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Wire Insider: Kamau Chege

Kamau Chege is the manager of the Washington Census Alliance, a statewide coalition of 55 organizations led by and working in communities of color. Ahead of the 2020 census, Chege and his organization engaged in a widespread relational organizing campaign to ensure that historically undercounted communities are able to participate.

Chege joins us a “Wire Insider” to discuss the importance of the census and why certain communities have been left out of the process in the past.

So much damage has been done to the credibility of the census in certain communities – rural communities, communities that have reason to distrust the government, Indian country, and among immigrants and refugees given the way the citizenship question case played out. So we’re laser focused on ensuring that they have the right information and that they know the stakes of the census, and how important it is to ensure that they’re counted. That’s what is going to shape the political future and the economic future of their communities for the next decade.

The census is what determines the distribution of federal funds for a lot of critical programs and it’s also what informs the redistricting process and the way political boundaries are drawn for communities, and that’s why it’s really important that everyone participates and that everyone is counted in the census next year.

In 2019 a lot of people are just distrustful of how their data might be used. We’ve seen lots of problems with data management from Facebook and people have seen in the news the credit agencies being hacked. Even though the census bureau is 100 percent secure with the information that people give in the census, there is still distrust there. The way to resolve that is with trusted relationships that those folks might have in the community. That’s why we’re rolling out a relational organizing program in 20 counties with 450 trusted messengers doing outreach to 9000 households that they already have preexisting trusted relationships with, so that they know it is not only safe, but incredibly important to participate in the census and help shape and determine the political and economic future of their communities. They trust that coming from their own community in a way they might not trust it coming from the current administration, bureau agents, or other officials.”

*Note: This interview was conducted before the COVID-19 outbreak began. Despite the outbreak, on March 12, the United States Census Bureau began mailing its first invitations to roughly 95% of American households.

As of Wednesday, March 18th, 11 million households had already completed their census forms, which can be filled out online or answered by phone.

While the census will continue on, the Census Bureau has suspended all field operations, including training sessions, until April 1. The Bureau has also revised its operational timeline to allow extensions for self-responses, follow ups, and other operations that involve in-person contact.

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