Aarika Rhodes, U.S. Congressional Candidate for the 32nd District of California, has set a shock wave across the U.S., she runs on a pro-Bitcoin and pro-Universal Basic Income (UBI) platform. She believes in Medicare for All, helping the unhoused, ending police brutality, and making the U.S. a fairer home for its citizens.
Aarika has been campaigning for over two years in her district while she works full time as an elementary school teacher. If she wins, Aarika will replace one of Bitcoin’s worst enemies from U.S. Congress, Representative Brad Sherman (D), a man that believes cryptocurrencies are only appealing to “narco-terrorists” and tax evaders.
Jack Dorsey, CEO at Block, and other renowned Bitcoiners vouched for her on a Twitter Space conversation addressing UBI, Bitcoin, and its potential to change lives in the United States by mitigating inequality. Dorsey called her a “breath of fresh air” in the political scene.
We sat down with Aarika to deepen on the above subjects, the value that she will bring into Washington, the challenges, and benefits of her pro-Bitcoin stance, and more. This is what she told us.
Q: It is very likely that everyone supporting Bitcoin had an “aha moment”, a point where they have reservations, and then went on to understand its potential. What was your aha moment like? When did you realize your ideas and values were aligned with Bitcoin?
Aarika: When I first launched my campaign, students of mine said I should accept Bitcoin for donations. It was so early in campaigning that I told them we needed to focus on getting things up and running first. As the months passed, the topic came up again. This was right around the time Congressman Brad Sherman made his first vocal stance against cryptocurrency. I began doing my research to determine how Bitcoin could benefit my community. So many leaders in the space were gracious enough to educate me and introduce me to their networks so I could gain a deeper understanding. Not only did I purchase Bitcoin after learning more, I couldn’t understand how you could say you’re for the people and be actively working towards a ban on innovations like Bitcoin and Lightning.
Q: Where do you think Bitcoin and your platform coincide the most? Your campaign accepts payment via the Lightning Network, has this payment solution aided at balancing out the playfield in your race, and do you think it can do so for others?
Aarika: First of all, I love the Lightning Network. This technology has made us viable in our efforts to unseat a 20+ year incumbent. If it wasn’t for Bitcoin and the Lightning Network, a grassroots campaign like ours wouldn’t have made it this far with the amount of cash on hand at this stage in the race, especially as a full-time elementary school teacher! Fees have a significant impact on how much of a donation we can keep. Grassroots campaigns like ours depend on every penny to have a chance at winning.
Q: What do you think is the state of the institutions in the U.S. at the moment? Do you think there is a correlation between it and the increase in Bitcoin adoption as a way to “opt-out” of the system?
Aarika: There are a few ways to look at this. The first is that the existing banking system is designed to keep people impoverished. The fees alone make it impossible for many citizens to get their heads above water. The second is that people want to have investment options. Traditionally, we’ve been encouraged to get into the stock market. To do this, however, you have to purchase a minimum amount to even get in the game. Bitcoin can be purchased at any amount which makes it a more democratized way to gain financial independence. Something that often goes unnoticed by incumbents like Congressman Brad Sherman is that Bitcoin incentivizes holders to increase their financial literacy by making savings and investment cornerstones of the platform. Americans will continue to go where they feel valued, seen, and assisted.
Q: “No Kingdom can maintain itself by force alone”, James Baldwin wrote a while back, as he talked about the way people in power created a system around their own safety and their own profit. He said that a nation sustained by the powerful at the expense of the weak is the formula of a nation in decline; do you think this formula is intact? What will you do and how can others change the status quo? Does Bitcoin have any role in this scenario?
Aarika: Mr. Baldwin was a brilliant individual who saw our systems of inequality, inequity and injustice clearly. I will note that it is also Baldwin who found political leader’s “brutal contempt for the poor” unspeakable. I decided to run in 2020 after seeing the effects of the pandemic on our students, teachers, and parents. It exasperated issues that were already present in our education system and within our social structure when it comes to support for parents in the workplace. I was also moved, as so many were, by the civic uprising in response to the brutal murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery. The formula is intact but weakened. When elected into Congress, I want to sit on the Education and Labor Committee. It is imperative that we reform our education system. I believe I’m actively doing the hard work as a teacher every day and I hope to expand my work in education when in Congress. While this is one area to highlight for the purposes of this interview, it’s meant to show how we can be moved to engage in the dismantling of systems meant to oppress us by starting with where we are and who is already in our direct sphere of influence. As you dig deeper, you will be exposed to other excellent solutions that can enhance the work you’re doing. And that’s where innovations like Bitcoin come in. All good ideas need to be on the table to solve the systemic issues in our country.
Q: And in that sense, how do you think Bitcoin can be used to mitigate some of the most critical issues in America, and how does UBI come into the picture? The latter is controversial, as some believe its application could make citizens more dependent on the State. Is there a contradiction between Bitcoin and UBI?
Aarika: I understand there is a dissonance between Bitcoin and UBI. I’m not saying there’s a definitive solution to marry the two. I’m just asking that we consider all good ideas before shutting down the possibility if we do, in fact, want more people to experience financial freedom. I’m suggesting that we take a look at our existing government support programs and find the ones with the most financial waste. Our campaign has done the research and wasteful spending in the government through aid programs isn’t uncommon. We could then relocate those resources into a UBI structure where everyone receives $500 a month. Data shows that this is enough to be of significant aid to Americans to use at their discretion, but not enough to incentivize unemployment. I would like to explore the options of having this payment delivered in Bitcoin, especially to the unhoused (65% of whom have cell phones and could benefit from this set up), and our foster youth who age out of the system, often without the proper documentation or support to open traditional bank accounts. For both parties, it’s safe, secure, and accessible. Again, I know I get a lot of push back here because it’s not fully fleshed out but what I hope happens is that we all work together to consider what’s possible if we work together.
Q: Do you think Bitcoin can become a tool to uplift U.S. citizens, a medium to create global campaigns, such as the one that supports your race, via the Lightning Network, crowd fundings, and start programs with aid from people around the world with a real impact in the U.S?
Aarika: I know Bitcoin is a tool to uplift our community members. In fact, I have one volunteer who pulled herself out of poverty because of Bitcoin because they invested early, and a woman on our campaign who is a veteran and purchased Bitcoin which enabled her to evade going back into poverty. There is no reason to think that we couldn’t offer more aid to those who are unbanked or kept out of the financial system through the Lightning Network.
Q: When we think about government, we think about control, we think about regulations. How do you think you, as a Congresswoman, will be able to make a difference and contribute to the support of Bitcoin-based welfare programs?
Aarika: I think it should be noted that I have no interest in regulating Bitcoin. It should also be noted that I intend to serve on the Congressional Blockchain Caucus when elected. This caucus is one of the most bi-partisan caucuses in Congress, as it should be! I would like to work with lawmakers across the aisle to come up with creative and innovative solutions for the American people and this committee is well positioned to lead that charge.
Q: Do you think the “American Dream” is dead or that it could be transformed by improving the foundations that sustain the country, especially the financial system? In what will you work on to make the U.S. more equal, what opportunities will you try to facilitate for the average citizen?
Aarika: I think it depends on what you consider to be the American Dream. In the advertiser’s sense of 2 cars, one home, and 2.5 children, yes. I believe the American Dream is dead to the majority of Americans. If we’re talking about the aspirations of a country of the people, for the people, by the people in pursuit of equality, liberty, and justice for all, that’s the American Dream I’m motivated to create. While I talk about my policy issues on my website in detail, I’ll note here that I believe foster care reform, education reform, and supporting the unhoused are issues unique to my district that would also serve the greater American population. All three of these issues are complex and wrought with nuance. I would include criminal justice reform in that category of complexity as well. But these issues are key to all Americans experiencing dignity. They’re also key to solving greater issues downstream as these are the root of so many issues plaguing our communities. I’m excited to solve problems, not just talk about them. I’m not afraid to go to the source when others are content staying at the surface. The American Dream seems impossible to a lot of Americans because more than half of our citizens are living paycheck to paycheck. It’s hard to dream when you’re in survival mode.
Q: Finally, there is a lot of power in a currency that it’s not controlled by central banks or any single entity, but citizens also need to have an active role. Unlike the legacy financial system, Bitcoin demands people to take control of their wealth, to stay active, but often they are unprepared to do so. As an educator and a potential member of the U.S. Congress, how do you plan to support education and financial literacy? Do you think better financial education could help onboard more people into Bitcoin?
Aarika: There is no question financial literacy would encourage a better understanding of Bitcoin. It would also enable people to make educated decisions about their finances in general. It’s an injustice to our children and our society to graduate students who don’t understand credit, savings, taxes, and fees. Financial literacy is a non-negotiable. Not only do I believe it will serve our communities well, I also believe it enables people to make decisions that are right for them based on their unique circumstances and needs.