In 2010 and 2011, while working with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, I provided census and redistricting training workshops to coalitions of mostly experienced activist grassroots community organizations in 19 states.

What we learned was that in not a single instance had these assertive, creative, really smart folks understood the connection of census or redistricting to their electoral or policy agendas, nor did they understand how race and class drive the census and redistricting outcomes.

Nor did they see themselves as the actors who could emerge to become public officials, rather than the traditional “leaders” who gravitate toward these roles.

Our analysis was treated by many participants as a “revelation,” an unlocking of the mystery surrounding the barriers to their electoral or policy efforts. We were surprised by their surprise. These were sophisticated organizers but still hadn’t made the connection between the census and resources and policy implications.

Participant organizations across these states committed to intense engagement in the efforts to obtain a full count and fair districts, and incorporating census and redistricting analysis and work into their long-term electoral strategies. What has come of that in each instance I am not so sure. We raised consciousness and understanding but were not asked to provide further assistance. Which is logical.

What is clear is that mayors today do recognize the importance of the census. According to the 2020 Menino Survey of Mayors, completed in partnership with The Rockefeller Foundation, 82 percent of the 150 mayors surveyed reported they were “very” or “somewhat concerned” about their population being undercounted; only 6 percent of mayors were “not concerned at all.” The Foundation supports the survey as part of our commitment to communities in recognition of the special role they play in supporting social and economic mobility.

The battle lines today are reminiscent of the 1960s when the Confederates had to concede the right to vote but were determined not to share power. But, of course, it also reminds me of the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, 2000s, and 2010s. Then as now, we need to get out the count for hard-to-count communities.

There are serious consequences to the inability of the U.S. Census Bureau in 2020 to accurately count minorities, low-wealth, student, and undocumented persons in contravention of the U.S. Constitution requirement that every 10 years every person be counted.

The post Understanding the Census: An Inaccurate Count Will Lead to a Decade of Injustice appeared first on The Rockefeller Foundation.

Share with cohorts