Deep breathing helps. Running helps. Wine helps. I mean, you’ve got to have outlets when you’re working on a massive community organizing effort. What am I talking about, you ask? Answer: The 2020 Census.
Yes, our country’s decennial Census is upon us, with the Self-Response period beginning March 12 (US Census Bureau postcard arriving to your mailbox soon!). It’s a gigantic, complex, incredible, energetic effort across the United States.
My job is to support a fair and accurate count in Orange County, California. I’m working alongside Charitable Ventures, the Regional Administrative Community Based Organization as designated by the California Complete Count Office, to support the nonprofit sector’s Census outreach and response efforts. And dang, yo, it’s been a wild ride.
It’s also been a beautiful ride. I’ve lived in Orange County since 2001 and thought I knew this place pretty well. Not so. I’ve learned a ton (a ton!) about our diverse communities in Orange County and the incredible nonprofits supporting these communities.
Our Census team has spent a lot of time with American Community Survey (ACS) data to determine who Orange County’s Hard-to-Count populations are and where they are. The unfortunate part of this data is that it does not accurately reflect Orange County residents. For example, as my friend Mary Anne Foo from OCAPICA will tell you, ACS data tells us we have 2,000 Samoans in Orange County. But we have 16 Samoan churches, so we know we have more than 2k Samoans here. It’s an American tragedy that we have historically underrepresented and undercounted populations — we just can’t seem to get the count right.
The Census count is so, so, so crucial. The survey is nine questions, is totally safe and confidential, will take you about 10 minutes to complete, and will determine our next 10 years. Think about that. Effectively, the Census is about power and money — and that’s precisely why you should care about it.
Here in California, we’re at a real risk of losing Congressional representation if we don’t get an accurate count. If we lose representation, then we have further undermined the marginalized voices in our communities.
We just can’t let that happen.
I’ve spent the bulk of my career in a corporate setting, lifting up corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts. Aside from one semester in college as a political science major (not my jam — I wound up as an English major instead), I have never ever ever embarked on any kind of civic engagement or community organizing work. Until now.
And now that I’m here, I can’t step away from civic participation; I’m hooked. And you can get hooked, too. If you want to try on civic engagement, DO IT. And do it with the Census! Post on social media, tell 10 friends, talk about it at the dinner table, remind your faith leader or your child’s teacher — the Census is here and we all need to respond.
Here is what I know for sure: Social change happens when people collaborate across sectors to build a movement that cannot be ignored. And these people organize and message with grace and conviction and compassion and care. I remain in awe of all community organizers; I remain in awe of the change they have wrought.
Activist Dolores Huerta said, “Every moment is an organizing opportunity, every person a potential activist, every minute a chance to change the world.” (Tape that to your bathroom mirror!)
We have an opportunity to effect change — and deliver resources to our communities — by responding to the 2020 Census. Let’s organize, let’s respond, and let’s ensure the next decade is healthy and vibrant. After all, you count. I count. Everyone counts.