As Sam Seaborn of The West Wing White House said, "It’s not glamorous but the Census has to be taken seriously." While many of our nonprofit colleagues understand why the Census is so important, it often needs to be explained to our constituents and the people we represent. Many Americans think of the Census as just another way for the government to invade our privacy. Engaged citizens may want the Census's promise of better representation at the government level, but we also may think it is inaccurately measured. And, nonprofit leaders may see it as something the government should solely manage.
What many people don’t realize is that the Census is critical to ensuring that we all have a voice. If every African American homeless vet in San Francisco, Native American performance artist in New York City, Latino day laborer in Los Angeles, and organic farmer of any race in Nashville Tennessee were counted, their voices might be heard at a government level. In the same West Wing episode, Sam eloquently explained why the Constitution mandates that the government count people living in the United States every ten years: "Because representation at the various levels of the government, federal, state and municipal, is based on population. The only way to find out how many congressmen California gets is to count the people in California."
Non profits are critical to this endeavor. The Funders Committee for Civic Participation recently released a report on the impact that non profits had on the 2008 election. Non profits used a wide range of tactics to manifest their dramatic reach, and because of those efforts they registered millions of voters! If we can use some of these same tactics (i.e. reach out via a variety of methods, educate our constituents, capitalize on the knowledge we have of the people in our area or demographic group), just think of the impact we can have on this year’s census!
Many nonprofits are working to make the Census a success, but more need to get involved. Here are some resources and toolkits to help the people in your communities be counted: