The Census is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to build lasting coalitions that strengthen our democracy
BY GABBY TREJO, Executive Director, Sacramento ACT, and Co-Chair of the Sacramento Community Complete Count Committee
In some ways, the Census is simple. Mandated by the Constitution, the Census is conducted every ten years to collect accurate data about the people and places of the United States. By filling out the questionnaire, everyone who lives in our community shapes the funding we receive for things like affordable housing, Head Start Preschools, health clinics, Meals on Wheels, road maintenance, and so much more.
More than that, everyone declares that they count, that they matter. As the Executive Director at an organization that works to end economic and racial injustice in our region, I know that through this simple act—one of the most fundamental exercises of democracy—the people who live in our communities stand up and demand to be seen.
So much relies on an accurate Census, but achieving it is anything but simple.
Those who are working to achieve a complete count in the capital area—including cross-sector coalitions led by the Foundation at local and state-wide levels—are confronting a variety of challenges, all of which have been further compounded by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic: A reduction in federal funding for outreach efforts, increased distrust in government, a negative view of the Census among some, barriers to filling out the online questionnaire, and more.
To overcome these challenges, the Sacramento Complete Count Committee is educating our community’s hardest-to-count populations about the Census. Not only are we leveraging existing resources and partnerships, but we are intentionally fostering something new: Genuine community-based collaboration that is built to last.
As part of the Census effort, many community leaders and advocates are working together for the first time to strengthen our civic engagement, organizing, and collaboration skills. For more than a year, at shared trainings, media events, and community festivals, we have cultivated capacities that will help achieve the immediate-term goal of a complete 2020 Census count, and when nurtured, will endure beyond the time-limited nature of this Census campaign.
We’re doing more than just talk about movement-building; the 40 members of our Complete Count Committee and 300 partners participating on subcommittees have been out in the community coalescing shared contact lists, testing new technologies, and collaborating across communities. Together, we have been connecting the trusted messengers of our region’s vulnerable populations with each other and with resources that can help elevate community needs even beyond this year’s Census. We have been building the very capacities that have made it possible to adjust our outreach strategies in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to build connections that last—not only for this Census, or even for future censuses, but for every effort that aims to advance justice and equity in our community going forward.
Led by the Foundation and the County of Sacramento—and consisting of governmental and community-based steering committees—the Sacramento Complete Count Committee is comprised of local leaders who are working with hundreds of local nonprofits within identified hard-to-count communities to ensure a complete count during this year’s Census.
In addition to our work in Sacramento County, the Foundation has been selected by the State of California to serve as one of ten Administrative Community-Based Organizations; in this role, we are coordinating a coalition of organizations across a 17-county swath of Northern California—including El Dorado, Placer, and Yolo counties—to encourage residents to complete the Census.
A community-led effort to ensure everyone in our region is counted during Census 2020 requires the community's support. Your gift to the Foundation's pooled fund will make a difference in this collaborative effort.