Count On Your Census

Count On Your Census Podcast Logo


Asian Americans Advancing Justice created Count on Your Census to promote a robust response to our nation’s Decennial Census. Each census response is a piece of a puzzle that, when completed, creates a picture of who we are as Americans, and how best the country’s resources can be shared. It determines how the federal government funds and responds to the specific needs of your family and neighbors like money for schools, hospitals, roads, and community centers. It determines how many seats a state has in the House of Representatives and, as a result, how your community’s voice is heard by policymakers in Congress.

You can also keep up with newly released episodes by following us on Twitter, Advancing Justice - AAJC's Twitter, and Instagram.  See the list of current episodes below and take a listen!

Season 1

Civil Rights vs. Fake News: Denise Hulett, MALDEF, and John C. Yang, Advancing Justice | AAJC. When Wilbur Ross, Department of Commerce Secretary, attempted to add a question about citizenship status to the 2020 Census, it made headlines and fueled fears. Given the administration’s anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies it was clear that the question would discourage participation in the constitutionally mandated census. AAPI and Latinx civil rights leaders stood up and pushed back in 2 federal court cases and the Supreme Court. In all cases, the courts ruled against the administration’s position. In a last-ditch effort to save face, the President made a Rose Garden announcement about gathering citizenship status information from existing federal resources. It was a decisive victory for the immigrant community but is it enough to overcome the community’s fears?

Is the Census Safe?: Terry Ao Minnis, AAJC, and Samer Khalaf, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, explain how census data is used and protected by the Census Bureau. In communities of color, many people, undocumented immigrants, in particular, fear participation in Census 2020. They had heard that a citizenship question was on the census and then heard it would not be included. How can they be sure of what it true? And if they do fill out the census, will their personal data be safe? Which federal agencies have access to their information and how can it be used? These very legitimate concerns are answered by leaders in the movement for a fair and just census. And Mrs. Minnis and Mr. Khalaf provide a window into the real-life experiences that make these fears resonate across communities.

Follow the Money: Terri Ann Lowenthal, The Census Project, and Andrew Reamer, George Washington University Research Professor, lay out what can happen when communities are undercounted, and census data is incomplete. All across the country, a movement is organizing to Get Out the Count. Community groups, national nonprofits, business leaders, mayors and governors are asking all of us to fill out the Census and encourage our neighbors to do the same. They are organizing around a unified message. Census data determine how federal dollars are allocated to resources we rely upon every day: roads, schools, housing assistance, hospitals, drinking water and more. And census data also determines political seats and representation in Congress, and by extension, the power and influence a community can wield.

Tackling the Undercount: When the Trump Administration tried to add a citizenship question to the census, the intention was clear. Asking about citizenship status was designed to have a chilling effect on participation, particularly in immigrant communities. But the problem of a census undercount is both historic and well-documented. And the concern about its impacts is shared by the US Census Bureau, academic researchers, and civil rights organizations. In this episode, we talk to Cara Brumfield, senior policy analyst for the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality, Economic Security, and Opportunity Initiative and Jackson Brossy, executive director, Native CDFI Coalition, both leaders in the movement to tackle the undercount head-on and hear their strategies for generating a robust response. From the logistical nightmare of Census enumerators finding households without addresses to the challenge of persuading reluctant undocumented immigrants to be counted, this is the undercount story.

Representation Matters: Data from the US Census determines how billions of federal dollars are deployed to communities for investment in schools, hospitals, housing assistance, water, transportation and other critical needs. Census data also determines how state legislative district lines are drawn and how political representation is allocated among states. In other words, an accurate count in the Census leads to political power. And an inaccurate count will diminish the voice and political clout of undercounted populations. In this episode, we hear from experts Jonathan Stein, Asian Americans Advancing Justice – ALC; Celina Stewart, League of Women Voters; and Kathay Feng, Common Cause; who have first-hand redistricting experience and explore the strategies and messaging that are resonating with local organizations to promote full participation in the 2020 Census.

Organizing the Organizers: Gustavo Torres, Executive Director for CASA, Catherine Beane from the YWCA, and Steve Choi from the New York Immigration Coalition lead this podcast that discusses organizing around the census, the resources, and partnerships that are energizing their efforts. Achieving a complete count in the 2020 Census comes down to rigorous organizing at the ground level. In communities that have been historically undercounted, and fear participation now, the stakes are highest. It takes trusted messengers, primarily community groups with a track record of providing services and building relationships, to mobilize residents to participate in the census process. Across the nation, such organizations are ramping up campaigns designed to overcome fear and apathy. In this episode, we hear from leaders who are committed to a full count, get a glimpse inside those campaigns and hear about their engagement strategies.

Census Communications in a Digital Divide: The decennial Census is a massive and complex operation, but Census 2020 poses profound new challenges. From the moment that President Trump tried to impose a citizenship question on the form, the Census became highly weaponized. As a result, targeted communities are afraid to participate in the census, requiring a communication and organizing strategy that is nuanced and sophisticated. To add to this challenge, Census 2020 is our nation’s first primarily digital census, seen as modernization by some and a barrier to participation by others. Over 20 million people lack reliable digital access, making online responses to the census unavailable to many in Indian Country, rural America and underserved urban districts. In this episode, Lizette Escobedo breaks down communications strategies designed to address and overcome these challenges, particularly in immigrant communities. And Francella Ochillo identifies new resources and partnerships, with libraries and local public officials, that are making participation possible in disconnected communities.

Getting the Word Out: Mobilizing Trusted Messengers: As Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, explains, the politicization of Census 2020 has made it the most complex enumeration of our American experience. Presidentially imposed barriers to participation in the census by all people in the United States, as constitutionally mandated, has generated high levels of engagement by faith, corporate, public sector, nonprofit and philanthropic leaders in using their clout and resources to ensure a robust count. They are collaborating on organizing and communication strategies, including the development and testing of messages that resonate with the vulnerable communities they represent. These messages are key to overcoming the fear of participation. While message development is vital, it takes, as Vanita observes, trusted messengers to effectively deliver them. At this stage, trusted messengers are rolling out campaigns at the neighborhood level. Whether they are church leaders, librarians, social service providers or community organizers, family members or friends, these are the influencers that we all need to value and support. Vanita hopes that the media will follow these trusted messengers, tell their stories, and deepen our collective understanding of why the census is so important to all of us. 

From Marginalization to Mobilization: The road to Census 2020 is marked by rhetoric and policies from the Trump administration that demonized and marginalized immigrants and people of color well before the President tried to add a citizenship question to the census form. In this episode of Count of Your Census, John C. Yang of Advancing Justice - AAJC and Ana Ndumu look back at the implications of this anti-immigrant environment for the 2020 Census and look ahead to the partnership this climate has fostered and to their potential for civil and immigrant rights advocacy. Ana speaks to two noteworthy examples of progress made during these challenging times: new support for Black Diasporic immigrants and a deep commitment by our public library system to making census participation possible for those without digital access. Mr. Yang points to the diverse field of national and local nonprofits and other sectors in supporting a robust census count as another meaningful consequence of a uniquely challenging time.

Season 2: Money, Power, and Democracy

Our U.S. Census Bureau: Mission DemocracyHow does the U.S. Census Bureau tackle its mission, the count of all persons in our nation? John Thompson, former director of the U.S. Census Bureau says it starts with a shared framework built on ethics. Part of those ethics is ensuring that our data is held in the greatest confidence by Bureau staff. The Census Bureau is a hub for a large number of statistical data used for everything from reporting unemployment numbers to the census data that is key to supporting our democracy. 

From Counting to Subtraction: Politicizing ApportionmentWhen does the definition of a “person” become contentious? The mandate to “count all persons” includes undocumented immigrants. But some are trying to exclude them as people in the current census. It starts with a constitutionally mandated decennial census count that says the census must count “all persons” living in the U.S. and that count leads to how 435 seats in the US House of Representatives apportioned among our 50 states. But in 2020 this is the first time that a president has intervened in this process by attempting to subtract, rather than count, all persons. Thomas Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF (The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) walks us through President Trump’s unprecedented executive memo and issues a collective call to action. 

On the Ground: Standing up for the Right to be Counted: Who is being undercounted in the 2020 Census in your community? It turns out that the Trump Administration’s relentless efforts to exclude undocumented immigrants from the count includes refugees, often our bravest, and most vulnerable neighbors. Their journey to reach our shores is fraught with danger and once here, they confront an unknown language and culture. Community-based organizations become their literal lifelines, connecting them to resources, from schools to housing to job opportunities. Andrew Trumball tells the story of The Burmese Rohingya Community of Wisconsin and how it champions a growing refugee population, including their inclusion in our Decennial Census. Inclusion is how we are all seen and heard.

What’s Voting Got To Do With It?The 2020 Census deadline has passed and the national election is over, but the journey for justice is far from done. Our most celebrated civil rights organizations, which have long championed the voting protections and rights of Black, Asian, and Latino Americans, are fully engaged in the fray. They are countering, in both state and federal courts, the outgoing administration’s relentless campaign to minimize access, by non-white people, to complete census data and representation in the apportionment and redistricting process. The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund’s Leah Aden walks us through the impact of exclusion at all levels of civic life. This is a call to action for our collective future and the future of democracy.

Breaking Down Data Disaggregation: When it comes to the Decennial Census, there is no such thing as too much data. It is only when Asian American Pacific Islander data sets are disaggregated that entire communities become visible and significant inequities within those subgroups are revealed. It takes this level of detail to guide government, schools and health providers in serving each community effectively. And disaggregation disrupts the model minority myth and the perception of AAPIs as a monolith. Anna Byon, Education Policy Manager for the Southeast Asian Resource Action Center, explains how breaking down data sets makes the unseen seen and creates the environment needed for a just distribution of resources and political power.

Inoculating Against DisinformationFrom the national elections to the decennial census, 2020 has provided a masterclass in how antagonistic messengers use social media platforms to spread misinformation and disinformation. These messages, communicated from fringe blogs, the dark web, and the social media ecosystem are not only difficult to track and quantify, but they pose a significant threat to democracy. Cristina López Guevara guides us through a conversation about this dilemma. And she explains how Data and Society, a nonprofit research organization, monitors, contextualizes and analyzes these trends. We all have accountability, as media consumers, to anticipate, intervene, and prevent the amplification of misinformation.

Census Evolution: From White Supremacy to Racial JusticeWhen the founding framers mandated a Census in the U.S. Constitution, their vision was to generate a database of information about American households and the communities where they lived. That population data, first collected by marshals, now by enumerators, remains the foundation of federal decision making, determining how federal resources are disbursed and political power is apportioned. Dan Bouk, a historian of data and bureaucracies, walks us through the enactment of Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution, the system of white supremacy that was embedded in it, and the transformative role of the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s in the evolution of a more just Decennial US Census. 

Race, Ethnicity, Politics, and the Census: A Global PerspectiveThe U.S. Census produces our nation’s most complete database of information about American households and communities. Racial and ethnic classifications on the census are vital to developing a full picture of America and to ensure that federal resources and representation are equitably apportioned. But what do we know about the census in other countries? What kind of data is collected and how is it used? In this episode, we speak with two census scholars for answers. Dr. Melissa Nobles and Dr. Debra Thompson, professors of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and McGill University respectively, explain how censuses operate in Brazil, Canada, and the UK. We all rely on an accurate count for a functioning government. But our varied histories with racial inclusion, exclusion, and democracy are important stories well worth telling.

Natural Disasters, Climate Change and the 2020 Census: It takes years of planning and many experts to design our nation’s Decennial Census. Leaders from multiple sectors, convened by the US Census Bureau, provide guidance on how to craft a survey that will deliver a complete count of our entire population. This process requires Task Forces on technology, messaging, undercounted communities and even preparedness for natural disasters. In 2020, those disasters, from hurricanes to wildfires and an unprecedented, deadly and mismanaged pandemic, devastated the very communities the census seeks to count. Dr. Allison Plyer, Chief Demographer at the Data Center, discusses natural disasters, climate change, roadblocks to economic recovery and insights for a better plan in 2030.

The Lasting Legacy of Census 2020: Arturo Vargas was not surprised when then President Trump sought to manipulate the 2020 Census for partisan advantage. As CEO of the NALEO (National Association of Latino and Elected Officials) Educational Fund, he saw it as another scheme to disenfranchise undocumented immigrants and other people of color from receiving the federal resources and political representation that the Constitution mandates and the U.S. Census generates. That is why he partnered with allied civil rights organizations, as he has through 3 previous Decennial Censuses, to ensure a full and accurate count. Arturo is heartened that census advocacy actually expanded in the face of a deadly pandemic. He expects the civil rights network that came together for the census to stay engaged through apportionment and redistricting. And he is encouraged by a new generation of young people who understand the importance of engaging in civic life — the key to tackling systemic racism and creating the lasting legacy of transformational change.

Drawing the Power Lines: Census 2020 is about to have its moment. Our nation’s most complex peacetime mobilization has survived both a global pandemic and a former president bent on undermining its mission. In a matter of weeks, the U.S. Census Bureau will release state by state population data to determine how 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives are apportioned among 50 states. And then comes redistricting, the process of redrawing district lines within states to recalibrate where power lies for the next 10 years. Justin Levitt, Constitutional Law Scholar and Professor at Loyola Law School, sheds light on how consequential redistricting is, how to have a voice in it, and what can be done to ensure a robust, accurate, and inclusive count in 2030. Plus, he provides a glimpse into the origins of gerrymandering, a bit of constitutional history that resonates in 2021.

The Changing American Portrait: We launched this podcast to tell the story of the 2020 Census. It starts with the U.S. Census Bureau and its unassailable role in collecting population data and ends, until next decade, with the just deployment of federal funding and political representation. Census data paints a portrait of a changing America and directs us in how to meet their specific needs and circumstances. In our final episode, Advancing Justice-AAJC President John C. Yang reflects on the Census 2020 experience, from anti-immigrant power grabs by then President Trump to the pandemic that devastated communities already at risk of being undercounted. John shares his vision for Census 2030, from greater data disaggregation to the depoliticization of the process. John gives credit where credit is due. He applauds the Census Bureau’s devoted civil servants, teachers, librarians, on-the-ground nonprofits and his many partners in a growing civil rights movement. As we wrap season 2 of “Count on Your Census,” John C. Yang encourages us all to remain engaged from participating in local elections to redistricting. This is how democracy rises.