Basic income video by gig worker was a labour of love and a call to urgent action

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Roderick Benns recently posed a few questions to Craig Berggold, creator of the recent basic income video that was an instant success.

Benns: What was the inspiration for this type of video, featuring these people? (We’ve had BI videos before…including one animated….but why this kind?) 

Berggold: We wanted to create a short Public Service Announcement video for the Basic Income Now campaign during the federal election.  

I wanted a positive, uplifting PSA that was aspirational and motivated people to take action, like voting for MP candidates who signed our pledge to make basic income a reality if elected to parliament. That is the closing line of the video: “Get Involved. Vote for Basic Income Now.” 

In the first week, the PSA reached 30,000 viewers across social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and TiKTok) platforms.  

Some people are calling the video an advert—and I consider this a compliment. We live in a media-dense world, and staged ‘authenticity’ is a really important technique for cutting through that noise.  

The PSA features powerful first-person testimonies directly addressing the viewer: “How would a basic income transform your life?” The cast of non-professional performers share thought provoking remarks from diverse perspectives of the young, old, queer, parents, students, seniors, Black, Asian and Indigenous. 

“I can change my mind,” contemplates a woman in the opening lines.  

“I can change the world,” reflects a mother with babe-in-arms. 

A young man leans into the camera, “A basic income let’s me be the person I need to be. It gives me hope and support to reach my goals.”  They return near the end of the short video and voice, “I can volunteer. I can fight climate change.” 

The overwhelming response on social media to the video has been encouraging, and sometimes painful, too. 

“I would be able to actually live, and not just exist,” was one comment on Twitter.  

“Provincial welfare offices would be a thing of the past,” another commented on the hardships of means-testing bureaucracy.  

And “Platinum Blonde” twitter handle wrote about the video: “#BasicIncome would improve my quality of life by weakening #HustleCulture.” 

The video has elicited remarkable feelings of candour that are often left unspoken: “I could actually afford to go to school, without risk of being evicted from my apartment and without begging for a bursary,” commented a Twitter viewer. 

The PSA video was one-part of a much larger “Basic Income Now” campaign coordinated by Canada’s leading basic income organizations and allies. The results of the campaign are impressive. More than 40+ basic income champions were elected to parliament. Over 180 candidates in 157 ridings took our candidate’s pledge. 

The collaboration making the video was amazing. Shout-out to my co-producer Andrew McCann who nudged me every step of the way to direct the video. Andrew was also a campaign manager for an MP candidate while we were making the video. The night before our shoot, Andrew sent me a draft of a script, which I re-wrote with the aspirational tenor and first-person voice (as suggested by my girlfriend). The next morning, Sheila Regehr (Basic Income Canada Network) and her niece, Alexandre Kane (Black Lives Matter-London) arrived from Toronto to our Kingston set. I handed the script to Sheila and Alexandre, and said, “I need a couple hours to set-up the lights. Can you go get a coffee and read the script out loud to each other. Come back in two-hours with revisions and we will shoot it.”  

“Two days of shooting, followed by four days of editing, and a French sub-titled version. We have 30,000 views in our first week, and we can make it available in other languages. Yesterday, I was on the International Basic Income Day Zoom event and a woman asked for an Estonian-language version for their campaign. The PSA script was designed to ensure it can be used for many campaigns. Let’s get 100,000 views.” 

Benns: How did you find your way to the basic income issue and then knew you wanted to support the cause? 

Berggold: I am an independent artist in the gig economy with no job security, no benefits, and no pension. A typical freelancer — living in a sci-fi movie where credit-card debts are zombies that won’t die. Where rent eats up more than food and bills. This anti-hero has been organizing for workers’ rights, and better public services for decades. But in a precarious plot twist, where so much work is unpaid, so many irregular and atypical workers, so many hustling, I ask if can imagine income security that is de-linked from wages — a basic income regardless of work status. 

I have a history of arts and labour union activism at two of Canada’s top art schools, Vancouver’s Emily Carr University of Art & Design and Toronto’s Ontario College of Art & Design. I am a former local union president at Public Service Alliance of Canada, and co-founder of the Vancouver MayWorks Festival of Working People and the Arts. 

Last year, I was the team leader for The Case for Basic Income & the Arts campaign. The case for basic income for the arts is important not just on its own, but also because it is part of much larger series of ‘cases’ coordinated by Barbara Boraks, at The Ontario Basic Income Network. OBIN has been organizing by sectors and communities, including cases for women, LGBTQ+, food insecurity, health, and criminal justice. 

To jump start the Basic Income and Arts campaign, I first contacted artists’ unions, like the Canadian Federation of Musicians and CARFAC (the visual artists union). Next, I drafted the public letter and invited my colleagues Zainub Verjee and Clayton Windatt to join as co-authors. Together, we polished the letter sent to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau calling for a basic income guarantee for all.  

Our public letter campaign was endorsed by over 30 artist unions representing 75,000 members and received national and international media attention, online news, social media and radio interviews, and debated in the House of Parliament’s Question Period. 

A massive shout-out to the 2,000 artists who signed the letter, and a big thanks to the organizations representing over 75,000 artists, writers, technicians and performers, like The Canadian Dance Assembly, I.A.T.S.E.’s stage and film production crews, The Writers Union, Actors Equity, and many more. 

The link to the arts campaign can be found here: www.obin.ca/bi_and_the_arts 

Benns: How optimistic are you that we’ll have a basic income in Canada within five years? Why or why not? 

Berggold: I foresee a future, in 5 to 10 years, where we will be organizing to lift up the national basic income rates that the federal government has established—just like we fight for minimum wages to be increased—in the future, I believe we will be organizing to increase basic income rates to a living wage.  

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