The Constitution of the United States requires that every ten years that we have a count of every person and household in the US while recording certain information about each person, including questions about ethnicity, race, relation to other household occupants, and gender. The 2010 Census will be one of the largest civil projects in the history of the US, employing hundreds of thousands of census workers, all in attempt to make sure that everyone is counted.
WHY THE CENSUS MATTERS
Census counts are directly tied to the federal dollars communities receive for important services such as education funding, affordable housing support, job training, social services, roads, bridges, and other community development opportunities.
Census counts also directly impact a community’s political voice because the numbers inform voting districts and determine how communities are represented. The 2010 Census will trigger a new round of revisions in elected districts across the country. States in the Northeast and Midwest, such as New York and Ohio, stand to lose Congressional Districts and therefore representation. Growing states in the South and Southwest stand to gain seats, while state and local governments throughout the country will be using Census data to shape and reshape districts for partisan political gain. These revisions will have a direct impact on the reservation of and the expansion of underrepresented peoples electoral opportunities and representation for the next decade.
Careful studies of past census counts demonstrate that certain communities are at higher risk of not being counted accurately. These communities include
• Communities and People of Color,
• People and families that live in rental property
• Transient communities, such as the homeless and migrant workers
• Native Americans and poor, rural communities
• Immigrants (census counts are for everyone, regardless of citizenship status)
• The elderly and people who live in group housing
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice has been working for the past months to give Census Outreach Mini-Grants to community organizations in Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Louisiana that are a trusted voice in their communities. The mini-grants are given to organizations for projects which raise awareness of the importance of the census in underrepresented and undercounted communities. Project examples include giving out water bottles with census information in Spanish to migrant farmworkers or performing a bilingual play about the importance of the census at a local community center.
PLANNING A COMMUNITY CENSUS AND REDISTRICTING INSTITUTE
The Southern Coalition for Social Justice, in consultation with the Center for the Study of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender in the Social Sciences (REGSS) at Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute, has begun the process of creating a Community Census and Redistricting Institute in preparation for the redistricting of local, state, and national electoral districts.
For fair redistricting, underrepresented communities need expert assistance, especially those groups who are protected by the Voting Rights Act, including African Americans, Latin@s, Native Americans, Native Alaskans, and Asian Americans. During the redistricting process, it will be crucial for expert analysts and witnesses to enforce these voting rights provisions and protect and create fair voting districts. As we saw with the historic election of Barack Obama and the large racial differences in voting in the Southeast, where voting rights protections are the strongest, that there is a great need to protect underrepresented population’s voting rights. The work of the Community Census and Redistricting Institute will be to connect these experts and community organizations to stand up and defend minority voting rights.
SCSJ has spearheaded the development of the Community Census and Redistricting Institute. The first meeting, on June 24th in Durham, NC, saw community organizations, geographers, civil rights attorneys, and other leaders in Census work in the Southeast convene and begin this monumental process. Participants studied the importance of a correct census count of those displace by Hurricane Katrina, those who have been displaced by home foreclosure, and how many of these related questions will impact devastated communities. On July 20th, in Atlanta, GA, this gathering of academics, legal experts, community organizations, researchers, and elected officials will continue the development of the Institute.
A fair Census count and redistricting is crucial for political, legal, social, and economic change in the Southeast. As the Southeast has seen a great growth in the Latin@ and African American populations, the Community Census and Redistricting Institute is an important effort towards providing underrepresented voters with the capacity to elect representatives who are responsive to their concerns.