Organizing for the Census


CWE outreach workers participate in census outreach training provided by New York City


In less than a month, the census will launch online -- and Consortium for Worker Education organizers are in the streets making sure New Yorkers get counted. The initiative, CWE-CLC Workers Count2020, is a partnership between CWE and the New York City Central Labor Council (CLC).
CWE and CLC are tapping into their existing network of unions and community organizations, to reach New Yorkers through the relationships they trust. Ten CWE outreach workers, in addition to staff from CWE’s Jobs to Build On program, are educating students and other clients at partner organizations about the census, with the goal of getting New Yorkers to sign cards pledging to participate.
One of those partners is St. Jerome HANDS Community Center in the Bronx. Tochtli Garcia, a CWE Outreach Field Captain, has been visiting the center regularly, presenting about the census to ESL and citizenship class students, as well as community members who rely on the center’s food pantry. Those who have been coming to St. Jerome HANDS for classes are quick to participate, Garcia says, because a teacher that they know and trust can vouch for him. Others with more tenuous connections with the community center have been harder to reach, but Garcia has persisted.
“They see that I keep coming back. If it's cold, I stand with them on the food pantry line,” says Garcia. He connects with them over shared cultural experiences - Garcia has lived and worked in many Latin American countries - and he talks to them about building political power for their community. “Over time they feel secure and comfortable participating in the census.”


CWE Outreach Field Captains Dan Byers and Tochtli Garcia are ensuring that hard-to-reach New Yorkers participate in the census


This sustained outreach, through established community organizations that hard-to-reach New Yorkers know and trust, is important because each community needs a complete count of residents. The decennial census is used to determine congressional representation and allocate $650 billion in federal funding for education, food stamps, public housing, transportation, and other services.
CWE organizers are facing other headwinds that they must overcome to help residents participate. Aggressive immigration enforcement has taken a toll on immigrant New Yorkers trust of federal agencies.
“We are getting lots of questions about whether ICE will have access to census responses,” says Darly Corniel, Education Director at the Consortium for Worker Education.
In response, outreach workers explain that personal census information is confidential and protected. CWE is also working with Make the Road NY to provide Know Your Rights training to its outreach workers, so they can educate immigrants about their legal rights and assuage fears about the census. CWE is also making the training available to other organizations doing census outreach.


CWE Census Outreach Workers and CLC Political Director Lucia Gomez, second from left, join with union members for a CWE-CLC Workers Count2020 presentation at Communications Workers of America Local 1180


CWE is developing tailored strategies to engage other important, but often overlooked, community members so they can participate. Working with the NICE Worker Center, CWE is educating and organizing day laborers to take part in the census. Other CWE partners have received funding directly from the City, like the Yemeni American Merchants Association, which is reaching out to Muslim New Yorkers.
Working with the Central Labor Council, CWE outreach workers have visited worksites to engage union workers, like bus depots in Jamaica, Queens.
Hundreds of residents have already signed the census pledge cards, and CWE’s goal is to collect thousands more before the census launch. United Community Centers in Brooklyn collected 200 signed pledges, and then returned to CWE for 300 more.
CWE will continue collecting signed pledge cards until the census launches the week of March 12, and then follow up with each pledge taker to make sure they fill out the census. They will follow up by phone, and also return to community centers, unions, and workplaces with tablets so residents can easily participate online.
“We want people to know that the census can empower our community,” says Garcia.