate enough that I needed a concrete and useful thing to pour that energy into. And as an independent musician, I’ve organized plenty of events—creating a rally seemed a reasonable enough fit for my skill set.
Organizing felt pretty daunting at first, because I didn’t yet know the lay of the land in terms of the advocacy community. As a solo singer-songwriter who for a long time preferred to work alone, I’ve learned the hard way that creative endeavours are always stronger when done in and with community. I knew I had to figure out who in Edmonton was already doing work around UBI, and then put a team together to plan the event.
I was lucky to get filmmaker Don Bouzek on board right away. We agreed that for the rally to be a success we had to involve the UBI advocacy community as much and as soon as possible, particularly because we were both upstarts in the movement. We spent a good two months reaching out, making connections, meeting on Zoom and getting a sense of the huge variety of sectors and populations with a vested interest in the issue (and what their shared and differing priorities are). Only then did we get down to the nitty gritty of programming the rally.
It was challenging to assemble a lineup that represented the full scope of people and communities who’d benefit from UBI—because that’s pretty much everybody! But we were very pleased with how it panned out, with speeches from former city councillor and Coalition Canada Basic Income member Michael Phair, Cynthia Palmaria of Migrante Alberta (which advocates for migrant workers) and Julie Heffel of the Self-Advocacy Federation (representing the disabilities community). We had fantastic performances by singers/drummers Chubby Cree, poet Kaz Mega, and Tzadeka (a.k.a. Maigan van der Giessen, who also emceed).
Since music is my primary mode of communication and activism, I performed my song “Cry Out,” which is about the strength in vulnerability, and how sometimes we have to let things fall apart to gain the wisdom and insight to build them back better. COVID-19 has shaken our society at its foundations and exposed gaping cracks in our social systems. It’s time we created a Universal Basic Income as the first step in building a more equitable, just, compassionate and functional society.
Dana Wylie is a singer, songwriter, musician and mother in Edmonton.