Aarika Rhodes, a full-time elementary school teacher in Los Angeles County, has made bitcoin a central plank in her bid for Congress.
She’s running to outseat Republican Brad Sherman, a long-standing congressman who has been vocal about his disdain for cryptocurrency. For Rhodes, bitcoin is a tool to address economic inequality and improve financial access.
“If we’re going to solve poverty, we have to start being innovative around it,” she said in an interview on CoinDesk TV's "First Mover" on Wednesday. “And I think the Lighting Network offers that,” referring to the second-layer scaling tool for the Bitcoin network.
Although she is a long shot, Rhodes is part of a new class of politicians who are making crypto programs part of their mandate. They are enticed by crypto’s potential, the industry’s fervent “single-issue voters” looking to back any knowledgeable candidate and, yes, even the potential for crypto donations.
It’s not Rhodes’ only unconventional economic idea. She told CoinDesk she also supports a universal basic income (UBI), or a government-run welfare program to give people small cash payments with no strings attached. In fact, for Rhodes, bitcoin and UBI go hand in hand.
For one, Bitcoin and UBI are both open systems – meaning that all would be free to access them. For a distributed network like Bitcoin, that means anyone can send payments or hold the digital asset, BTC. UBI, meanwhile, is designed as an alternative to traditional, means-tested welfare programs.
Some have argued that a “bitcoin standard” would rein in government spending, because there is a hard cap of 21 million BTC that will ever go into circulation. But Rhodes disagrees with the hypothetical idea that bitcoin would limit a government’s ability to spend.
"I think the misconception of a universal basic income is that in order to have it, you have to print money," Rhodes said.
She’s hardly alone among bitcoiners. On Feb. 2, Rhodes co-hosted a Twitter spaces with a slew of participants, including Block CEO Jack Dorsey, who quit his job running Twitter to spend more time building Bitcoin use cases.
Rhodes said the two met prior to the event on Zoom, where they discussed poverty, including the controversy surrounding Bitcoin and UBI. Rhode’s campaign looks to find a way where the two can coexist.
Coming from her experience teaching in private and public schools, Rhodes feels the way government spending is executed is lackluster.
According to her, in order to address poverty in a meaningful way, reducing programs that aren’t working efficiently and allocating funds toward giving people a baseline income is the first step. In the same vein, Dorsey supports the UBI strategy, and has invested over $55 million in the U.S. and overseas via his Start Small initiative, a charity initially created for COVID-19 relief.
At the very least, be it bitcoin or UBI, digitizing money makes sense. According to Rhodes, 75% of people experiencing homelessness have a cellphone.
Though Rhodes says she is still learning about the crypto industry and her plan isn’t defined just yet, she sees bitcoin as a way to reach economic justice.
“My priorities are prioritizing our young people and modernizing our education systems and implementing financial literacy in schools,” Rhodes said.
Now, Rhodes is focused on winning the primary in order to have a debate with Sherman.
“I think what he’s done in Congress is not sufficient for being in there for 25 years,” she said. “You have a bunch of young freshmen and sophomore Congress members that are passing more legislation than these long-term incumbents. I think there’s a great appetite for change.”
The leader in news and information on cryptocurrency, digital assets and the future of money, CoinDesk is an award-winning media outlet that strives for the highest journalistic standards and abides by a strict set of editorial policies. In November 2023, CoinDesk was acquired by Bullish group, owner of Bullish, a regulated, institutional digital assets exchange. Bullish group is majority owned by Block.one; both groups have interests in a variety of blockchain and digital asset businesses and significant holdings of digital assets, including bitcoin. CoinDesk operates as an independent subsidiary, and an editorial committee, chaired by a former editor-in-chief of The Wall Street Journal, is being formed to support journalistic integrity.