Sunday Morning ~ Finding the Way to a Fair Count
Kufunsa mdi kudziwa njira. ~ To ask is to know the way.
~ Chewa proverb
July 26, 2020
I heard an interview with Stacy Abrams in early February about the importance of the census and her establishment of the organization Fair Count 2020. I hadn’t previously given much thought to the census. I knew it was done every ten years but haven’t investigated the history or significance. I’m assuming I filled out the 2010 census but honestly can’t remember. But listening to Stacy Abrams describe the consequences of an undercount, I immediately contributed to her organization. I guess I hadn’t considered that political districts are drawn based on the census count. Federal programs in schools are dependent on the census count. Potential for business development is dependent on the census count. And the tidbit that really caught my attention: for every person that goes uncounted, the state loses $2,300 in funding. That number is for Georgia and varies state to state but it’s a lot of money when thousands of people are not counted. Communities that are undercounted don’t get their fair share of resources or representation in congress. Resources include funding for head start programs, highway and bridge repair, Medicaid, and other community based programs. So yeah, given our current political shit show, I felt that was a good place to put some money.
Not long after hearing that interview I was walking out of Marden’s (a Maine salvage discount store) and there was a table where two women were recruiting census workers. I had never considered actually going door to door but these two women were so enthusiastic, claiming they really needed someone on the island here, I could work as much or as little as I wanted, and they made it sound like fun. I took the information and it sat on my desk; at that point I was hoping to go back to Malawi. Then as I watched the political situation disintegrate even further I thought maybe this was one tangible thing I could do. It was clear I wasn’t going anywhere for awhile. So, I applied. Once the severity of the pandemic became apparent it took a while for the census bureau to regroup and make a plan for conducting this safely. A month later I got a call to report to a site in Brewer (about an hour from here) to get fingerprinted. That’s like the fifth time I’ve been fingerprinted. Don’t they keep these on file somewhere? I mean, they don’t change, right? We had to wait in our cars to be called, then we entered masked, one at a time. The mask came off only to be photographed for our badge, then I left and heard nothing for another month. In the meantime, I heard that Maine had one of the lowest census return rates in the country. One possible reason being rural residents do not have reliable internet access (makes online school hard too). My county has an appalling 22% response rate.
Three weeks ago I finally started my training and Friday was my first assignment. I was nervous. I’m not afraid to go door to door, I like doing that for canvassing. I’m not afraid of dogs or angry anti-government types. I was more nervous about the way we have to enter the data onto a device, and though the training was excellent, it’s always hard until you actually do it. Friday I was sent to Deer Isle, a mere hour and twenty minutes away, and started the monumental task of finding the houses! These are addresses who have not sent in a response. I found many of them were summer residences and no one was there on April 1st, some were rented, a few were people who just hadn’t submitted their responses so I filled it out right there and submitted it. It’s actually kinda fun. It reminded me a bit of my visiting nurse days, trying to find obscure places down infrequently used paths. It’s an adventure. And I finally feel like I am doing something. I did come home with a splitting headache and was useless, but I’m out of shape in the employment department. I’ve grown accustomed to the princess lifestyle around here, putzing around, gardening, reading, painting. Whew! A reason to pull out the summer dresses!
And there have been no angry responses about not trusting the government. We have a scripted response to questions, but mostly people have been lovely. When I can find them. One older man yesterday gave me information on a vacant looking apartment above a garage. I asked him if I could use him for a proxy and he was so kind and helpful. I thanked him a million times and asked if I could come back to him if I had problems finding others on that road, He said, “Why don’t I just come with you and that will save you some time?” Total sweetheart. He stood on the street and explained why the residences were empty, having lived there his whole life, he knew every coming and going and who went to the prom with whom. It was a hoot. It restored my faith in humanity. There are SO MANY good people out there and we need to remember that.
I’ll put in some hours every day this week then next Sunday I leave for the Allagash! Can’t wait! Got my map, got my gear laid out, logistics are coming together, and I realize how much I thrive on having an adventure on the horizon.
Off to today’s assignment! Make sure you all have filled in your census form. Go to census.gov if you’re not sure or haven’t done it. Think about the thousands of dollars your community will get from your participation. Thank you!!
Love to all,