Who Belongs? EP 16 - Mobilizing Hard-to-Count Populations for Census 2020

Interview

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Download an MP3 of this interview.

In this episode of Who Belongs? we speak with Michael Gomez Daly, the director of the Inland Empowerment coalition, and Sky Allen, who is the coalition's census coordinator, about their efforts to mobilize people in southern California's Inland Empire ahead of the 2020 Census. This episode is another installment of the Civic Engagement Narrative Change project series, with the interview conducted by project researcher Josh Clark.

Transcript:

Sky Allen: The biggest motivator for us in this work is to build community power. We really want to build a pathway with our community members and our neighbors, and family and friends that says, "There's space for you in the democratic process."

Marc Abizeid: Hello and welcome to this episode of Who Belongs?, a podcast by what used to be called the Haas Institute, which a couple of weeks ago, changed its name to the Othering & Belonging Institute, still here at UC Berkeley. This episode is going to be another one of those collaborations with the Civic Engagement Narrative Change project with the interviews conducted by my colleague from that project, Josh Clark. He'll be interviewing two guests. They are Michael [Gomez] Daly, the director of the Inland Empowerment coalition, and his colleague, Sky Allen, who is the census coordinator at the same organization. You'll hear about what they do in just a moment. Please enjoy their conversation.

Josh Clark: This is the third in a series of podcast episodes we've done on the 2020 census as part of the collaboration between Who Belongs? and the Civic Engagement Narrative Change Project at the Othering & Belonging Institute. In an earlier episode, we got a broad overview of what's at stake in a census in terms of the allocation of federal resources and power. In another, we spoke with Luisa Blue about the importance of the census as a tool for making Asian and Pacific Islander communities visible in state and national civic and political landscapes. Today, we'll be speaking with the director and the census coordinator of Inland Empowerment, which is a partnership of nonprofit organizations in Southern California that's working to get information out and to mobilize hard to count populations across the Inland Empire region to fill out 2020 census forms.

Josh Clark: The Inland Empire, for those who don't know, is basically the counties of San Bernardino and Riverside in Southern California. These are the inland neighbors of the coastal counties of Los Angeles and Orange County. Together, they span a huge area. Something that I didn't actually know until recently is that San Bernardino is the largest county in the entire country by land mass, and by quite a lot. Riverside County is pretty large as well. So the whole two county Inland Empire region is bigger than 10 different States in the United States. Our guests from Inland Empowerment sit on the steering committee of the Census IE Coalition, a coalition of nonprofits working for a complete count in the Inland Empire or the IE. Inland Empowerment provides technical expertise spanning data management, communications, and coalition coordination for Census IE Coalition. Without further ado, welcome Sky and welcome Michael to Who Belongs?

Michael Gomez Daly: Thank you.

Sky Allen: Thank you so much.

Josh Clark: First, I wondered if you could tell me a bit more about the specifics of the Census IE Coalition. What kind of groups are involved and what's their focus? And then also more about the concrete work that the two of you and the Inland Empowerment team are contributing.

Sky Allen: A little bit about the work we're doing in the Inland Empire, we kind of have two different coalitions working, but they kind of overlap and work together also to ensure a complete count for our region. Michael and myself, Sky, we do a lot of work ... As you mentioned, we're a part of the steering committee for this Census IE Coalition, who is a coalition of nonprofit organizations and community based organizations in the two counties under the broader head of our administrative community based organization, the Community Foundation, who is receiving funding from the State of California to organize and oversee the outreach within the two counties for census outreach.

Sky Allen: On the nonprofit side, we have this structure that we developed, an infrastructure that we created out of the census work. As I shared, the Community Foundation is the ones at the top who are overseeing things and ensuring that communication is happening between each other and between the state. And then you have other steering committee members, support groups, technical assistance providers like our coalition, Inland Empowerment. There's three organizations who are supporting in that capacity, offering support. One of them is Inland Empowerment, who is doing data management and then coordination and communication support. We're helping, managing all of the data when it comes to that outreach as well as supporting the nonprofits in talking amongst each other and talking with the broader community.

Sky Allen: We also have a lot of support from the University of California Riverside Center for Social Innovation, who's supporting us with research and evaluation of the work that we're doing, so we can track the growth of the region, and the nonprofits do the census work. We also have the support at the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials or NALEO, supporting us with overall training and communication support.

Sky Allen: That's the nonprofit side of things. And then kind of running parallel and sometimes overlapping, but mostly parallel, we have a coalition of folks from all sectors. That's kind of underneath what is called a complete count committee, which I don't know if you've covered on previous ones. But typically, cities and counties form complete count committees to involve all the people within that specific area to talk about what they can do to support census outreach.

Sky Allen: One thing that's kind of unique about our region, our two counties, is that the heads of the two counties decided to work together, and then involve everyone else into it. They're doing that through a number of different subcommittees, and it's actually a pretty cool structure. They broke it up mostly by function. But like I said, there's also a lot of different collaboration that's happening within those. We have education, recruitment, and training, media marketing, inter-agency coordination, field outreach, stakeholder expansion and advocacy, and data research and evaluation.

Sky Allen: All of these different subcommittees with folks from the county governments, the city governments, the nonprofits, philanthropy, media, all of these people at the same table talking about what they can do and what they can offer, and how they can support each other in getting the word out.

Josh Clark: When you mentioned being in charge of data management, I wondered if you could explain a little bit about what data that is. I assume that's data for strategizing how to reach people on the ground or how to make contact. But could you say a little bit more about what the data management piece is that you're working on?

Michael Gomez Daly: It's working with the organizations to think about how to utilize tech so it's more efficient, so it's coordinated. There's no duplicative outreach happening, and then also to track the data and ensure that we are reaching the quantity of folks we need to reach as well as where we're reaching those folks. We're using an existing tool that we've used here at Inland Empowerment called Amplify that we've been using for civic engagement. But we modified the database so that the indices were at the parcel level, which was really conducive for a census outreach because we're going to be reaching both voters and non-voters alike.

Josh Clark: As I think you know, the Othering & Belonging Institute has been supporting research in Las Vegas on people's awareness and concerns about participating in the census, especially in immigrant communities. And one of the things that stands out in that research so far is that even among people who really know almost nothing about what the census is for or what questions are on the census. They know that it involves someone knocking on their door. It's people with clipboards going door to door. That's kind of a baseline understanding of the census except that next year, it's not going to be that way. I wonder if you could explain that a little bit, how the online administration of the census form is going to work, and then how much of a challenge that's going to be for the Census IE Coalition.

Michael Gomez Daly: Unfortunately, I don't think we have a good assessment of how the online is going to work. I'm not sure who does. We heard originally that you got to have a desktop, that you couldn't fill it out online through a mobile device or a tablet or even possibly a Chromebook. But now, we're hearing, "Oh, there's actually going to be a mobile friendly app or a mobile friendly version of a browser application." I think it's still up in the air a little bit.

Josh Clark: Oh my.

Michael Gomez Daly: We're anxiously waiting to find out what it is.

Josh Clark: Okay.

Michael Gomez Daly: But we know that they are opening them up. You can still request paper if you chose to. It's not going to be totally a close-off of traditional methods, but we are still concerned. Obviously, places that don't have good broadband and placements who are going to be hugely affected by this. If they don't have a computer in the house or they don't have internet in the house, it could be really hurtful to have online only. We also know that they're going to have a phone call-in option as well. But what we're doing to address all of this is to try to set up what we're calling QACs, which would be ... Oh, Sky's going to have to help me with what the acronym stands for. But it's basically like Census Fulfillment Center.

Sky Allen: Questionnaire Assistance Center.

Michael Gomez Daly: There we go.

Josh Clark: Okay. Thanks, Sky.

Michael Gomez Daly: And so we're going to have these QACs throughout the region. We're going to try to make it so folks can essentially go to our website, sign up for a time. They come to our site. We'll give them access to a computer to fill out the census. And then we're there for any questions that they have. And so hopefully, that'll reduce some of the barriers. And then we're also going to have e a mobile version of the QAC as well. We're really working with organizations right now in the community to identify QACs that are multilingual, and staff that are covering all the languages in that community as well as having mobile QACs to probably hit some of the more rural areas, or address some of the languages that aren't geographically confined to any region or any subregion.

Josh Clark: Wow. It is really surprising to me that at this late stage in the game, the Census Bureau hasn't made available, I guess, to the public, but especially to organizations that are supporting this work and the complete count, clear parameters of what the online system is going to look like.

Sky Allen: Yeah, absolutely. I do think this is new for all of us. We've never done an online survey of this magnitude. So, the cool thing about census is that it involves everybody. It's not just folks over 18. It's not just citizens or certain sorts of people. But the challenge with that is that if you're literally trying to count every single person in the United States, and you want to encourage them to self respond, then you're trying to create data that support people in ways that ... At a concentrated time, many other things ... Or I don't even know if any other things do that sort of thing. I think the Census Bureau is struggling a little bit to get all of this in a timely manner, especially as we know because of that back and forth, the citizenship question, that kind of put them on hold for a little bit. I think there's a little bit of catch up that's happening.

Sky Allen: I believe, come January, we probably should have more information. I think as of the past couple of weeks, we've been getting more information about how it's going to work. But we also know that the Census Bureau is essentially having less funding than they should for this as well. Right?

Josh Clark: Right.

Sky Allen: They were instructed not to spend a penny more on the 2020 census than they did under the 2010 census even with this new development, even with the obvious growth of people in the United States. I think part of it is a time constraint with the all of the court rulings and the funding issue. It is a bit concerning that we don't have all the information regarding the logistics of the online survey. But as of now, I think the primary goal is just focusing on getting the word out about it because even now, a lot of people either don't know about the census. They don't trust the census. They don't know that the citizenship question isn't going to be on there. They don't know that it's online. Even before we get to how to fill it out online, there's still so many things that we have to share with folks leading up to that. I think we still have our work cut out for us even before we get there. Hopefully, by the time we do get there, we'll be able to break down some of those barriers with the community first.

Josh Clark: I wonder if there are other issues that you want to mention that you know are going to make it hard to reach certain people or convince certain members of certain groups to fill out the form.

Michael Gomez Daly: The one that's occurring even right now as we've been planning ... Because we do have some organizations who are out in the field with petitions, asking community members, "Will you pledge to fill out the census for your family? And if not, who should we be talking to?" The citizenship questions still continues to come up. And so the scare from last year that there was even going to be one on there has not gone away. A lot of the community members aren't aware that it was shut down, and that there is that the citizenship question is off the table. They're still under the impression that it's there, and that they're not going to fill out the census because they don't want to have to answer that question. And so I think getting over that, we're going to have to do a concerted public awareness campaign to ensure that folks know that the census is not going to be asking for your citizenship status, and that no question asked can be used for anything other than the census.

Michael Gomez Daly: I think it's about building that trust with community agents via the trusted partners in the community because I don't think community members are trustful of the government at this moment in time.

Josh Clark: Yeah. As you're explaining, part of this is about reaching folks and giving them information, raising awareness, has an educational ethos to it. And then another part is about convincing people. Some of that is information, that with correct information, hopefully, you'll be able to convince people. But it's also about message to some extent. And so I wondered how the IE Coalition has gone about developing a strategy for what kinds of messages might work, especially with respect to fears like Michael just mentioned, or any other kinds of concerns that people have about filling out the form.

Sky Allen: I think messaging strategies are always kind of living strategies. As we continue to do outreach and continue to talk to community members, it may change a little bit. But kind of the core of what we're doing right now is really listening to all of the national research that's already been conducted about what works and what doesn't work. There's a lot of research with different communities in different states with different age groups that share the same kind of result, that one of the best ways to communicate why this has this is important for folks is to focus on the resources, focus on the family, and make it personal. We can talk about representation and how important it is that we have equitable representation at the congressional level, at the state level. For some people, that may really hit a nerve. But for a majority of the folks, that may be mildly interesting. That's not as tangible.

Sky Allen: We can talk about being empowered by the census and, "This is an opportunity for all of us to participate and to affirm that we exist in this community, and we're here." And that kind of activist message and resistance sort of message, you could say, works for some people as well. We're keeping that in mind, but it's not the biggest one. We're really trying to focus our messaging on the resources, the funding, focus on the family, all of the tangible things that everyone can relate to and focusing on that, and then see what touches a nerve and then expand upon those things. That's kind of the message that we're focusing on, making it as personal as possible, but also doing it multiple times by multiple people. We have canvassing efforts where we want to go door to door and get their contact information, so we can follow up with them with a couple of months via a phone call or a text message.

Sky Allen: And then right before it goes live, in like March and April, reminding them once more. So, multiple touches for the people in your community [inaudible 00:19:30] want to engage the media to be having media blasts on local media and ethnic media, and having different interviews in different broadcasts of why this was important for that community. We want to have billboards and events, just regular community outreach, trying to share this as much as possible in as many ways as possible to break that barrier in people's minds by people that look like them and talk like them, and go to the same events as they do, that, "This matters. This includes us as well." That's how we're structuring our strategy overall. I don't think that's going to change at all, but the specifics of what people say may change by the community that we're talking to.

Josh Clark: It sounds like, "Get the information out there on all fronts." From what you were saying just now, Sky, but I wonder about how you're thinking about the right messenger, the right ones to be engaging the hardest to reach populations.

Sky Allen: I think our core idea is that the best folks to reach hard to count community members are other hard to count community members. The best people to talk to other folks are the people within their communities. We're not just having random people go to your doors who are not from your community, or you don't relate to, share why it's important because then you won't see yourself in it. For our community, we're definitely trying to keep a comprehensive approach to it in knowing that there's a lot of really hard to count folks and that looks different in different areas because we have a lot of rural communities in the Inland Empire, specifically in the High Desert or the Coachella Valley who have a lot of PO boxes and maybe don't have a lot of broadband subscriptions.

Sky Allen: How do we share this information when they're not going to be getting anything in the mail, and it may be difficult to fill it out online? How do we share this information? That's a really tricky strategy that we have to think about. It's going to be a lot of direct outreach via canvassing and just blasting different events and things like that in the community in really specific places like grocery stores and gas stations even, and churches and libraries, and things like that, resources as a community utilizes and sharing, "You may not have a personal computer or a strong broadband access, but you can go to the census center. And you can call and get support in these different languages." A lot of that by the people who live there, by the people who are already doing work in that community.

Sky Allen: For other groups, it'll be language barriers, people who don't speak English, people who don't speak Spanish. Really finding folks that do speak languages like Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Arabic, that live in this community can share, "This is why it matters to us. This is why we should be included in it even if we don't speak English, or even if we were not born in this country." I mentioned earlier, there's about four and a half million people that live in the two counties. A million of them are immigrants. That's a particularly difficult group to convince, as we've mentioned before, part because of the citizenship question, but also just because of that civic engagement piece of ... Typically, they may not see themselves in these processes, so sharing that, "The census does include you. We do want you to participate. This does reach you in tangible, physical ways, and will continue to do so for the next 10 years." And having that message being shared by other immigrants, by other folks that look like you and talk like you, and share the same cultural aspects as you.

Sky Allen: Our goal is just to identify folks, where they are as they are, and give them the tools to encourage their family, their friends, neighbors, and other community members to fill it out with them in ways that are personal and really reach them where they are.

Josh Clark: This sounds like such a multi-everything kind of coalition.

Sky Allen: Absolutely.

Josh Clark: You're working multiple fronts, multiple kinds of touches, and then the multiple different sectors that you're trying to draw on, and across different levels and scales as well. I don't know. Obviously, the last census was in 2010. We were all relatively young or younger at least at that time. But I wonder how much this is kind of like, "You're developing the playbook as you're executing the playbook."

Sky Allen: Oh, all of it, all of it. Yeah. This is a level of coordination that we're really not used to the experiencing. I was quite young during the 2010 census, so I can't speak to it on a work level considering I was like 13.

Josh Clark: Right.

Sky Allen: But definitely-

Michael Gomez Daly: Throw in the age.

Sky Allen: But yes, definitely new for a lot of folks. Most of the people who are doing the census work now in the two counties, and probably all over the state, weren't doing it in 2010. Part of that is because we were in a recession in 2010, so there wasn't as much funding available. And especially since we're involving a lot of nonprofits ... If there wasn't that funding available, there may not have been a lot of opportunity for nonprofits to engage in this anyways. But just at large, the census is a really niche type of work typically. And doing this level of coordination with this many people, it's definitely new for a lot of us. It's been a growing experience, building this infrastructure and, "What does that look like? What's going to work and what's not going to work?" And having to go back to the drawing board and reconfigure something... go, "Okay, maybe that wasn't the most successful. Let's rebuild and come up with new messages and strategies."

Sky Allen: It's definitely a work in progress, but I think it's been really fruitful for the region. I'm hoping that at the end of it, it'll give us a lot more tools to pull from in 2030 that moving forward, the infrastructure is there to do this sort of outreach and the community is more ready to receive this sort of message by the end of it.

Josh Clark: You mentioned earlier, the state of California providing resources and support. What has been the nature of state government's involvement in helping pull off a complete count and get out the count activities for this federal enumeration?

Michael Gomez Daly: I feel like playing chicken before egg or egg before chicken battle, and constantly. The community organizations started organizing themselves back in, I want to say, October of 2018 right before the cycle ended. And everybody was like, "Oh my God, we've got to start thinking about census."

Josh Clark: The electoral cycle.

Michael Gomez Daly: Yes, yeah. Right before the general. And so folks started thinking about it. And then of course, we were in the middle of the election, so as soon as we were done with the election, we started conversations. I think the counties started forming their IECCCs, which is the County Complete Count Committee ... Oh, goodness, I want to say spring of 2019. Sky?

Sky Allen: Yeah. The resolution was to create a two county committee was approved in like February. I think it kicked off in April.

Michael Gomez Daly: Oh, the community groups, they had developed this pre implementation plan, or they have like a strategic plan kind of lined out. And so the county was trying to catch up to it a little bit. And then the County has bureaucratic restrictions as well, so they needed to move a little bit slower. So, it's been a little bit of catching up with each other, and then also working with the county and their restrictions to ensure that we all have the same coordinated plan. But I would say it's taken us a lot to get where we're at now. But now, the county's having constant communication with the administrative CBO who's kind of overseeing the community based organization outreach. They're the fiscal vessel for all of the outreach amongst community based organizations. There's a lot of coordination happening now. But it took a long time, and it wasn't exactly the easiest, but we finally got there.

Michael Gomez Daly: It really was the state pushing and prodding everybody along the way and forcing us all in the same room that I think was really helpful. They came down a couple of times and had these local regional workshops where they invited all of the county stakeholders. The counties were there. Boards of education were there. The universities were there. The community based organizations were there. The state really facilitated those conversations early, and it was successful. Where we're at now is a really good place. I think going forward, the lesson learned from this cycle ... And when I say this cycle, I mean the census cycle, is thinking about it ... October of 2018 for 2020 was way too late. These conversations actually needed to be happening early in 2018 ... And if not, actually 2017, just to lay the groundwork, get the committee started, and then we could take it slow and steady for a year or two until we needed to ramp up. But it's been really chaotic. But I think we're in a pretty good position now.

Sky Allen: I think the biggest motivator for us in this work is to build community power. Census might be transactional if you do it a particular way. We're saying, "Folks, we want to try to build an infrastructure, not just for all of the community based organizations and all of these different sectors to get to know each other and play nice with each other, and things like that." We really want to build a pathway with our community members and our neighbors, and family and friends that says, "There's space for you in the democratic process. There's space for you in all of this work. This isn't outside of you. This includes you." We don't want this to be transactional, "Hey, fill out the census." And then, "Bye, we're gone." We want to, "Fill out the census. Engage with us. Okay, now we have this next project coming out. We have the general in November. How can we continue to engage these folks? We have the particular issues that different advocacy groups work on. How do we continue to engage them? We have different services provided by these direct service organizations. How do we continue to engage them?"

Sky Allen: I think our goal is to build the shared power and the networking of other nonprofits, but also to really uplift and empower the people in our community to see themselves in this process, and really draw down the resources that are designed for them. Even though we have a particularly high risk census next year, the census has never fully counted everyone. We know that. So, really thinking about ... The communities that need these resources and most are typically the ones that are pushed out and disqualify for receiving them because, for whatever reason, they weren't able to participate in processes like this. We want census outreach to be as comprehensive and as personal as possible to bring in and uplift the people who need the resources, that it provides the most.

Marc Abizeid: And that wraps up this episode of Who Belongs? I'd like to thank our guests, Michael Daly, the director of Inland Empowerment and Sky Allen, who is the census coordinator at the same organization. I'd also like to thank my colleague, Joshua Clark, a researcher from the Civic Engagement Narrative Change Project for hosting this episode and conducting the interviews. For more, please visit our website at belonging.berkeley.edu. Thank you for listening.

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