A Census sermon given by Zahra Roach, FAN Census Equity Team and Pasco City Councilmember, at Community Unitarian Universalist Church. Download the accompanying slides.

Good morning friends, my name is Zahra and I am so glad that you could be here with me to tell you about what I have been working on. As a Census Equity Outreach Coordinator for Faith Action Network (FAN), I have been meeting with faith communities in Mid-Columbia to present the importance of Census Participation, especially in communities of color and immigrant communities. Before the stay-at-home orders, I spent time in the Yakima Valley at the Sikh Temple, Buddhist Temple, and the Yakima Mosque presenting on this topic.

Before I dive in, I wanted to tell you a little bit about Faith Action Network. FAN is a coalition of thousands of people and over 150 faith organizations across Washington that is committed to promoting the common good. That means they are committed to building a just, peaceful, and sustainable world. To give you an idea of the work FAN has supported in Washington state, their legislative agenda includes supporting:

  1. SNAP – Increasing access to fresh fruits and veggies.
  2. GRADS bill – Create childcare opportunities for teenage parents so they can attend high school
  3. 2SHB 2277 – Banning solitary confinement in our juvenile justice system

FAN has also put out the word about the importance of participation in the 2020 Census. FAN supports the national movement called Faith in Public Life which puts into perspective for people of all faiths and no faith that participating in Census is aligned with social justice, equity, and inclusion. And as Unitarian Universalists who follow the guidance of our 7 principles, the participation and promotion of the Census aligns with our principles:

  1. Principle 1 of recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
  2. 2nd principle of Justice, equity, and compassion in human relationships.
  3. 6th principle of the goal of the world community filled with peace, justice, and liberty for all.

I thought it would be apt to introduce you to the Tacoma Refugee Choir, who has written an original song and produced this video made by a welcoming choir of refugees, immigrants, and friends. The choir’s mission is to sing together to build a welcoming community united in the pursuit of love, hope and belonging. This song features the Tacoma Mayor and Fire Chief, and it has been translated into 10 different languages. The Song is called “Be Counted.”

The Census is a Constitutionally mandated count of the people that live within our national borders. It does not matter what your citizenship status is, as long as you reside here, you count.

Who is historically undercounted?

Certain groups have been consistently undercounted in past Censuses. We must work to ensure that the following communities are aware that the 2020 Census is coming and that no one is left uncounted. Most of these communities are historically undercounted due to a long history of systemic racism and exclusion.

  1. Children under age 5 – Many people filling out the Census do not realize they are supposed to count everyone in their home, including young children and babies. In the 2010 Census, over 2 million young children were not counted.
  2. People living in poverty – Over 29 million people living in or near poverty reside in historically undercounted Census tracts. Low-income households have a number of characteristics making them more vulnerable to being undercounted. For example, many low-income households are renters, which means they are more likely to be in transition during the Census count and be missed. The Census Bureau also uses administrative data taken from IRS tax returns, disadvantaging low-income households who may not file income taxes or have W2s. Finally, as the 2020 Census is the first Census to be conducted almost entirely online, low-income households without internet access will be even more likely to be missed.
  3. Census workers count people at places where they receive services, such as shelters, soup kitchens and mobile food vans. This count was supposed to run for three days from March 30 through April 1, 2020, but has been delayed because of the pandemic. Enumeration at Transitory Locations counts people in transitory locations such as hotels, motels and campgrounds.
  4. African Americans – More than 3.7 million African Americans were not counted in the 2010 Census. Many of those missed were children and young adult men. African American households typically share characteristics that make them vulnerable to undercounting. One in four African Americans live in poverty, far higher than the national poverty rate.
  5. Latinx populations – The Latinx undercount is the result of numerous barriers including language, poverty, education and immigration status. When accounting for the current political climate, Latinx households are especially vulnerable to being undercounted in the 2020 Census. Like the African-American undercount, the Latinx undercount results in the inaccurate drawing of political boundaries and denial of a fair voice in important local, state and national policy decisions.
  6. One in five Asian Americans live in historically undercounted areas, along with one-third of Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders.
  7. American Indians and Alaska Natives – As of 2016, there were 5.6 million Native people living in the United States, 26% of whom live in historically undercounted areas. Native people across regions can share common struggles that compound the risk of not being counted, including poverty, education level, housing insecurity and age. Many programs, as well as redistricting, are funded based on census-derived data, including essential programs to meet education, healthcare and housing needs for Native people.
  8. Immigrant communities – Due to the policies and rhetoric of the Trump Administration, many immigrant communities are on high alert for government agencies, fearing for their safety and livelihoods in the United States. The Muslim Ban is an example of this. These communities tend to be historically undercounted under the best circumstances, but with strong fears of their data being shared with Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) and resulting in deportation, they are at higher risk than ever of not responding to the census.
  9. Religious minorities – Many religious groups live as intentional communities and may not receive standard Census marketing or outreach. Orthodox Jewish communities, for example, often require culturally relevant and sensitive outreach in the form of Census workers who are Orthodox Jews.

Throughout history, the U.S. Census has been used as a tool of exclusion, but we can reclaim it as a tool for equity, democracy, and justice. Historically, the Census has been used as a tool of white supremacy, denying political representation, public resources and recognition of dignity to people of color. In the early decennial Census of our country, enslaved people of African descent were counted as only 3/5 of a person and most Native Americans weren’t counted at all. The legacy of racist systems that have privileged white communities with access to capital and education have contributed to people of color consistently being undercounted in the decennial Census. The faith community has a moral responsibility to dismantle white supremacy and further inclusion for all people. Ensuring everyone is counted in the 2020 Census is a matter of racial justice that is long overdue.

What’s at Stake

Here is specifically what is at stake for the people who live in our city and our state:

  1. $2,300 lost in federal funding, per person over the next 10 years, that equals $23,000 total dollars lost for an individual until the next Census
  2. Federally funded programs use Census Data some of which are: Highway planning and construction, public transit grants, FEMA emergency support, unemployment insurance, substance abuse prevention and treatment, Early Head Start, SPED grants, Medicaid & Medicare (Part B), Section 8 housing, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, WIC and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs, School breakfast and lunch programs, state children’s health insurance.

Our community benefits from everyone being counted, and we have one chance in a decade to get it right. The 2020 Census’ impact on our communities and our nation is profound. It shapes everything from whether we have fair political representation in Congress to whether our roads, hospitals, schools and fire departments have the funding they need to support our health and well-being for the next decade. A full, accurate count lays the foundation for a healthy democracy and communities where families thrive and flourish.

Litany on Dignity and Justice

Reader: Divine Creator, you tell us that we are made in your image. We believe that all people, regardless of race, religion, or immigration status have inherent dignity because you made us. Our inherent dignity demands recognition.

All: We will celebrate our dignity and we will count ourselves!

Reader: We know you long for the freedom of all people and for chains of oppression to break. For far too long, too many of your children have been excluded and counted as less than human, which has resulted in inequality and injustice. But we know you count each of us as equal in your eyes.

All: Just as you count us, we will count ourselves!

Reader: You’ve commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves. When we count ourselves, we are helping make sure not only our needs are met, but also that our neighbors have good schools, hospitals, roads, critical resources, and fair political representation.

All: For our neighbors, we will count ourselves!

Reader: Divine Creator, you assure us to ‘fear not.’ You walk with us in our lives and we trust in your spirit and guidance. We proclaim ourselves as your children and our dignified presence in this nation.

All: We declare our presence and we will count ourselves!