California has the highest rate of poverty in the U.S. when accounting for the cost of living. The “Upset The Setup” blog by End Poverty in California (EPIC) was created to feature the voices of people living in poverty and propose solutions rooted in opportunity and economic mobility. By elevating first person perspectives, expert opinions, and impactful storytelling, “Upset the Setup” challenges a broken narrative that blames and shames people in poverty and replaces it with a more authentic one. The ideas and solutions presented in “Upset the Setup” ultimately aim to help dismantle the structural barriers that create and perpetuate poverty across the state.
The stories in this blog offer inspiring narratives focused on the experiences of community leaders, activists, advocates, and everyday Californians who refuse to accept poverty as inevitable. These perspectives are shared with lawmakers, philanthropists, and audiences across the country to unlock empathy and spur action. Many of the blog contributors are discovered through a statewide listening tour in poor communities across California. Writers featured in “Upset the Setup” are compensated for their time and perspectives, and their stories are key to battling advocacy burnout and offering hope. (Additionally, writers have opportunities to take action with EPIC through testimony, advocacy, and other events.)
By using storytelling as a catalyst for change, “Upset the Setup” shines a light on bold ideas that challenge the status quo, helps change the poverty narrative, and offers a vision of a future where poverty does not exist.
The “Upset the Setup” blog came to life due to EPIC’s desire to amplify the voices, experiences, and ideas of people living in poverty through as many platforms as possible. It is a central part of EPIC’s work to replace an obsolete poverty narrative based on lies and stereotypes with an authentic one, and to offer Californians a variety of ways to engage in power-building with EPIC.
The plan of action started by meeting people in their own) communities through EPIC’s statewide listening tour (which is also utilized to develop a shared policy agenda. We would pay people for their time in these “listening sessions”, and offer some of the people we met a competitive freelance rate to share their stories on our blog.
One of the key challenges is that not every person is comfortable writing. In these instances, we would follow up with an extensive interview to deeply understand the story the person wants to tell. We would then ghostwrite a draft, and go back and forth as editors and writers do until the storyteller felt 100% that the article was in their voice and reflected their ideas.
In most instances, those who choose to write their stories themselves are new to professional writing. So the editing process is labor intensive and also involves interviewing to flesh out ideas, transcribe the words as the writer speaks them, and arrive at a final draft.
The platform now serves as a digital space that empowers communities and individuals to share their struggles, ideas, and ambitions--painting a vivid picture of poverty and its solutions. It also sheds light on how wealth and opportunity inequality play a significant role in key issues such as homelessness, incarceration, hunger, mobility, and more. Finally, it is an entryway for contributors to engage in an array of power-building opportunities with EPIC and allies.
“Upset the Setup” showcases perspectives ranging from farm workers earning low wages, students facing unemployment, parents highlighting the children's mental health crisis, and many more.
While also serving as a platform for audiences to develop their empathy towards people experiencing poverty, “Upset the Setup” describes the enduring pain caused by policy decisions that result in unequal opportunity, an inadequate safety net, a proliferation of low wage jobs, exorbitant wealth inequality, and more. Additional stories focus on the vital policy work of EPIC and allies across California to address the violent and pervasive impact of poverty. These efforts encompass a range of issues, from fighting hefty fines and fees and the ongoing criminalization of poor individuals, to addressing a lack of access to housing, to proposed reforms that would make the safety net more accessible and respectful of people’s dignity.
In the year ahead, we look forward to creating space for people to tell their stories through video as well. Ultimately, the Upset The Setup blog is a key tool for changing the narrative around poverty and showing the public how smarter, equitable policy choices can end poverty and create equal opportunity.
In EPIC’s first 16 months of existence, “Upset the Setup” has played a pivotal role in raising awareness about how policy decisions create and perpetuate poverty in California and offering a vision for bold change.
The personal stories shared on the blog have offered diverse perspectives from communities that are typically left out of the conversation, facilitated discussions among policymakers, and helped spark policy change.
Through “Upset the Setup,” readers gain insights into key anti-poverty policies like safety net reform, guaranteed income, access to affordable housing, fair wages and worker power, and more.
Ultimately, every story on the blog helps render a portrait of how policy choices have created and perpetuated poverty; the connection between narrative change and policy change; and how new policy choices would create equal opportunity and end poverty.
By amplifying the powerful voices of those directly impacted by poverty, “Upset the Setup” has played a role in helping to catalyze change. Additionally, writers are healing their own feelings of shame and stigma, freeing them to engage confidently in advocacy, including advocacy with our organization.
“Upset the Setup” will continue to harness the strength and voices of everyday individuals and changemakers to challenge the status quo. Under the leadership of Michael Tubbs, Founder of EPIC, Special Advisor to California Governor Gavin Newsom for Economic Mobility and Opportunity, and former Mayor of Stockton, this blog represents just one step in utilizing storytelling to foster empathy, change the narrative, drive legislative action, and create opportunities for millions of people.