basic income?  Berlin is so broke, but it has to be done

Just try it: According to this motto, supporters of the unconditional basic income are currently collecting signatures all over Berlin. The Expedition Basic Income initiative wants to use a state-financed and scientifically supported pilot project to answer questions about the unconditional basic income and test how people deal with it.

This Saturday afternoon, five volunteers are collecting signatures at the entrance to the Tempelhof Sounds Festival on Tempelhofer Feld. Colorfully dressed people stream in the direction of the guitar sounds, they laugh and talk, many hold a beer or champagne bottle in their hands. Anticipation is in the air. “People here are happy and open, so of course it’s easier,” says Mark Appoh, the initiative’s spokesman. During that one sentence, twenty young visitors must pass him left and right. “Unfortunately, we can’t address everyone,” he adds.

Just then, a gray-haired man rushes up to Appoh and signs without asking any questions before rushing on to the concert. The posters in the city have already made many people aware of the initiative and have informed themselves, explains the activist. 240,000 signatures are needed to launch a referendum. In four months, on September 5th, the goal must be reached. If successful, 3,500 Berliners will receive a basic income for three years. That’s why Appoh has been here for more than five hours today.

Benjamin Pritzkuleit

Mark Appoh (left) keeps his eyes on the goal of 240,000 signatures. That’s another reason why he doesn’t always get into discussions.

Around 20,000 signatures have already come together in about a week, he reports: At events like this one, but also in bakeries and late night shops, the supporters of the basic income campaign for their cause. Many owners are also actively engaging with their customers, Appoh says. The royal bakery in Neukölln alone collected more than 800 signatures in the first few days. On Sunday, the advocates of the unconditional basic income want to collect more signatures at the triathlon in Treptower Park and at a bicycle demonstration.

Citizens entitled to vote who have a permanent residence in Berlin are entitled to vote. The collectors with the pink waistcoats are very popular at Tempelhofer Feld. Those who refuse to sign usually come from other cities or do not have German citizenship. This is sometimes frustrating for collectors. Expedition Basic Income has therefore joined forces with other initiatives and calls for “democracy for all”: A right to vote for all, vote from the age of 16 and the opportunity to sign digitally for referendums.

Does politics do “anything anyway”?

Some Berliners sign on the way to the music festival, but don’t believe that they’ll make a difference. “It won’t come to that anyway,” says Manuela, who is traveling with her daughter Mathilda. Manuela believes that a basic income could possibly solve problems related to Hartz IV. “Maybe it wouldn’t be so wrong after all,” she says.

The fact that after the referendum to expropriate Deutsche Wohnen & Co. it does not look as if this radical solution will be implemented has apparently contributed to disenchantment with politics. At least one young man cites this as an example of how things can go wrong despite encouragement. “That’s why we drew up a draft law to which politics would then be bound,” replies Mark Appoh. The members of the initiative closely monitor other referendums, have built up a network and want to learn from mistakes.

Benjamin Pritzkuleit

Saskia Rosenmeyer (left) and her colleague on their way to the queue. They hope for even more signatures there.

Collector Saskia Rosenmeyer, on the other hand, has not lost her belief that she can change something and initiate politics. That’s why she’s standing here. “Politicians like to play it safe, so it has to come from below,” she says. She had encountered mobsters during the collection campaigns, but nobody had ever become really aggressive. The mobs often believed that nobody would work if everyone got a basic income. “I’m shocked that they think so badly of people,” says Rosenmeyer.

After more than an hour with little discussion and many signatures, three festival-goers put forward arguments against the basic income. René picks up the pen while still expressing doubts as to whether Berlin will then lack funds elsewhere. His brightly colored shirt flaps in the wind and he smiles broadly as he praises the initiative despite concerns.

He was “right there at the start”, but the federal government should finance the basic income. That could cost around 70 million and there are bigger problems in Berlin. Appoh confirms the cost but doesn’t jump on it. If you have a certain collection goal, you can’t always discuss for 20 minutes, he explains later. He was also too busy passing around lists and pens.

René’s friend Leon cites inflation as a possible risk. It would have to be a Europe-wide decision, so the prices would not be adjusted so easily, he says. At the same time, he is not opposed to using a model experiment to gather insights into the experiences of those receiving a basic income. “Berlin is so broke,” says Rebecca, who goes to the festival with the two of them. “But it has to be done.”

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