Basic Income is a human right! A report on the Demo in Berlin

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On September 14th, Barb Jacobson attended this year’s Basic Income March in Berlin. The following is her take on what happened.

When I saw the poster I was (slightly) afraid I might end up being an extra on a remake of ‘Gone with the Wind’: Liberty as Rhett Butler and Justice as Scarlett O’Hara. Liberty doesn’t just meet Justice but they have a bloody good snog! This was for the sixth annual march for basic income, organised by the Netzwerk Grundeinkommen (German Basic Income Network) with support from the German Pirate Party, Greens, and the Die Linke (Radical Left) Party.

We assembled by the Neptune Fountain at AlexanderPlatz, where about 600-700 people listened to a range of politicians give their support for basic income before setting off. These were mainly Green MPs, Katja Kipping from Die Linke, Susanne Wiest, a famous activist who launched a successful petition for basic income back in 2008, and various other candidates including a representative from the Violet Party (some kind of ‘spiritual living’ party). The unions had another demo up the road about an hour before we did and took the same route. I don’t know how this affected things but people from Grundeinkommen attended their rally, and considering that our march grew as it went along (to about 2500 people at one point) some union members/supporters must also support basic income.

Compared to recent demos in London it was very lightly policed. There seemed to be about ten in all with a van, and at the beginning one of them went round and wrote down all the placard and banner slogans in a notebook. The crown on the poster was worn by many there as a sign that all should be able to ‘live like kings’. I have no knowledge of German but the spirit was great, and I had many good conversations along the way. One was with a musician from Berlin whose mother is involved with the German Basic Income Network. He said he wants basic income so that he can exercise more choice about who he played music for and when, and more time to write music.

Oddly, the march stopped in the middle for a song and dance performance which lasted about 45 minutes. Though there were some jolly songs (one refrain I did understand ‘arbeit mach arbeit’ work makes more work!) I have to say this did spoil the momentum somewhat since many had left by the time the march moved on.

There were also about 25 people there from around Europe who are organising for the European Citizens Initiative (ECI) on Basic Income. Some from BIEN Switzerland, who organised the successful basic income initiative were also there. They got over 130k signatures in a few months, thus guaranteeing the idea will be put up for discussion by referendum within four years. At the end of the march there was another rally in front of the Swiss Embassy, close to the German Parliament building, although by that time only about 300 people remained.

After Enno Schmidt (maker of the film ‘Basic Income: a Cultural Impulse‘) gave what sounded like a barn-storming speech in German, there was a symbolic transfer of momentum from the Swiss initiative to the ECI. Then ECI people from around Europe spoke in their own languages which were then translated into English and German. I spoke as a member of the UK team currently rallying support and collecting signatures for the ECI for Unconditional Basic Income. There is a video on YouTube of the whole thing, marked at the point when the ECI people spoke towards the end. It was an inspiring day. I learned a German word which describes perfectly what we’re facing here in the UK concerning benefits, wages and rents as well as the general effect of income inequality around the world: existenzangst. But as Scarlett the eternal optimist said, “Tomorrow is another day!”

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