By Derrick Johnson, president and CEO, NAACP
We find ourselves at the beginning of a new Black History Month (BHM) in a distinctive decade during one of the most polarizing times of our lives. Our collective journey to this moment has undoubtedly been challenging. Still, we’ve been victorious on many fronts to advance our culture, agendas, and narrative on a national platform.
As we come off the heels of celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who died for acting on his convictions of an equal America, we enter into a critical season of ensuring our vote and voice count. As a people, not long separated from the bondage of slavery, we were once only counted as 3/5 of a person. Without question, the lingering effects of being valued as less than a whole person still exist today through racist ideologies, discriminatory politics, and inequitable policies.
Combating these ills begins with ensuring we fully engage without pause in the 2020 Census, which starts on April 1, 2020. The Census is a cornerstone of American democracy, which is built on the backs of our ancestors. The data collected is used to determine representation in the United States Congress and planning for the future of all communities across the country. $882 billion will be allocated annually in federal funds to state, local, and tribal governments. Programs and services at risk include schools, hospitals, community centers, roads, transportation, and public safety departments. Marginalized communities will suffer if residents go uncounted. All communities must participate, but specifically, communities of color, as our neighborhoods are often the most overlooked. Our interest, as a people and culture, is tied directly to being counted in the 2020 Census. It would be a disservice to our neighborhood and our children if we opted to not engage in the 2020 Census.
At a time when our rights, explicitly voting rights, are under attack, and public officials are more concerned about remaining in power than uplifting societies most vulnerable, we must take every step to protect our households and communities. In 2020, preserving our democracy starts with being counted and voting in the presidential primary. At the least, these two activities send a message that we are paying attention and are actively involved in the trajectory of this nation. Further, it allows us to wield political and social power in a system that historically has shut us out. 2020 is the first year that the Census will be online.
The obstacles put in place by those that wish to see us disenfranchised – from the Census to the ballot box – only prolong the inevitable changing tide and sentiment of this country. We, the people, have the power and ability to create the change we want to see. It starts with becoming civically engaged and demanding those in power act in our interest by creating policies that bring about fair and equal access to the ballot box and beyond.
In December of last year, the NAACP, along with other plaintiffs, won a critical appeals court ruling, which reinstated our federal suit challenging the federal government’s inadequate plans for conducting the 2020 Census after the district court erroneously dismissed it. This ruling will help aid efforts to ensure that the 2020 Census properly counts all people, including historically undercounted communities of color, who are at risk of being missed under the Census Bureau’s current plans.
This month is not only about commemorating our history but cementing and shaping our present-day legacy for future generations. The dream didn’t die with Martin, nor did the fight. It is every one of our responsibilities to bring about the change we wish to see. Each day, fueled by our supporters, we at the NAACP are working to make the modern-day civil rights movement possible, carrying on the vision of those that came before and creating space for generations that are to come. Together, people of color can move to the forefront and ensure we are counted and heard. If you wish to volunteer with us and help get the word out about the Census, sign up here. The 2020 Census is the first year that the form will be able to be completed online. Visit 2020census.gov to find out more.