August 25, 2020
Since Stockton, California, Mayor Michael Tubbs was elected in November 2016, he’s launched an innovative Guaranteed Income pilot program and created a runway for his city’s success.
Mayor Tubbs joins Jonathan to discuss the program, how cities across the country are implementing similar initiatives, and why it’s so important for local governments to invest in their communities. Mayor Tubbs is the co-founder of Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, and the subject of the new HBO documentary “Stockton On My Mind.”
Follow Mayor Tubbs on Twitter @MichaelDTubbs and Instagram @michaeldtubbs. Stream Stockton on My Mind on HBO and HBO Max. Learn more about Stockton’s Guaranteed Income pilot program at www.StocktonDemonstration.org. And keep up with Mayors for a Guaranteed Income at www.mayorsforagi.org and on Twitter @mayorsforagi.
Transcripts for each episode are available at JonathanVanNess.com.
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176 — Is Guaranteed Income America’s Next Top Model? with Mayor Michael Tubbs
Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness
& Mayor Michael Tubbs
JVN [00:00:00] Welcome to Getting Curious. I’m Jonathan Van Ness and every week I sit
down for a 40 minute conversation with a brilliant expert to learn all about something that
makes me curious. On today’s episode, I’m joined by Stockton, California Mayor Michael
Tubbs, a leader in the movement for Guaranteed Income and the subject of the new HBO
documentary “Stockton On My Mind,” where I ask him: How Do You Mayor? Welcome to
“Getting Curious,” this is Jonathan Van Ness. On this week’s episode, we have an
incredible guest. And I’m just so excited to welcome you. So I don’t want to build it up too
much. Welcome Mayor Michael Tubbs. How are you?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:00:36] I’m so good. Thanks for having me.
JVN [00:00:39] So you, I’ve just got to watch your doc, your new documentary on HBO. I
just have, like, chills on my legs and my forearms, just thinking about, about your story and,
and just how much changes you’re making as the mayor of Stockton, California. So
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:00:55] No pressure, Jonathan. Thank you.
JVN [00:00:58] So, I mean, we’ve spent a lot of time on “Getting Curious,” thinking about,
about down ballot races and about how important those are to, you know, to community
and to our local lives in a way that is so much more meaningful than a lot of, like national
politics, in ways that we don’t often get to think about. And a lot of those policies, you are
really on the cutting edge of, one of them being guaranteed income. What does investing
in a community look like to you? And that’s, that’s really kind of where I wanted to start.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:01:34] Well, thank you for the question. It’s what I think
about every day. And part of it, as someone who was born and raised in Stockton always
thought I would leave the community and never come back. So I think investing in a
community, I think part of it is just being very present and spending the time to build
relationships. I think all the things we’re doing in Stockton on the policy level and on the
programmatic level, and on the improving the community level are important, but it’s all
really rooted in investing the time of the messiness of relationships. The people, I agree
with on most things and people I agree with on very few things.
And just take spending the time to invest in building the trust, but also learning the lives of
the people I represent. A lot of that is done by doing more observing and listening than
talking. And I think another way of investing in the community or the way I approach it is
sort of using all the resources, all, like giving everything so all the time, energy, love, flaws,
connections, networks using all that in service of improving the community. And then that
translates into what I, how I try to govern in terms of understanding that investing in a
community isn’t investing just in buildings, or investing in infrastructure or investing in new
development. Right, really investing in community means investing in the people and
doing everything we can to invest directly in the people. And that’s why we’ve started this
income program. That’s why we have the scholarship program. That’s why we’re doing the
work to reduce gun violence, because it comes from understanding government is nothing
more than people. So the most important investment in the community or in the
government has to be made in people but in all people, and particularly the people who
have been divested in for so many years.
JVN [00:03:19] Yes. OK, so let’s talk about that. I, I very much. It strikes such a chord with
me of the like, you know, I come from a town that I wanted to escape and you know, never
go back to. And I, I feel that. I think that so many people share that sentiment. It’s like,
gosh, if we could get more people to, like, go, because so many smaller cities all across the
country grow these incredible people like yourself. And also not to give myself a
compliment, but like myself.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:03:48] Absolutely yourself.
JVN [00:03:49] And then so many of those places. And then so many of those places are
inhospitable, not welcoming to people that have been passed over, divested in, you know,
not welcomed. And so then we have these incredible, like coastal cities and then a lot of
cities in central, you know, smaller places, whether it’s central California or, you know,
middle of America, a lot of these incredible innovative leaders that have been, you know,
huge parts of the community, they leave and they don’t get to come back. And that’s such
So how can we make this a more enticing community to bring in young people and families
and innovative leaders and, you know, things like that? How did that happen for you? You
grew up in Stockton, and I kind of want to hear about, I think so many people think of
California as this like liberal bastion, but actually like San Francisco, L.A., San Diego. Yes.
But then, like Central California is kind of its whole own thing. And how you kind of got
involved in local politics, because winning the seat of mayor or winning the office of mayor
wasn’t your first win. And correct me if I’m wrong, but you are the youngest mayor ever of
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:04:52] I’m the youngest mayor of a city of more than
100,000 people ever. I was elected at 26.
JVN [00:04:58] I love titles so much, they-. I’m sorry you just had to take your earphone out
of your-, I hope I didn’t cause hearing damage, but that’s so cool. You’re the youngest
mayor of a city over 100,000 people ever.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:05:12] When I was elected.
JVN [00:05:13] In the United States.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:05:14] Yeah, in the United States.
JVN [00:05:14] That is so cool. But you were a city councilor, but you were elected to the
city council at 22.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:05:20] Yes. So I, I started. So as you mentioned, born and
raised in Stockton. But like so many young people in communities like Stockton, I was, I
was told literally that to be successful means I had to leave. So I oriented myself towards
doing so. I think part of it is because I didn’t grow up in the part of Stockton where I have
fundraisers at now, I grew up in the part of Stockton where a lot of the work is happening
on the south part of the city. The other side of the tracks, my mom had me as a teenager.
My father was incarcerated. So poverty was real. And the issues we’re talking about were
really real. And it didn’t give me a lot of affection for the city, I actually kind of hated it. I
hated the violence. I hate the lack of educational attainment. And I just knew I had to get
out. And then my junior year in college, I was interning for President Obama’s White
House, and my job was to work with mayors and councils. And that was the first time I saw
how at a local level that mayors and councils, although not perfect, can actually do things
and effect change and see the change in real time.
And that’s when I thought it be cool to support candidates in Stockton because my mom
and family were still there. But then while there, one of my cousins, Donnell James II,
ended up being a victim of a homicide at a house party. And that is what kind of made me
think about going back. And part of it was just survivor’s guilt. Feeling just really guilty in
that I had gone to Stanford. I worked at the White House, partly because I came from
Stockton and told the story about the challenges it took to, to, to to lead to go from
Stockton to those places. And I was thinking, well, how is Stockton actually better for my
And then as a spiritual person, I thought, well, maybe all this stuff is happening because
God wants me to do something to, to improve Stockton. So that’s why I decided to run for
city council. I appreciate you saying that because it’s not just you wake up and you become
mayor. That took time in the trenches, when no podcasts with superstars and no, no
limelight, but really just behind closed doors and noonday meetings, learning the
community, learning how to govern. In that four years of city council was the only reason
why I was prepared to run for mayor at 26.
JVN [00:07:24] My agent, one of my agents, loves to say to me that we always think of
these like overnight successes or overnight celebrities, but no one ever sees the like 15 or
20 years that it took of work for you to get to this like overnight, you know, sort of thing.
So that, I always am aware of, you know, of kind of, that people have a lot of journey in
getting where they got, but that story is just an incredible one. And the initiative that you
have taken, I think, I mean, I could honestly spend like the rest of the podcast really talking
about that. But I’m, I also want to talk about just how much, how much of what you’re
doing kind of is on the cutting edge of the country.
And it’s just so interesting how you are so well positioned to be the person talking about
so many of these issues like guaranteed income and also how the changes that mayors and
city councils can usher in so quickly. So, so much of what’s happened in some of the face of
the protests that have happened and talking about defunding the police. And we’ve seen
city councils in these last few months reshape budgets and do things that are so local and
so, what’s the word? Like targeted like it, it’s so-. Which I just think is so great.
So how does that? I was, when I was doing some of the research for this, I was kind of
writing like, I’m holding this up for listeners to know. It’s like I was kind of writing like a
family tree of like how city government works and trying to kind of figure out, you know,
what budgets look like and what, you know, kind of who’s at the top of the totem pole. So
I wrote, like, mayor. Then I wrote beneath that on one branch, police chief. And then on
another branch, city council. So is that accurate? That like the mayor is kind of at the top
and then, like, the police chief is kind of operating right below that, then the city council is
kind of like the Congress.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:09:15] Yeah, well, in theory. In theory, but Stockton, like
Sacramento or, like, San Jose in California, there’s another role called the city manager that
does the day-to-day work. So the mayors, and in a sense is more like the chair of the
board, and see, you see manager is more like the CEO. But because the police chief is
usually there longer than the mayor and the city manager, so they report, but they have
their own base of power because they have more longevity, because they’re not, they’re
not term limited. They, police chief is, most for four, 10, 15, 20 years. And then the city
council, they’re part time, but they vote, their vote matters just as much as mine. So it’s a
really interesting mix of more sort of using influence and more using the bully pulpit and
helping to set priorities than actually having hard executive authority. Like, so Mayor
Garcetti is lucky in that sense because in L.A., because he has executive authority, but in
most cities in California, power is so diffuse and that’s why people get frustrated because
they come to the mayors, say, “Do this today,” and usually, my answer is, “If it’s a good
thing and it’s not being done. It’s not because I don’t want to. It’s not because I don’t
agree with you, it’s because there’s a process, there’s a system or I don’t have the
JVN [00:10:37] So I was just watching this other documentary on Netflix about, like, ICE
and immigration. And it was basically kind of asserting that, like, the system, the system is
set up so big and so complex so that some of the ICE offices that are, like, actually doing
the, like, detaining and deporting, it’s, like, they’re able to say, like, absolve themselves of
some of the evils of that system because they’re like, “Well, I’m just doing my job, you
know, I’m,” but the system, the systems are set up like that. So that is harder to diffuse
them and dismantle them.
So how, what do you say to people that are so frustrated? And you are someone who has,
you mentioned earlier, father incarcerated. You had a cousin who was ki-, the victim of
homicide. Also having grown up in issues of poverty, I’m sure that you had interactions with
law enforcement that made you, like, you said, like, kind of hate this city and resent the
city. So it’s like you understand that frustration, but you also understand, you know, kind of
how these systems work. So, and I wasn’t trying to compare like government to ICE, but I
guess I’m just saying, like, what do you say to people that are frustrated? Like, and when
protests don’t work and when, you know, people in Asp-, or in Aurora are still getting like
protest, peaceful protesters are getting like, beat, you know, where do you, you do the
frustration? Is it just a matter of patience, patience, or?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:11:55] No, no. I tell people all the time that anger is a, if
you’re not angry seeing a lot of the injustices in our society, you’re, you’re dehumanized.
You should be really angry seeing kids in cages. You should be really angry seeing people
killed by police. You should be really angry seeing homelessness and poverty. That’s like a
baseline, that’s necessary but not sufficient. And protests are important. We have to
protest and push and create this space for the actual policy change. I tell people all the
time, “I’ll be completely honest with you. We may not agree on everything. I’ll let you
know kind of this is where we’re at, this is where I see it.” And this is how you get it done,
because, I mean, I ran for office because I was angry.
My, my cousin was murdered and I sat there and said, OK, well, what can I do with all this
rage I’m feeling? And I just decided to challenge, channel that into being part of the
system and not part of system in terms of allowing the system to continue, but part of the
system with an orientation towards kind of making the changes and make it so that when
folks are protesting, they’re so on the inside, that does not have to be protested against.
Someone on the inside who gets it. Someone on the inside, who needs kind of protesting,
pushing to make the changes that we deserve. But it’s tough because, I mean, these things
are very, it’s, it’s exhausting. And it should have been changed yesterday. So saying, “Wait
for tomorrow or wait for to-,” I get why people are upset. But we also live in a pluralistic
democracy where there’s a lot of people protesting, but there’s also a lot of people who
are OK with the way things are. And oftentimes the people who are OK with the status quo
actually vote more than the people who want change, which, which makes the incentives
JVN [00:13:33] Oh, wait, what? Say that again. I need that to sink in more.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:13:34] Yeah. I would say if you look, I just the data in terms
of who votes and who doesn’t. The people who are OK with the status quo, who are OK
with the way things are, vote. They, they, they vote disproportionately. They have a
disproportionate stance to who’s elected and what laws are on the books and the people
who are upset and protesting, some vote but don’t vote in the numbers that, as we should.
If we’re so upset and we want to see something change, we know that the vote’s not
perfect and it’s not a panacea, but it’s a powerful tool. And I know for in my case that
oftentimes peo-, like what my political consultants will tell me. “Do, you, your-. Is this an
issue that voters care about? Will voters, do voters see this as important? Or voters think
you’re not thinking about them.” It’s because a lot of the issues around poverty, around
police reform, some voters do care about it. But a lot of folks who are really deeply
impacted, don’t vote as regular. And because of that, they’re not usually seen by other
folks whose job is dependent on getting more, the most votes. And that’s what I’ll try
explaining to people like, “Look, you may not like any of your choices, but you have to
make a choice or the choice will be made for you. And I can guarantee you, you’ll hate
JVN [00:14:47] So you have taken a lot of different approaches in your role of Mayor of
Stockton to kind of implement some changes that have gotten a lot of attention that are
really cool. And one of the things is, is the guaran-, this idea of guaranteed income. And
one thing that I didn’t understand was the differences between guaranteed income and
universal income, because I think the first time I heard of universal income was from
Andrew Yang and his presidential campaign. I never really heard of it before that.
And also like in interviewing some District Attorneys on the show, and then just like other
research that I’ve done, so often, what we see, who we see incarcerated, are like people
who are engaging in crimes of poverty, like we’re stealing food because we can’t feed our
children. And when you look at some of the racism and sexism that goes into some of the
reasons why people are committing crimes of poverty, it’s like, that’s why we need to kind
of defund the police. And that’s why we need to kind of invest. So I understand that.
But I think that so many people don’t understand how those things are linked. And so I’d
love to hear about implementing some of these changes. Well, one, what’s the difference
between guaranteed and universal? And how has Stockton benefited so far from
implementing these changes?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:16:03] Yeah, so, and these are great questions. So universal
is this idea that everyone gets the same amount of money regardless of need. And some of
the arguments for that is this idea of stigma, the fact that, oh, these people need this,
these people don’t. And also this idea that a universal basic income should be part of the
national commons. Like this is something that we all get for being American. If it helps
some people more than others, that’s fine. If you don’t need it, you can donate. So that’s
one school of thought.
The other school of thought is around a guaranteed income, which is really a targeted
intervention around helping those that we know need it, with the resources we know we
have. So an example of that in Stockton, we’ve given 500 dollars a month to 125 families
who look like the city but all live in a zip code at or below the city’s median, meaning that
there’s probably no one in the program who’s in the top one percent of earners in
Stockton, but there are a lot of people who are making 70K, 80K, 60K, who were often
excluded from government programs who are benefiting.
And I think universal, universality is a great goal and I don’t think that’s something to lose
sight of, but to your point, particularly given the crisis we’re at now with Covid, what seems
to be more politically feasible is something that’s guaranteed, something that’s for folks
who make 100K or 125K and below. And knowing that we’re at least, if we’re giving to
everyone, we’re at least helping the people who need it the most. And part of that frame
for me comes from studying Dr. King and studying the Black Panther Party, who, all
taught-, who, number three on the Black Panther Party’s platform is a job guaranteed or a
guaranteed income. Dr. King talked about this, and where do we go from here?
And I think for me, my willingness to pilot the basic income or guaranteed income came
from a hatred of poverty and a hatred of scarcity, for the points you mentioned, this idea
that most crimes are, there are some crimes that are heinous and by folks with severe
pathological mental illnesses and things of that sort and that, that’s different. But the vast
majority of people in our prisons are in prison because they were poor. Because their
environments were poor, because their schools were poor, because the job opportunities in
their communities were poor and they made poor choices accordingly. So, so I think what
we’ve seen in Stockton is that for the 125 families, it’s made a world of difference. It’s been
a difference between having dentures and not for some people.
During Covid, it’s been the difference between having, having to go to the food bank or
not. For one person, she told me that because of 500 dollars, she actually was able to stay
home when she had symptoms because she said, “If I didn’t have the 500 dollars, I don’t
have paid time off, I would have had to gone to work even though I had a cough, even
though I had a fever. Because, I mean. Whether I have Covid or not is an unknown, but
what is known is that the bills are due. I have to eat, and I have to have lights.” And I think
for the city. It’s been helpful just to see all of us reflected in a policy that’s not about saying
some people are good or some people are bad, but are saying the way the economy has
been working, hasn’t just been working for working people.
And then on the, on the, on the crime front, we’ve taken the same frame with our crimes
reduction work. So we’ve seen a 40 percent reduction in violent crime in the last three
years, and a lot of it has been through looking at kind of violent crime as a public health
issue and understanding that the guys who are most likely to be victims and perpetrators
of violent crime also don’t have high school diplomas, don’t have jobs, are food insecure,
and are housing insecure. So when the programs were running, it’s called Advanced Peace,
which finds and identifies guys who are most likely to be victims and perpetrators and
provide some cognitive behavioral therapy and case management and goal setting, but
also after six months provides them with a fellowship with a stipend to continue making the
And I’ve just seen and I came in honestly, Jonathan, as a skeptic of basic income or
guaranteed income, saying, like, it can’t be that easy or people need to work. But what
we’ve found is that people are working and working themselves to death, working as
essential workers, and it’s still not enough. And we can afford to do a guaranteed income.
And I’ll be quiet after this. We can afford to do a guaranteed income because we spent, we
spent two trillion dollars in 2017 giving tax cuts to people who don’t need it. And Kamala
Harris has a bill right now. V.P. nominee Harris has a bill right now that says you can reverse
those tax cuts and give every family making 125,000 dollars or less, 500 dollars a month
like today. Like it’s feasible. It’s possible. It’s an expenditure that’s already in our budget.
So I’m sorry for that long ramble, but I get really passionate about this.
JVN [00:20:47] Don’t ever apologize for that. That is. No. No. That is just, it is so
important. So that brought up a lot of things. We had a guest on it “Getting Curious” to
talk about family separation at the border and how upsetting that was. And then basically
she said, you know, but this, this country has been dealing with family separation since way
before this administration and what’s been going on at the border. And she was like, it’s
mass incarceration. And I was like, “Well, how do you mean?” And she was, she gave me
the statistics on Black children in America. The, the chances that a Black child has of having
one of their parents be incarcerated before that child graduates high school. And then
what those same statistics are for white kids. And it was wildly disproportionate.
And so when you think about, well, not you, but I just feel like when people think like,
“Well, why do we need scholars, a Stockton scholars program?” Or “why is it important
that we, you know, employ people that were at one time incarcerated?” And the thing is, is
that for people that were either incarcerated or are children of people who are
incarcerated, your chances of, like, meeting that goal-setting training, if you didn’t have a
parent around your chances of being taken under the wing of someone who is like doing
something that was maybe, I just feel like your chances of like falling off of a path to
success very much go up when one of your parents is dealing with a previously
And so with that being said, it’s like as mayor and as someone in a position of power, and
also, I think it was so interesting when you said right before that, you know, you are a
skeptic of guaranteed income, at one point, you yourself experienced an evolution and
journey there. So I’m curious about that. And also, how can we convince or show other
people why this is so important?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:22:25] Yeah. So the journey. So I remember, I remember
studying it and being interested about it in college, then my staff came up to me with it. I
said, well, you know, you have, I mean, we all grew up in a society that has all these tropes
about sort of people. In particular types of people, in terms of people being lazy or not
working hard enough or not being able to make good decisions with their money, etc. And
I was like, well, 500 dollars, is that even enough? How is it going to be used? Like it’s not
going to be like forever, it’s only going to be for 18 months. But then before we, before we
gave money, we spent a year in the design process. And I spent a lot of time listening to
people. It became apparent after my first listening session that A, I was dumb and that B,
like people are actually really, really, really smart in terms of making decisions for
themselves and their families.
And then I reflected on my mother and my aunt and grandmother who raised me and how
the issue with money in our family wasn’t because they didn’t know how to manage money,
it was because they didn’t have money to manage. So they had to go to the check cashing
places sometimes. So they had to use credit cards to pay for this and that, so they had to
incur all this debt, not because they were recklessly buying yachts and private islands, but
because they were trying to buy uniforms, because they’re trying to buy braces, because
they were trying to get glasses and things of that sort. And then I realized that that’s
actually not just unique to my family. That is all the families I talked to.
There was a person, usually the mother, who had great ideas for, oh, 500 dollars could pay
for this bill. 500 dollars. I remember one lady, I’ll never forget it. She said, 500 dollars will
help me in the summer. And I was like, not the winter? Like why would that, how would
that help you? She said, Well, Mayor, my kids come home from college in the summer. She
says, every year I get anxiety because my bills go up, my food goes up, but my money
doesn’t. And I don’t want them not to come home, but I have to, I’m in a paying, keep,
catch up the rest of the year because of the time they spend at home in the summer. She
said, that 500 dollars will be enough for me to relax in the summer. And I was, like, wow.
And then other people talked about that just anxiety and stress that came from working
incredibly hard and not being able to pay your bills. And that really resonated with me as
well, like, wow.
This is about giving people the agency to be human, to breathe and to actually have
dignity. Like we talk about this dignity of work all the time. But dignity can’t be attached to
work first. It has to be attached to our personhood and our humanity. And if that was the
case, the folks would go to work and be treated with dignity. With wages that pay and with
benefits like your employees and with, like, paid time off and sick leave, etcetera.
I think in terms of getting other people to buy in, well, we’ve launched recently is a group
called the Mayors for Guaranteed Income. It’s a group of about 20 plus mayors, like, LA’s
mayor, Atlanta’s mayor, Oakland’s mayor, Compton’s mayor, Pittsburgh’s mayor, Long
Beach’s mayor, like, all these mayors, Melvin’s, Carter of St. Paul, Jackson, Mississippi, all
these mayors from across the country who are interested in trying to pilot like we’ve done
in Stockton the concept, to kind of create more stories and create more opportunities for
people to see that just like you would spend money well, and maybe one time, like, you
might buy you a nice pair of shoes or a nice watch. And I don’t think that’s a sin either. I
think that you should be able to enjoy life a little bit. You shouldn’t just work and only pay
your rent, and that’s all you get to do. So they are committed to piloting something.
And I think the more stories we get from people whose experiences resonate with the vast
majority of people in this country, the more policymakers will see, like, “Oh, wow. Folks
actually need this money. ‘Cause I think, last thing I’ll say on this is that a lot of
policymakers, necessarily aren’t bad people, all of them, but a lot of them are so
disconnected from the vast majority of people. They don’t have conversations with people
who aren’t of their social class, who aren’t wealthy, who don’t own homes.
JVN [00:26:27] So. OK, all right. So I have way more questions about guaranteed income
and how you guys did that and more questions, but we’re going to take a really quick
break and we’ll be right back with more Mayor Michael Tubbs after this. Welcome back to
“Getting Curious.” So this, you know, when we think about the economic disparities and
the wealth gap between like that, Black families, white families, homeownership. I mean, I
feel like I have a pretty good grasp on some of those things. I feel like, I hope that most
listeners do, would understand what redlining is and would understand what the cost, the
opportunity costs of not being able to get into schools and so many other things. You
know, why that wealth gap is the case.
But I’m curious about in this, in this case of this pilot program, where does the money
come from? How do we decide who gets, who, what gets a zip code? What happens if,
like, if the constituent or the person didn’t pay taxes? What if someone’s living in poverty,
but, like, what if they like, you know, made 500 dollars on Venmo or something and they’ve
been in and out of homeless shelters. Like what if, like what if they don’t know how to file
to get onto the, how do you implement it?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:24:40] Yeah. No, thank you. So for all the listeners who like
to nerd out, you can go to StocktonDemonstration.org, there’s an 18 page discussion
paper that was written by people way smarter than me. And you can read, peruse. And I’ll,
but in layman’s terms, essentially, we decided that we wanted the program to be as
universal as possible while also making sure we reach the people who needed it. So our
research team, Dr. Baker and West, they came up with this idea that, what if we use census
tracts because we found that 75 percent of everyone in the city of Stockton lives in a zip
code where the median income of their zip code or census track is at or below the city’s
median. So he said, that’ll be the only qualification. You have to live in what the census
tracks, that’s at or below the city’s median, which is like 70, so 75% of the city qualified.
And then from there, they used some kind of algorithm that balance sort of age and race
and employment status, etcetera. So it looks like the diversity of the city of Stockton and
also the diversity of experiences. So there’s people who are working, people who aren’t,
people who make more than 70K. Not many, but some. And people who are making less
than 40. And then in terms of the questions around, we spent a long time thinking about
kind of benefits and questions because I’ve been very clear from the beginning, I’m not in
favor of any basic income or guaranteed income proposal that would get rid of the existing
safety net and just get everyone the same. I just don’t think that’s equity. So I said, ours has
to be additive.
JVN [00:29:13] So basically that just means that, like, does that mean when you start to
bring up the idea of guaranteed income, then like some of like Republican or conservative
people are like, well, we’ll give you that. But then that means like no more Medicare and
no more like, like, AIDS Healthcare Foundation or like government or like Planned
Parenthood. Like we’re gonna take this money from current benefits?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:29:30] Yeah. And that’s why, I said from the beginning, let’s
just be very clear. Because you know the trap with that. And let us be very clear. I don’t
want to gut the existing social safety net. I just want to add to it, because we always add to
things. Like we just added it. So we spent a lot of time giving waivers and talking with sort
of different, we weren’t able to get any kind of federal waivers. But in terms of the things
our state administered, we are so thankful for our partners at the county, at the state, for
providing waivers for families who may make a little bit more than the cut off for things.
And then we also had a couple of social workers do onboarding, some before anyone sign
on to the program, they sat with a social worker, and if, who looked at all the, if they were
on benefits because most people in the program aren’t on any benefits, but some are.
So looked at all the benefits they had and really sort of made sure they understood the
trade offs and the concessions. And we got to wait for this, we got to wait for that. You
may not, this and that. Just make sure everyone walked in knowledgeable, which I think
was super important. And what was interesting, Jonathan, what we found is that some
people actually opted out because they say, you know what, this is too important for me.
But more people opted in and said, yes, I may lose my food stamps after this program, but
I don’t need food every month. The issues is that, that some of these benefits are so
prescriptive when people’s needs are fluid. So the need may not be food every month,
some month it maybe an emergency, you need liquid cash to be able to do things.
And I was like, actually, it was a big learning insight for me. And then the money
distributed out of debit cards. And through the debit cards, we’re able to kind of track,
sort of how, how spending is done. But not in an individual way, like. “Sally spent all her
money on this.” But in just the aggregate. So our research team is now, whose evaluation
will come out next year, is now able to make trades. We’re also very lucky that a woman,
Carole Tollen, saw the original money, excuse me, came from the Economic Security
Project, co-founded by Chris Hughes, one of the co-founders of Facebook, Natalie Fosters
and Dorian Warren who gave that million dollars for disbursements. And then we were able
to get money from Robert Wood Johnson for research and then their program was
suppose to expire in July.
But philanthropist Carole Tollen was so concerned about Covid and its impacts on people
and said, you cannot stop the program in the middle of a pandemic. You have to at least
extend it to January. We’re lucky enough to extend the program to January and then the
research will come out next year that we’ll talk about further three research questions. A,
what impact does a guaranteed income have on feelings of health? B, what impact does it
have on sort of feelings of connection to community? And then three, the one that
everyone cares about, well, how is the money spent? How are people spending money?
What are spending choices?
JVN [00:32:19] OK, so here’s the thing. I am like very naturally and pretty much always
have been an extremely progressive person. But I come from, like, a city that voted for
Trump. Like 2 to 1.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:32:32] What city?
JVN [00:32:33] Quincy, Illinois. It’s like a rural city. Yeah. So it’s like I feel like, you know,
both, well my grandfather, he’s, like, not alive anymore, but he would just, like, watch Fox
News like 12 hours a day and get super pissed off. And I used to like, go pick up my
grandma every Friday. So like, I like, I know like what they-, and I still get Fox News things,
like, I’ll read stuff on my phone just to know what the other side is saying. And so I always
kind of think about like, well, what’s this like hardcore racist propaganda machine going to
say about this? And so many of those people I feel like are kind of, like, the issue of, like,
not being able to get things like this passed. So when we think about the three research
things that have come out, I think about, like, what does it do for crime reduction? What
does it do for like, like does it do like, like do people, like, like does this-? Because I would
imagine that like a universe or a guaranteed basic income, like, would reduce crime and
would reduce, like, all sorts of, like, police dispatches and like all sorts of shit, but like will
the research cover that too?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:33:33] So unfortunately, because of budget constraints and
also because of sample size, we weren’t able to answer all the questions, particularly that
very, very good question. And that’s why I’m excited about the 20 other mayors who are
going to do a pilot because they’ll be asking a different set of questions that will kind of
paint a mosaic of, OK, well, it could do this. It could do this, it could do this, it could do
this. And what’s fascinating about this idea and it’s funny because there’s a, one part, so
we have a storytelling cohort, which isn’t a part of the research but where we get the
anecdotes from. And one of the people is a staunch, like, Trump supporter and then
Michael Tubbs hater. Like I’m just like the worst person. But she talks all the time about
how she’s knows she’s doing good things with the money, but she’s not sure about
everyone else in the program.
JVN [00:34:21] So she’s one of the people receiving the money.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:34:23] Yes, yes.
JVN [00:34:24] Yes.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:34:25] She’s getting the money. She’s like, “Oh wow, this is
helping me this, I still support Trump. Michael Tubbs, he’s still a crazy liberal and I’m not
sure the other people in the program know what they’re doing with their money.” But I
think that’s powerful because, well, we know is that economic insecurity is not a partisan
issue. That you look at Appalachia, the poorest country, cities in, the poorest states in this
country are all Republican states.
JVN [00:34:50] Yeah.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:34:50] And this was a power to help those folks
tremendously. So that’s what I think the storytelling is going to be very important.
JVN [00:34:59] Well, as Ashlee Marie Preston says, which I think is so smart. She says, you
know, white supremacy eats its own young. So it’s like, you know, lots of, it’s something
that affects, you know, ’cause really white supremacy is the one percent having one
percent. But they don’t give a fuck if you’re white or Black to get into this one percent. It’s
like, it’s all about like, it’s a money and power issue. And I think that so many white folks
hear the words “white supremacy” and they’re, like, “Well, I’m not racist. I don’t have
anything to do with that.” But really, it’s like it’s kind of like the intersection of race and
poverty has more of a thing. It’s like white people are victims of white supremacy. Black
people are victims of white supremacy like everyone. It’s a whole fuckin’ wheel that’s like
fucking everybody up. Except for this like really tiny, little bit of like separate hardcore
billionaires, you know.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:35:48] No, no. But I appreciate that, though. I think we do
have to be intersectional and understand the way that class and race intersect and also,
race, or at least how America has used race was to perpetuate kind of a permanent
servitude class, like, Black folks were made less than, made less than human to perpetuate
slavery, which was a racial caste arrangement for economic gain for wealthy landowners.
Right? So I think to your point, and that’s what’s so frustrating oftentimes in conversations
with, with, with, conversations in the progressive movement is you can’t separate class
from race. We could talk about them both. And we can also understand that race and class
are linked. And also race, as you say, racism is also real. Right? And I think, I appreciate you
following that up. I think people think you have to choose one or the other. It’s like, no,
they both reinforce each other and they both are deeply intertwined. It feels like it takes
more effort to try to isolate them, then to fight both evils at the same time.
JVN [00:36:53] And also if it, if it, if the report doesn’t, like you can still run, like, because
you had mentioned earlier that, like, violent crime rates have gone down in the last three
years as you have implemented this, this program. So there’s ways that, you know, when
we’re looking at crime and probably money spent on policing at the same time, there’s still
ways that we can probably deduce that and research that, you know, after the fact, which is
I think another thing that I would love to talk about is kind of what you’ve done with, with
really thinking about employing incarcerated, formerly incarcerated individuals and, and
how important that is, because I know in California, you can be formerly incarcerated, but
still vote. But in places like Alabama, you know, if you have a felony, like, you’re not voting.
And I think that is such, that is a really vicious un-American like, like it’s, it’s such a problem.
I think the stigma around a formerly incarcerated individual is so high and stigmatization in
anything is so damaging. So what are some of the benefits and the lessons learned about
what, about what that does for community safety?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:37:04] Yeah, well, I think part of it is that as communities, we
have to understand that everyone’s our neighbor, including folks who may have criminal
backgrounds, including folks who may have committed harms, and that we also can have a
conversation about accountability. And people should be held accountable for their
actions. But we also have to be smarter and recognize that to the point you’ve been
making this whole conversation, that these choices don’t happen in a vacuum. They
happen in an environment that’s created by the policy choices we collectively make. In
terms of what we invest in versus not, in terms of what communities have resources or not.
But it’s no surprise to me that crime is harder, is higher in communities with bad schools
and those jobs. Like that’s just, it’s, it’s, it’s a logical inference. And the people committing
those crimes, did not create the communities that don’t have jobs and don’t have good
So in Stockton, we’ve been having this conversation about sort of what does it take, how
law enforcement can’t be our answer to poverty. It’s a very insufficient and lackluster
answer to poverty that law enforcement can’t be our answer to mental health issues. That
law enforcement, in and of itself cannot be the answer to the crime. That’s necessary, but
not sufficient, and that the best way to keep our communities safe is to provide all those
other inputs we know that work. So part of that has been our strategy around reducing
violent crime. ‘Cause we spent hundreds of millions of dollars over the past 30 years on
arresting people and incarcerating people and over-policing certain communities. And we
just haven’t, hadn’t seen the reduction that was worth the amount of money that we spent.
So then 2014, while I was on city council, we started a program called Ceasefire, saw some
success. And when I became mayor, we started the Advance Peace Program and those two
together, which are pennies on the dollar. In terms of what we spend traditionally on law
enforcement, in working in collaboration with the intelligence our law enforcement
partners are able to gather has shown a reduction. I think for the community, it’s been
instructive that we can get to safety, but it means allocating our dollars in ways that we
know prevent things from happening. You don’t call a cop before a crime happens. You call
them after a crime happens. But we have no sort of spending strategy around the
prevention side, which is all these other things. So we’ve been trying to do that in Stockton
and we see in particular with gun violence and homicides. That’s not perfect. But it’s
working that people respond positively to opportunity that some people actually do want
to do better, provided they have the resources to do so.
JVN [00:40:42] So as a mayor, what do you think about the defund verse reform idea of
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:40:51] Yeah, I think it’s a, I think it’s a false dichotomy. And I
think part of the issue is that I would love to live in a society that doesn’t need law
enforcement. Like that would be a goal, and that’s the dream. But we’re just not there
today. So while we build to that society where there’s not people being victimized,
because I think part of the issue is that, it’s not all the time, but there are, like, dangerous
people. There, there is a need to have a system of accountability and punishment for folks
who are committing harms. Like that we don’t want to victimize. We don’t want children
brutalized. We don’t want any of that. So we have to have some law enforcement. But at
the same time, that can’t be the only thing we fund. So I just approach it as to, let’s fund all
the inputs we think we need to be safe.
So what we’re doing right now in Stockton as a concrete example is right now are, we’re
looking at our dispatch calls. So I was like, let’s look at our 9-1-1 calls and let me know
what people are calling for, because I think part of the issues as society, when we see
anything, we think of calling the cops. When we see someone who’s schizophrenic at a
restaurant or someone who’s having a mental health breakdown under the freeway, we call
the cops. When there’s a homeless person in our neighborhood, we call the cops. When
there’s, whenever there’s anything we call, when there’s a dog stuck in a tree, like, we call
cops for everything.
And I think once we have that data, in terms of how much of our calls actually need an
armed police officer to go to and how many of our calls need a social worker, need
therapists, need a mental health clinician. Then we can have an informed conversation
about what do we fund. So I don’t think that it’s a dichotomy between defund the police
and reform the police. I think we just have to fund what works. Get to the result we want,
which is a safer community. At the same time, we do have to have a conversation about
just reform, like, police also have to be held accountable. Like, it’s not a just system, where
there’s consequences and punishments for everyone else. But when a law enforcement
officer does a bad thing. It’s really hard to fire them. It’s really hard to prosecute them. It’s
very hard to hold them accountable.
JVN [00:42:58] Yep.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:42:59] That, absolutely, 100 percent has to change. And
those are some of the things we’re working on as well. I was just appointed to the Post
Commission for the state, which is the agency that comes up with the standards for, for
police officers. I think I’m one of two non law enforcement people on that, commission of
15. And everyone else is either a retired sheriff, retired police chief, retired police officer.
Now, I’m looking forward to those conversations ’cause I’m sure I’ll learn a lot. I’m sure
there’ll be some disagreements, but I’m sure we’ll walk away, again, closer to where we
want to be in terms of having a society where everyone is treated equally in the eyes of the
JVN [00:43:40] So one thing that I feel like noticed, or I notice a lot and I’d need to work
on is this like, sometimes when I interact with people online or try to have, like, political
conversations with people. It’s like once someone shows me, you know, their ass, so to
speak, or like once they’ve really said something that does not align with what I feel or, you
know, what I know to be true and correct. I have this knee jerk reaction to kind of like
block, pull away, not gonna interact with you, like you don’t deserve my time. I get, I can
get very inflamed. And I just got to interview this incredible psychologist who is a survivor
of the Holocaust. And she was telling me in her work, you know, that love equals time. T-IM-E.
Like, in order to, you have to say, tell me more. You have to not have that knee jerk
reaction, it was reminding me a lot of what you said and coming back to your hometown of
Stockton, becoming a mayor and really showing at the time the good, the bad, the messy,
all of it, so that you can really develop that deep connection and that love. But when you
have those, I’m sure you’re a human, you, you deal with those knee jerk reactions, there’s
just, like the lady who’s, like, “Yeah, you’re still a liberal snowflake and I hate you, but I will
take the 500 dollars and like, MAGA, go Trump.” So it’s like, how do we lean into, how can
we be better about listening to, being in a relationship with folks that we may disagree
with? How do we know when it’s not worth our time and to pull away, or is it always worth
our time and we always lean in? What do you, what about that?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:45:09] Yeah, well, no, this is such a, you’re the first person
that’s ever asked me that question. It’s such a good one. So for context, in Stockton, my
city council is four Republicans and two Democrats. And to get anything done, I need four
votes, which means I had to make a conscious effort early on to make a decision. Is it, am I
more concerned about the work or my feelings? Because this work in politics is all about
coalition building, and I mean, when I was in community organizing, they taught me no
permanent friends, no permanent enemies, just permanent issues. And I tried it. And I’m
not perfect as some people. I’m sorry, I just can’t. But I do my best to try to build the
coalition needed to get something done, which includes people I may agree with on no
other issue but this one or not.
And I also think that particularly in our society and I think part of this comes from my faith
tradition is just understanding that we’re all infallible. That we’ve all learned and we have
to leave room for grace and growth. And what I found is that there’s so many people in my
community who are staunch supporters, who are friends, who if you looked on paper or
looked at some of their past candidates that they supported, you would say, no way. And
part of it is in relationship. I’ve also found the relationship you’re in will help change minds
and change hearts and change policy. And I think, like right after this, I’m doing a press
conference with a bank, but also a family in our community that’s incredibly philanthropic,
but it’s a Republican family. And the press conference is about Black Lives Matter and
creating a Juneteenth fund to support Black-owned businesses in the city of Stockton. And
that’s only happened because I’ve create the space where we can have conversations,
where after the protest, they feel comfortable calling me and saying, hey, like, “We see
what’s going on, it’s a little bit scary, can you help explain this Black Lives Matter? Of
course. Black Lives Matter. Help me understand.”
And I think, I think part of is being open. And not that it’s fair or not that you have time,
not that you have energy, but be open to be a teacher. And I think I reflect on this how
much I’ve grown as a person from people who were patient and didn’t counsel me when I
was stupid and young and just regurgitate what I was taught about limited worldview. So
to answer your question, I think, it’s a decision you have to make around whether this
conversation, whether this person actually wants to change or is open to change. Whether
to talk to this person that regardless of problematic views or relationship you want to form
there, or is this relationship important for advancing a goal? Is this part of the coalition you
need to build?
But no, I get. I mute, I can’t block people on Twitter anymore, thanks to Donald Trump. So I
just have to mute people all the time because some people are just nasty and some people
just bots and some people aren’t people but the trolls who are trying to distract and take
your energy. So I think it’s, part of it’s just figuring out, is this a person who I like or I could
like? Or is there something about this person that could be helpful? But then sometimes
you just have to be like, I just can’t. I can’t. I’m not, I’m not God. I can’t save everyone. So
I’m going to do what I can. Longer answer than you’re probably looking for, but that’s kind
of how I think about it.
JVN [00:47:19] We’re gonna take a really quick break, and we’ll be right back with more
Mayor Tubbs after this. Welcome back to “Getting Curious.” This is Jonathan Van Ness.
That was such a good answer. It is so hard to do that sometimes to like kind of make those
decisions of like when to lean in and when to kind of pull yourself out.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:48:39] One of my favorite scriptures says, “Some plants,
some water, but God gives the increase,” meaning that you have to do everything that
maybe sometimes, like, you know, maybe my job was to plant the seed, but I don’t have
time to water this seed, to nurture this seed. And maybe somebody else will come along
for the conversation. So I will also tell people, don’t feel like you have to do everything,
that maybe your one engagement, your one question, your one statement was enough and
that was enough to spark a seed in someone else or some other experience will help them.
You’re not responsible for reforming people, but you are, I think you should love everyone
and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. But we can’t give your energy to everything, if
that makes sense.
JVN [00:49:21] Absolutely. So one thing that Stacey Abrams said to me, which I thought is,
I’ve thought about it so much because, like I had said something on Twitter a few weeks
ago about how I felt like Joe Biden’s marijuana policy doesn’t go far enough because
basically, you know, he says he wants to, I said that I would, how much more excited would
people be for him if he wouldn’t move to not only expunge state convictions, but also
legalize it nationally because, or nationally, because letting states decriminalize is already
what we do. And that’s one of his, it’s his fourth, but that’s his fourth point is like, you
know, I want to leave it up to states. And that’s already a thing that’s possible. And we’ve
already seen that when we leave things up to states, it’s like, OK, well, then if marijuana is
decriminalized, well, having like a pipe and a lighter isn’t.
So, if you have the paraphernalia, honey, like, it’s jail and like, you know, places like
Alabama and Texas and Florida. That’s like. No, like, I feel like it just needs to be legal
federally because we can’t leave it up to an already racist institution, which so many law
enforcement agencies are, to keep using marijuana as a cudgel to, like, throw folks in jail.
So a lot of people were really mad with me for saying that, and I didn’t, like I was very clear
that I support his candidacy and I support him for president.
And I want them to go farther because I think especially, you know, with marijuana reform
that has been something that has separated so many families, cost us so much money,
caused so much disease and sadness and destruction for what? Like for nothing. And so I
feel very personally, like, riled up about marijuana reform. And what Stacey said was, is,
you know, so often people get mad about fighting over these crumbs and how we’re going
to fight over the crumbs instead of saying, like, well, why don’t we have the cake?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:50:59] I think part of it is understanding that progress is not
perfection. In that look at the baseline. And be, never be content, but be happy when
things are getting better. Because now you’re in a better position to push for where you
actually want to go. And I just learned that from governing. There’s been so many things
that I’m like, ah, we should be here. But I’m like hey, we’re at B. So we’re closer to Z, than
we were with A. And I know for some people, the pace seems slow. But what’s your
alternative? To be mad and nothing changes. And I think that’s also a luxury to just be
upset and to just tweet and just be angry and just counsel people. That’s a real luxury
because there’s a lot of people who’s very lives and livelihoods depend on decisions.
And appreciate, know when we’re trying to get to the North Star, if things get a little bit,
get a little better, I think that’s part of it, is really understanding how this thing works, that
there’s no magic wand, that it’s messy. It’s a people thing. It’s a coalition thing. And that
you have to keep the goal in mind and you always keep the goal in mind. But understand
that we’re talking about a 4-, a country that’s been around for 400 years. That’s not gonna
change in 4 months. That’s not gonna change in 8 years. That’s not gonna change in 12
But we can get closer to making the changes we deserve, if we push every single day and
understand who do we fight and when do we fight and where to fight, because everything
can’t be a war. And, and even in war, you don’t win every battle. That in fact, strategically,
sometimes it’s better to lose some battles. And there’s all, every story of war talks about
how the eventual victor didn’t go and defeat it. They lost sometimes or they retreated
sometimes or they did some things that they’re like, oh, I don’t want to do.
So I think we have to approach it the same way and just really understand that the things
we’re fighting for are so important, which is really a country with dignity for all people, that
we have to be in it for the long haul. And we have to understand which of our, which, if
we’re talking about politicians, are you more likely to get what you want out of a Joe
Biden, comma, Harris administration or Donald Trump Mike Pence administration? That’s
like a slam dunk answer. So you go hard to November. You support Biden Harris. And then
the day after they’re sworn in, you’re protesting, you’re advocating. You’re, you’re making
demands. You’re making demands, and that’s how this thing works.
JVN [00:53:30] So one thing that I’ve heard you say, you mentioned earlier, that you are a
spiritual person. And I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about this, about elected
leaders and spirituality. The reason that I was thinking about it, ever, is because of the way
that we so clearly see people’s religious beliefs seeping into the way that they legislate.
Whether that’s with abortion or gay rights or, you know, those are the two that kind of pop
out to me the most. Last week, one of 45’s advisers said that the Lord made executive
orders for when Congress can’t legislate. And that really sent chills down my spine because
that feels so “Handmaid’s Tale” to me that we have, you know, national advisors saying
that the Lord made executive orders. How do you extrapolate your faith and what’s in your
heart from your legislative mind?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:54:23] Yeah, well, I just think my faith is rooted in the ethos
of love, right? And love for all people, concern for all people. And wanting the best for all
people. So even as a Christian, when we think about kind of abortion, for me, it’s this idea
that God gives people free will and the agency. And God gives people autonomy and God
gives people the facilities to make decisions for themselves. And there’s no government
official or government person that should interfere with that right. Because that’s a God
given right. Right? And I think, when I think of even kind of gay rights and gay marriage,
it’s this idea that God created all people. And God is a God of love and God’s not a God
that wants the majority of homeless children to be gay because they’re kicked out of their
homes. Like God actually hates that.
And God is not a God that wants people unable to see their spouses when they’re dying
because they happen to be gay. He’s adamantly against that. And God doesn’t want
people murdered because they’re trans. He, he’s, he’s, he’s against, he, some people, my
wife calls God, they, are against that. And so for me, I think, I, I. I’m not, I don’t try to
legislate with my interpretations of case by case precepts, but I do try to legislate with kind
of my understanding of kind that the ethos of God being love. And also this idea when
Jesus said, “As you do to the least of these, you did to me.”
Right? When I was hungry, when I was in jail, when I was naked. And I think part of the
perversion that’s happening on the right is that they really perverted faith. So now faith in
public life, faith in public discourse has become a dirty word. It’s become, oh, my gosh.
Like you, you believe in, and it’s like, no, that’s not. What they’re practicing isn’t faith. It’s
white supremacy. It’s, it’s idolatry, and it’s using something as beautiful and universal as
religion and faith to, to enact their own wants and desires of God and society in their
image. And I would say my faith tradition also teaches me that that’s wicked. And that’s
not what this is about. So not sure if I even answered your question.
JVN [00:56:43] No, it did. It really did. You know, and I guess my thing is as someone who
is like, I don’t know where my faith is. I don’t know. I think I believe in a higher power, like I.
Like, I’m really pretty sure. But I just feel like, we are all, because I feel like then these,
these people on the right can say, well, “I’m using my faith in God to inform what I think
the like-, well my faith in God says that we should not have gay people like.” So it’s like I
just like when we start using, like, our idea of God on the left, versus it’s like, why is he
even in this conversation? Like. Because I thought that, like, we are supposed to do, like, a
church and a state thing. And I just wish that like we could fucking do that. But not you,
’cause you’re everything. But I just feel like, you know, not really. It’s like I just don’t
understand. And I guess it’s more.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:57:29] I think part of is that as difficult as, as, it’s very hard
to divorce your experiences where you talk about are not the decisions you make. I think
my experience as a poor Black man in this country and as a Christian informs how I, and,
but I think what you’re, what I’m hearing and I agree with you, your experience can’t be the
only thing. Like your experience should be a bridge, not a moat. Like experience should be
a bridge to other experiences, because I don’t know what it’s like to grow up as a queer
kid, non-binary kid in the Midwest. But I do know what it’s like to be Black. And I use that
as a bridge to understand. Even if I don’t understand your experiences, I won’t, I will
empathize about, yo, like that, that’s jacked up. Like, how do we, how do we fix it? I think
that’s what’s necessary. Is not leaving your identities or divorcing yourself from who you
are, but understanding that your identity, your experiences have to be a bridge for you to
understand other people’s identities and experiences.
JVN [00:58:28] Yes.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:58:29] And you’re not, you’re not absolute.
JVN [00:58:30] Right. Oh, yeah. Yeah. That’s gorgeous. I like that. OK. I love that. OK. Last
question. So you are as two kids who grew up thinking, like, “I might get out of this town
some day,” and like, you know, and then and you return to your hometown, you’re now
like, you know, a massive part of the community. And also someone who I think is on the
cutting edge, like I’ve already said, of change, which I just think is so incredible. What is
your hope for other people, other young people that are, maybe don’t even see that as an
opportunity? Like, “I could never go back to Des Moines. I could never go back to
Stockton. I could never go back to Tallahassee, wherever. Little Rock.” What is your hope
for those people to maybe open that up as a possibility in their future?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [00:59:09] Yeah, I think my biggest hope is for people like you,
people like me, people like everyone listening, see yourselves as a leader. Like, see
yourselves as having, been worthy of being in the position to do things. And not because
you’re perfect, not because you have all the answers, but because you’re just as worthy as
the people who are currently making the decisions.
I remember when I decided to run for office, part of it was I realized that, worst case
scenario, I’m as smart as everyone else who’s doing this. Like at worst case, at the very
worst, I’m not going to be the worst person. And that’s enough for me to feel confident
that well, hey, if, it’s not going to get worse, let’s do it. And I hope for people to
understand that change is a communal process that it’s not going to be, I think, Stacey
Abrams said in the DNC, that democracy, we don’t represent saviors. We represent
representatives. And each and every one of us have to do, has to do our part. So I think
folks should consider going back to their towns because you would be surprised at how
welcoming and how excited your town will be to have you. I’ve just seen the amount of
young people who have come back to Stockton and how they’ve been embraced, even
though they may be a more progressive, they maybe a little more liberal than folks are
used to, but they’ve been embraced as leaders and as important.
And at your town, like, know the Calvary isn’t coming. The Calvary is not coming, that we
are all we have. So if you really are concerned about your town and you have the time and
energy, consider moving back there and doing the hard, non-glamorous, not sexy work of
building community. And the blessing is that, you won’t reap all the benefits, but the kids
coming up after you will. And they’ll grow up and like the kids who grew up in Stockton
now, grow up in Stockton, not perfect, but a lot different than the Stockton that I grew up
in. And I’m so excited and happy for them. And because we invested with them with a
scholarship program. Where if they graduate with a 2.0, they’re guaranteed a scholarship.
So many of them are now saying, I want to leave Stockton, but come back and so that they
have a vested interest, and so to answer your question concisely, your towns need you. But
if you don’t go back to your town, your country needs you. And everyone has to do their
part to, to, to, to lead in the ways that they can and to be reflective of the society we want
to live in.
JVN [01:01:41] Mayor Michael Tubbs, I want to vote for you for something someday, so I
hope it’s like a governor of a state that I live in or, like, president or something. You’re just
an incredible leader. I know you have a press conference to get off to. I am just so grateful
for your time and your work. And I think we have like literally one minute left. So this is, so
then this is the play on the podcast, where I call it like Yogi recess, where it’s like, you
know, if we missed a certain, like, series that you really wanted to get to, like but we didn’t
teach, you know, like pigeon today. You really want to open up my hips. Is there, is there
anything? What would you like? Whether it’s as we head into this election, is there? What
would you like to leave listeners with?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [01:02:23] Yeah, I would like to leave the listeners with this idea
that the world we live in has been, it’s man made and woman made and they made, it’s
created. It’s a world that’s been created by the actions of people. Good or bad. And with
that comes an awesome responsibility to actually not give up our agency in this moment,
but to exercise agency. Even if we don’t know if what we’re doing is going to work, even if
we don’t know if it’s going to turn out the way you want to turn out, because what we do
know is if we do nothing, nothing changes. If we, if we’re just angry, we’ll just be angry for
four more years. And again, voting is necessary, but not sufficient. But the most important
thing in terms of priorities is to make sure Joe Biden and Kamala Harris are president and
vice president. And even if you support someone else in the primary, even if they’re not
where you are on every issue, what we have right now is just so antithetical not just to
democracy and not just to progressive politics, but to like humanity.
Like what it means to be human and see everyone as fully human. And we have to work,
work, work ’til November. ‘Til November, make sure Joe Biden, Kamala Harris are elected.
And then when that happens, we don’t give up. We don’t rest on our laurels. We don’t
become disillusioned when they don’t do everything we want them to do. But we continue
the fight. We take a yogi break, stretch, then we continue to fight for the things we care
about. Right? Because that’s how it works out. I’m an imperfect politician. There’s times
where I make decisions that folks who love me deeply, deeply disagree with. And they
have to push and prod and, but I don’t know. I love my wife. We don’t agree on
everything. Like I don’t know of any relationship or any interaction with another human
being where you agree 100 percent of what they do and what they say all day everyday. So
that can’t be a disqualifier.
But hold on to our values. Let’s fight like hell. But we won’t get to, we won’t we, we will
see no success in the next four years if Joe, if Joe Biden, Kamala Harris aren’t president, on
a national level. There’s no way we’ll get anything done that actually helps people with a
Donald Trump and Mike Pence administration, which means that we have to fight like our
values, like our way of life, like our dreams for our country, depend on it because they do.
JVN [01:04:48] So in your work with other mayors that are doing the Guaranteed Income
Pro-, Projects. It’s like California’s going to go, we know California going to go for Kamala
and Biden, but in places like Florida, Kentucky. What’s your sense of young people? Do
you think that people are really, do you think that people are, got it together for
understanding the importance of that presidential vote?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [01:05:12] I think, you know, that’s why I appreciate the way you
use, you use your platform. And I think that there’s a lot of people do. But there’s also like
active measures going on right now to make sure folks don’t vote. Like actually, like, taking
out postbox and I actually like making, purging voter rolls, which means that we have to go
double time and make sure for the five counties we know that determine the presidential
election that we are there on Zoom, talking and calling and conversing with people about
how, not that their vote is important. ‘Cause I think when we tell people their vote is
important, that’s kind of dehumanizing. It makes them transactional or makes them a
means to an end. We don’t care about you. We want your vote. But no, it’s like you’re
important. Your life is important. Your, your, your, your experiences are important. And
because of that, your vote is a reflection of those things and your vote is important. I think
that little change in messaging is so necessary, can we just tell people, we need your vote.
We need your vote. We need you to vote. We need you to vote. So OK, after our vote,
what happens? Am I disposable? Right? I think it’s, like, no we need you.
JVN [01:06:16] We need you.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [01:06:16] And because we need you, we need you to vote.
JVN [01:06:20] I can’t think of a better way to end it. That was real, that was gorge. That
was really good.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [01:06:26] Thank you.
JVN [01:06:27] It really was. Mayor Michael Tubbs, thank you so much for your time. I’m so
appreciative of you. And I know that we got to talk about, but you have an election coming
up, I mean you’re, like, way ahead in the polls, it’s like totally fine. He’s like probably like a
dumb Republican that everyone hates. So you’re, like, totally fine, right?
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [01:06:40] I don’t know if he’s dumb. He’s a Republican. And
people, some people like him. And I mean, my city is very ideologically diverse, so we’re
working hard. Well, we’re going to work hard ’til November. I’m hopeful we’ll be victorious.
JVN [01:06:51] I feel like you will be. I’m, I mean, so much so that, like, I literally even ask
you about it, but like you are ahead in the polls, right? It’s fine. It’s fine. It’s totally fine.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [01:06:57] We’re ahead. But for example, I wasn’t endorsed by
the police union, partly because I’m a big proponent of reforms and doing better. So it’ll
be a race, but we’ll see.
JVN [01:07:07] Now that’s the best way to end it ever. Thank you so much and have a
good press conference. Thank you so much, Mayor. I’m really appreciative.
MAYOR MICHAEL TUBBS [01:07:12] Thank you.
JVN [01:07:15] You’ve been listening to Getting Curious with me, Jonathan Van Ness. My
guest this week was Stockton, California Mayor Michael Tubbs. He’s the co-founder of
Mayors for a Guaranteed Income, and the subject of the new HBO documentary “Stockton
On My Mind.” You’ll find links to his work in the episode description of whatever you’re
listening to the show on. Our theme music is “Freak” by Quiñ – thanks to her for letting us
use it. If you enjoyed our show, introduce a friend – show them how to subscribe. Follow us
on Instagram & Twitter @CuriousWithJVN. Our socials are run and curated by Emily
Bossak. Getting Curious is produced by me, Erica Getto, Emily Bossak, Rae Ellis, Chelsea
Jacobson, and Colin Anderson, with associate production by Alex Murfey
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