The census is significant in the fight for political power for Black people, Indigenous people, other people of color, and all oppressed people across the U.S.
Census 2020 is only a couple of months away. Activists and organizers across the country are hustling to make sure everyone in their communities gets counted.
The census is a complete count of every single person in the U.S., regardless of immigration status, housing status, or age. Unfortunately, Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color are historically undercounted, along with children, TLGBQIA+ people, immigrants, poor people, people experiencing homelessness, and more. We can incorporate the census into our broader fight for freedom and liberation when we understand the census as an act of solidarity, as collective action, as a chance to build across movements, and as a demand for funding and political power for BIPOC communities.
Census data determines funding to community programs, like health care, housing, child education, infrastructure, public transportation, and more. Census data also informs redistricting and political apportionment, so political representation in our communities is dependent on it. The census is critical. It is central to civic representation and increasing material support to people who need it.
Communities that face the most oppression in this country are also undercounted in the census. This is no coincidence. Oppressive systems intentionally try to keep communities of color undercounted using misinformation and fear tactics.
The reasons why people don’t complete the census vary. Some fear the government having their information, some are disillusioned, and some have been misinformed about the census’s purpose and importance. The impact is clear. Undercounts lead to less funding to community programs and less political representation.
State Voices organizes around the census in several ways. State tables in our network engage with partner organizations and collectives to canvass, circulate pledge cards, and engage in workshops, forums, political education, and organizing.
Nationally, we partnered with Census Counts, the Leadership Conference, and advocacy and grassroots organization across the country to do regional census convening series. Collaborating with several state tables in the network, we held convenings between July – September 2019 in Chicago, Atlanta, Dallas, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles to explore organizing and tech strategies to ensure our communities take the census in March 2020. We also recently released a Get Out the Count toolkit with tips on how to organize around the census.
Here are 3 big reasons why we believe that organizing around the census is a significant social justice issue that we should all pay attention to.
1. Funding to Community Programs is Based on Census Numbers
You ever wonder how your neighborhood gets funding to fill potholes or to run Head Start and early childhood programs? Have you ever wished your neighborhood could get more investments in hospitals for equitable health care, or for safe and accessible transportation?
States and localities receive federal funding for certain community programs. Funding to local schools, Head Start programs, roads and infrastructure, Medicaid, hospitals, public transportation, and other programs receive significant funding based on census data. If your neighborhood is undercounted, you won’t get all the funding you deserve. You can see how your state gets funding here.
We know how under-resourced Black communities, Indigenous communities, and other communities of color are. There are many ways we should be fighting for increased investments—through legislation, budget demands, divest/invest campaigns, and more—and ensuring an accurate census count is one of them.
We’re always looking for opportunities to help keep our communities supported and safe, especially in a country where safety is so hard to attain because of oppression. Encouraging our neighbors to take the census will help us get more investments in our communities.
2. Census Data Informs Redistricting and Political Reapportionment
2020 is going to be a huge opportunity for us to advocate for equitably drawn legislative districts.
Redistricting is when governments redraw legislative districts for an area. Representatives, state elected officials, and local officials are all determined based on elections in districts. Political districts are largely based on population counts from the census, and the number of representatives a district receives is based on census counts, too. Taking the census ensures that you get the political representation that you deserve.
Ensuring a full census count also helps combat gerrymandering, in which political district boundaries are manipulated to disadvantage Black people, Indigenous people, and other people of color.
Prison gerrymandering is a particularly relevant issue with regards to the census. Unfortunately, the 2020 Census will again count incarcerated people as residents of the areas their prison is located, instead of their homes. Since prisons and jails are often concentrated in white areas, this will result in population overcounts in white neighborhoods, and significant undercounts in Black neighborhoods. Until prison gerrymandering is a thing of the past, its even more important for BIPOC to fill out the census to make sure this undercount isn’t exacerbated even further.
3. We Get to Show That We’re Still Here And Won’t Back Down
Oppressive people in positions of power use fear and disillusionment to maintain their control. They hope to make us too fearful to fight back, too discouraged to believe that we can make a difference, too disillusioned to imagine a better future.
But we won’t back down. We are part of a legacy of freedom fighters who have risen up against oppressive tactics for generations.
One way oppressive people have tried to scare BIPOC out of taking the census was by trying (and failing!) to get a citizenship question onto the census questionnaire. They hoped that a citizenship question would discourage people who are undocumented immigrants from engaging. But advocates and organizers across the country fought back against the citizenship question, and we won.
BIPOC folks, low-income people, people in rural areas, and other people experiencing marginalization in society have historically been undercounted in the census in an attempt to oppress us.
There’s unfortunately a lot of misinformation and disinformation spread about the census. At the end of the day, this is unsurprising. Oppressors have always used these tactics in an effort to discourage and prevent us from engaging in efforts that build our power.
So many state tables in our network are building collective power by forming local coalitions around the census to make sure BIPOC folks get the political power and resources we deserve. Keystone Counts in Pennsylvania, Montana Counts, Mass Counts in Massachusetts, Florida Counts, Wisconsin Counts, the Virginia Civic Engagement Table, and so many more.
Take the census and encourage your community to take it, too. Learn more at censuscounts.org.
— Jordan N. DeLoach, Manager of Communications
— Elena Langworthy, Census Manager
— Marissa Liebling, Director of Policy