Dr. King Dreaming
By: Dorian Warren, Co-President

I first read Dr. King’s speech “Where do we go from here?” in the late 1990s. The country had just finished a disastrous process of welfare reform full of dog-whistles and debates that caricatured poor people and especially poor Black mothers. With welfare reform, President Clinton certainly ended welfare as we knew it. He also codified the stigma of cash assistance for a generation.

It’s a far cry from Dr. King, who wrote: “John Kenneth Galbraith said that a guaranteed annual income could be done for about twenty billion dollars a year. And I say to you today, that if our nation can spend thirty-five billion dollars a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and twenty billion dollars to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth.” 

When I read that in 1997, I thought, “well that’s Dr. King dreaming!” But organizing is the work of making our collective dreams a reality, and the past 25 years have shown just how far we’ve come. 

In many ways, Welfare Reform was the final blow to New Deal ideas of social support. The 1930s New Deal programs, even with their racial exclusions, created the framework for the government’s role in people’s lives. When people are struggling to make ends meet, the government of, by, and for the people has a responsibility to help. 

While Dr. King and SCLC were fighting for civil rights, Johnnie Tillman and the poor Black women who formed the National Welfare Rights Organization were fighting to improve Black families’ material conditions. They were the foremothers of the fight for guaranteed income, and they helped to steer the civil rights movement’s path toward economic and social issues.

The National Welfare Rights Organization organized Dr. King in the last years of his life, securing his support for a guaranteed income. Dr. King’s advisor, Bayard Rustin, who organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, wrote in 1965 about the choice ahead: “we are moving into an era in which the natural functioning of the market does not by itself ensure every man [and woman] with will and ambition a place in the productive process.” He saw the consequences of deindustrialization and automation, and he knew who would be the coal miner’s canary: Black workers.

Of course, as the 1960s Great Society programs became more inclusive, the dog whistles and stigmas began. By 1996, when the neoliberal reverence for the market peaked–and with it the stigma of cash assistance–we had Welfare Reform.

Thinking back to 1997, what might have surprised me even more than Dr. King’s words is the progress we have seen in the last five years. I’m thinking of Aisha Nyandoro, who created the Magnolia Mother’s Trust in 2018, which is now the country’s longest-running guaranteed income program, and it’s for Black mothers. I’m thinking of the Economic Security Project and the 100 guaranteed income pilot programs they’ve helped to launch all across the country. And, of course, I’m thinking of the expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the work Community Change did to deliver the CTC in monthly payments that acted as a guaranteed income for families with children. 

We still have a lot of work to do. The CTC expansion ended. We didn’t have the base or the power to make it permanent. We’re still suffering through the narrative hangover of welfare reform. 

We have to sell the idea of no strings attached cash. We have to convince enough people to spend “billions of dollars to put God’s children on their own two feet right here on earth,” as Dr. King said.

Now the fight moves to the states, with Community Change fighting alongside partners to expand state CTC and Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) as a form of guaranteed income. Elections have consequences, and in places like Michigan and Minnesota, we just might have the political conditions to win a different outcome.


Child Care Changemakers: Year in Review 2022

Through our digital organizing, 48,088 parents and child care providers have become Childcare Changemakers directly connected with Community Change or our partners. This represents 172% growth from 2021.

On May 9, 2022, over hundreds of providers from our Changemakers’ and local partners’ bases closed their doors and thousands of parents, kids, early educators, and community members took action in solidarity during our Day Without Child Care, demonstrating the power of our movement. About 400 childcare workers (in coordination with the families whose children they serve) participated in a work stoppage. They walked off the job, shut their doors, or called out sick. Almost 60 news outlets across the country covered the action, and as a result, 4,000 new parents and providers joined our network, and 2,000 people signed Community Change Action’s pledge to be a child care voter. On Election Day, we followed up with 705 people who said they completed the ask and voted!

In September, we held our first retreat to bring Childcare Changemakers together in person in Washington, DC. We have organized mainly online for almost three years, and we knew that meeting together in person would strengthen leaders’ trust and refuel their motivation to work to build the child care system they and their parents deserve. The retreat space provided leaders with an opportunity to link arms in solidarity physically as they have done online for years. Changemakers are already asking for a 2023 retreat!

What's happening in Housing?

Community Change is excited for a new year to support leaders directly impacted by housing insecurity to wield greater influence in creating housing solutions for their communities. This year, our Housing Justice Team will focus on power building using Housing Justice Narrative tools, a tour with directly impacted residents and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and campaigns for housing justice and dedicated resources for affordable housing. 

For the past three years, Community Change has worked in deep collaboration with PolicyLink and Race Forward to develop a Housing Justice Narrative with support from the Funders for Housing Opportunity. We have produced research, conducted a fellowship with directly impacted residents leading housing justice campaigns, and created a new Housing Justice Narrative Toolkit. The toolkit will help housing justice organizers tell a consistent story with the power to change public consciousness and broaden the base of people working to advance housing justice.

While we laid the groundwork for a new housing narrative, we also worked to increase resources for affordable housing across the country. In 2022, we helped partners secure more than $885 million in dedicated public funds for affordable housing at the state and local levels in nine jurisdictions. Since 1986, Community Change has provided technical assistance to grassroots groups with campaigns to establish and resource housing trust funds into their communities. In 2023, we are expanding our support to build the organizational capacity of our housing justice partners to address housing structures and systems that perpetuate racial and gender inequity. 

Finally, we are proud to announce the launch of a HUD Campaign focused on landlord accountability, housing for those at the lowest incomes, and the decriminalization of homelessness.  Over the coming months, Community Change, HUD officials, and grassroots leaders are conducting a three-city tour, concluding with a  week of action in Washington, D.C. In each city visit, residents of two to three public housing sites will show HUD officials their homes and share their experiences of gaps in the system and an example of a best practice occurring in the city. Residents will also host a panel or town hall to share their experiences and lift up solutions.

Community Change’s work with HUD grew out of the Housing Justice Team’s Movement Building Training in August 2021. Co-created with grassroots leaders, organizers, and housing policy experts, this campaign aims to develop grassroots leadership, build our partners’ bases, shift the narrative around housing, and win bold changes to HUD policies. Leaders directly impacted by housing insecurity have led at every stage, including in more than 15 meetings with HUD officials over the last 12 months, including HUD Secretary Fudge and Deputy Secretary Todman. They have held these federal officials accountable for their actions in the face of unlivable conditions for families across the nation. 

Building Political Power from 2022 to 2024

Voters of color defied the odds in 2022. While many wrote off this election, organizers and voters together made history. More Latinos will now serve in Congress than ever before. Democrats ran the table in Michigan, turning the swing state solidly blue. New groundbreaking state-based policies, including guaranteed early childhood education in New Mexico, show a pathway forward for the nation. Community Change Action’s electoral powerhouse helped to elect key governors, maintain a majority in the U.S. Senate, minimize losses in the U.S. House, and stand up for progressive values and candidates. 

As we kick off a new year, we look back to look forward. In order to win in 2024, we must use 2023 to learn from the 2022 cycle and iterate, deepening the relationships that are the very heart of our power. That’s why our program engages voters all year, every year, seamlessly connecting issue organizing, accountability work, voter engagement, and turnout. We do this as part of our longstanding commitment to increase voter participation and civic engagement of low-income communities of color, and to strengthen grassroots community organizations and progressive state power infrastructure. As the threat of authoritarianism continues to loom over us, we cannot forget that the practice of democracy demands far more than casting a vote.

In 2023, we’re preparing for state revenue fights and local campaigns. With $5 trillion in federal dollars promised in major legislative bills in 2021 and 2022, we must deliver for our communities — in new jobs, better schools, modern transit, affordable housing, quality child care, and much more. These campaigns will lay the groundwork to engage  Black, Latino, and immigrant voters in 2024, proving these communities have the power to shape their own futures and demonstrating the positive impact that democracy has in their lives. There are no “off years” in the work of political power building.   


VIDEO: We need more people to be powerful! It's not possible without you.

Check out our video wrapping up 2022 and looking toward 2023. 

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