S03 E02: Census Counts

Pod Squad

Beth Lynk Census Counts Campaign Director | The Leadership Conference @Bethnotflo
Tamika Turner Census Counts National Communications Director | The Leadership Conference

Interview Guest

Cristela Alonzo Comedian, Actress, Advocate @cristela9

Our Host

Ashley Allison Executive Vice President of Campaigns and Programs | The Leadership Conference @ashleyrallison

Contact the Team

For all inquiries related to Pod For The Cause, please contact Brittany Johnson at [email protected] and Kenny Yi at [email protected].

Episode Transcript

Ashley Allison:           Welcome to Pod for The Cause. The official podcast of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and The Leadership Conference Education Fund, where we expand the conversation on critical civil and human rights issues of our day. I am your host, Ashley Allison, coming to you from Washington D.C. And like we start off every show, we got the Pod Squad, where we talk social justice, pop culture, and everything in between. Today our show is about Census, and I have two very special guests with me; Beth Lynk, the Census Counts National Campaign Director, and Tamika Turner, Census Counts National Communications Director. Welcome to the show, ladies.


Beth Lynk:                  Thank you so much.


Tamika Turner:           Thank you, this is exciting!


Ashley Allison:           Well, you know, I feel like I have had to start so many Pod Squads off this way, on a somewhat somber note. Just a couple days ago, there was a video of a tragic shooting that happened of a black man by a police officer in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Jacob Blake, luckily, is still with us, alive, in stable condition. And so, if you are a person of faith, or however you send good vibes to folks, you know my prayers are with you, Jacob, and your family, for a full and speedy recovery. But I am so sick of talking about this on the show because it keeps happening. And so, Beth, how are you feeling as a black person living in this country with, yet another video of a black body assaulted?


Beth Lynk:                  It weighs on you. I mean it is the constant trauma and re-trauma. And like you said, Jacob is alive. I am praying with his family. I really am thinking about and appreciate those sharing images of his life, that he is still alive. Just this past year we have been seeing images of violence on black bodies over and over again. But even 65 years ago, Emmett Till’s mother had an open casket to ensure that folks felt her grief, saw the pain, and were able to see what racism had done to her son.


And now, 65 years later, we are seeing that, again and again for communities, to see, and feel, and actually kind of experience this real pain that these black people feel every time a black body is assaulted, they need to see the proof. And I think that is also painful in this moment. So, what I have been doing to try to care for myself and for my community is trying to share and experience my own black joy.


But also, I love folks who are sharing family moments, moments of laughter. It is true that black joy is resistance, particularly in this moment and we have got to certainly fight for justice as we all are doing, but also care for ourselves in moment that is incredibly painful.


Ashley Allison:           Yeah. Tamika, I am interested in how you are feeling in this moment? How are you processing it all? Are you able to find that joy in such a sad time?


Tamika Turner:           Right now, the space that I am in is trying to figure out how I can channel my fear and my anger towards action. With more eyes on police violence in the middle of a pandemic, it is really hard to find that joy. And it may take more work for some people, but I do think that there are so many local actions happening to plug into, and that’s kind of where I’ve been focusing my energy, like how can I support in my community, efforts to combat police violence, and how can we work together to find real accountability measures?


Because we are at a moment where police departments know that all eyes are on them, and yet we are still seeing the murder of black people. And not just that, but also then violence against people who go into the streets to protest that violence. For me, it is really about where can I take all of these feelings that are bubbling up inside me and make it into something really productive that really helps our community?


Ashley Allison:           I totally hear you. It is where to channel the anger to, quite honestly, the frustration and rage. You know, Beth, you mentioned his children. You know they were there; they were present, they saw what happened. We can only hope that their fragile young minds can extract that memory of seeing such violence. But it also reminds me of Philando Castile, his daughter was in the back seat when he was murdered, and the little girl holding her mom and saying, “It’s okay mommy, I’ll take care of you,” and feeling so outraged. The trauma that these children are also experiencing and when I think about the lack of being able to go back to school because of COVID.


When COVID first started, there was this belief that young children were able to not get it. The younger you were, the safer you were. Now there are 97,000 children who have tested positive for COVID. And you all work on the Census, you know children are often not counted. There are like 170,000 plus people who have died from this disease, 97,000 children have tested positive for this virus. When you hear those things, how do you make it make sense? Tamika, I will start with you.


Tamika Turner:           If you are making a consideration about opening schools, what does that really mean? How much funding has the school had? When you are saying, “Oh, let’s open a window,” can you open a window? And that all goes back to, have we been as a community collectively taking care of these schools? They are old, they need to be updated. As a nation, we are so individualistic, that there is an empathy gap when you are focusing on individualism versus collectivism. Feeling other peoples’ pain is something that people have to actively work on.


And I think there is just an education gap. You know, a lot of people are not up on the latest research. Me, every night, I am reading coronavirus things. I am so worried and so honestly obsessed with it. It is not just that children are getting it, even folks that are not getting sick, maybe they had it but they did not actually have any symptoms, you are now seeing heart issues, lung issues, and we really have to think, what does not investing in our communities and their safety mean for the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years, which is so similar to the Census work.


Ashley Allison:           How is the Census connected to COVID? How is it connected to going back to school? And quite honestly, really hard to complete?


Beth Lynk:                  One thing you said before about the trauma that is being inflicted on our kids and our future in this moment is that you see kids with masks on, you see videos of kids seeing trauma where their parents are being assaulted, you are seeing kids who are growing up in a moment and seeing our Democratic institutions under attack, including the 2020 Census that will bring the resources, the federal funding, the ability to rebuild our communities, the ability to bring political power to communities the way that communities deserve, being undermined at every turn. The 2020 Census, like you said, was originally, before the pandemic, going to be completed by the end of July.


We are seeing nationally about seven in ten households have participated in the Census, but we are seeing huge disparities across the country. In the black community, response rates on average are 10 points behind the national average. In Hispanic communities, response rates on average are seven points behind the national average. And in tribal communities, on reservations amongst American Indians, response rates are more than half the national average – some areas, the self-response rate is 24 to 26%.


So, it is important to note that the same communities that are most under attack from the virus and have been impacted by the pandemic are also having a low response to the Census, and are at risk for missing out on the resources that would bring funding, and the resources to update schools, like Tamika noted need to happen, that would bring more funding for health care that we need to build from this pandemic, that would bring needed infrastructure changes that could upgrade the quality of water and the ability of folks to work from their homes.


A lot of those resources and that power that will be needed to make the change that we need to build from this crisis, will come from Census data, and we are seeing a very real threat where the communities that need those resources and that political power the most, are going to be left behind. And this Census right now, it is important to know that you can respond up until September 30th at this point, online at 2020census.gov, or by phone, or by returning a paper questionnaire that folks will receive in the mail. And should do it right now if you have not already, and tell everyone you know to, because the risks of not are really going to impact communities for a decade and beyond.


Ashley Allison:           You know the postal service been in the news a lot. Is the postal service and its shifting of being as effective as it has been in the past, Tamika, is that hurting people being able to complete their Census?


Tamika Turner:           It is absolutely harming communities in a couple different ways. The Census is available online, but not everyone has connectivity, not everyone is comfortable with computers. A lot of people do choose to return their paper questionnaire by mail, and they need to know that USPS has the funding, resources, and the flexibility, and freedom to get their responses there on time. If they are not counted, the very same resources they are relying on for coronavirus, housing, food assistance, unemployment insurance, all of that is from the Census – they are not going to get that for the next decade. But there is also this other piece, right?


You talk about the places that they were seeing low self-response, or the places where we are seeing really high impacts of coronavirus, because peoples’ focus is not on doing the Census, right? People are trying to take care of themselves, their families, their communities, they are trying to survive, and USPS helps people do that. So many seniors, so many people with disabilities get their medication through USPS. If the postal service is not able to do that, and there are all of these attacks stopping them from being able to give the great service that they have given for years and years and years and years, you are going to have people that just are not able to complete the Census because their focus has to be on staying alive.


Ashley Allison:           I know things can feel very overwhelming, but they are all connected. And so, if there is one thing you can do to help get that domino to tip over to help your community and then let the other dominoes fall into place, it is the Census. So, you have been hearing me talk about it for a long time. Beth, what is the website for the Census for people to fill it out?


Beth Lynk:                  2020census.gov


Ashley Allison:           And when is the last day they can fill it out?


Beth Lynk:                  Do it now, but the final date is September 30th.


Ashley Allison:           Thanks again, Beth and Tamika for joining the Pod Squad. Coming up, I am turning the show over to Beth, where she is going to talk to comedian, actress, and advocate, Cristela Alonzo, all about the Census. So, don’t go anywhere.


Beth Lynk:                  Welcome back to Pod for The Cause. No, your ears are not deceiving you, I am not Ashley Allison. I am Beth Lynk, the Census Counts Campaign Director at The Leadership Conference, and you guessed it, we are talking all things Census. We have a special guest with us today. She is a stand-up comedian that made TV history in 2014 by becoming the first Latina to create, write, and star in a network TV sitcom. She was also the first Latina to star in a Disney Pixar movie when she starred as Cruz Ramirez in ‘Cars 3’. Comedian, actress, and advocate, Cristela Alonzo, welcome to the show.


Cristela Alonzo:          Thank you so much for having me. This is right up my alley, and I am so excited that we can talk about important things. Because let’s face it, there are a lot of important things going on. So, it is nice that we actually put time aside for specifics. So, I am ready to talk, let us do this.


Beth Lynk:                  So, we are talking about all things Census. So, first and foremost did you fill out your Census questionnaire and how was it?


Cristela Alonzo:          I filled it out right away when I got it because I wanted to make sure that it was taken care of. I decided to do it online this time, and it was really easy. It was just a basic set of questions that at the time that I finished the quiz, I thought I had more to do. But it was so quick, I think I did it in three minutes, if that, so. That is how simple it was that I do not understand why we have to tell people to do it. You can do it waiting for a cup of coffee, you know what I mean>? It is so insane.


Beth Lynk:                  Well, I love that you called it a quiz. I mean it is nine questions. 2020census.gov is where people can take it. I mean they say less than 10 minutes, but it is even less than that, it is super easy, and in some ways, it is kind of faster than a BuzzFeed quiz or something, right?


Cristela Alonzo:          It is like, look you can either find out what kind of Disney princess you are, or you can be counted so that your community gets money. I mean, the answer is right there.


Beth Lynk:                  We know it is very easy to participate in the Census. You can do online, by phone, or by returning the paper questionnaire that folks receive. But we also know many communities of color, many folks across the country still have not yet participated in the Census. So, why do you think, Cristela, that some folks may be fearful or concerned about participating in the Census and might not be participating. What would you say to those folks?


Cristela Alonzo:          I think it really comes down to the basic word, which is fear. The Census is something that we are not taught about at school. There is never a lesson in school about the Census. So, school is where we go and learn – if we do not get the information at school, when are we going to learn it? And I always tell people, especially, I have noticed this during elections, and get out the vote efforts and stuff. It is like, when adults do not know something that they learned as children, it is very hard to teach them to do it as adults. Because we are already set in our ways, you know?


So, I think that also especially with my community, with the Latino community, we won the face of immigration, right? Like anytime people think about immigration, they think about Latinos. But there are so many other immigrants that live in this country from other countries. We, as a country, have done a very good job of scaring people into thinking whatever move they do might lead into something negative. And that is just from plain old experience regardless of what it is. I mean that is one of the reasons we are in this middle of a movement that is actually taking action, where we talk about Black Lives Matter, and the whole thing is about showing communities are just like everyone else.


And the Census, that is basically what the Census is. It is actually a reset to show everybody that we are all exactly equal and the same. That is why the questions in the Census are just so basic about humanity, what you are as a person. It does not talk about legal status; it does not talk about what health conditions you have or anything. They just want to know, “Are you a person? Do you have other people in your house? Okay, bye!” That is it.


Beth Lynk:                  I know you are a first-generation American. Your parents are undocumented. And how does that personal experience and even kind of living in a mixed status household and family, why is Census participation important to all communities, but particularly to communities like yours? And what do you say to mixed-status families that may be concerned about participating in the Census?


Cristela Alonzo:          I always say that in a way, I was a parent to my parents. You know, like, my mom. I was raised by a single mom; I was a mom to my mom in regard to American Culture. She did not know any of it. So, while she is teaching me basics about how to survive and live, I have to teach her how to live in the United States. So, basically, I think a couple things. First of all, in mixed status families, me, I was responsible for doing all the paperwork. I had to translate everything for my mother. I grew up very quick as a kid trying to help my mom get by. Because of that though, I think people in my position, children of immigrants, first gen, whatever it may be, we actually have to take that knowledge that we take about learning from the Census and applying it to our parents, teaching our parents how to do it. And just making it a regular part of life.


I will say because we do not understand what the Census is, we do not understand what it does, we do not understand about the money that goes back into the communities, then we see the results of it later on. Growing up, I went to public school in a border town in south Texas, I grew up in South Texas. And we had 30 plus students in our classrooms growing up because that is what the schools got money for.


We got money for a certain amount of kids, but the ones that were not counted, we did not account for them. So, what ends up happening? We get crowded in a school room, so not everybody gets the opportunity to learn like everybody else. It is like when you fill out the Census, if you think that there are 12 students to a classroom, then you can set up the pattern to teach 12 kids to a classroom. But if you do not fill out the Census, then you end up with 30, 32 kids but we are only set up for 12 to learn.


Beth Lynk:                  1.5 trillion dollars every single year is distributed based off of Census data, and what you are talking about, schools, absolutely, education funding, infrastructure, healthcare. When we think about the tools that communities need, particularly communities that have been hit hard by COVID-19 that will need to rebuild from this health crisis and this pandemic, it is the funding that is distributed by Census data that will help on the road to recovery.


Cristela Alonzo:          So, in my hometown, the Rio Grande Valley, that area, right now with COVID, because we are not counted accurately, because people have not filled out the Census, we realize that we did not have close to any kind of accurate number to help people that go to hospitals seeking help, medical assistance during COVID. So, what happens? Now, I want to say that it has been about six, eight weeks, they ended up having to fly patients to hospitals as far as New Mexico and Oklahoma, because they do not have the support to help all the residents there.


And I was actually watching Rachel Maddow last week or so, and she mentioned none of the people that have been flown out, have made it back home. We have to understand the truckle effect in a good way of what happens with the Census. Because when the Government, or a lot of organizations pass out the information about campaigns, they also make it seem like it is boring, and it is very just too factual and not enough basic conversational information that people understand.


Beth Lynk:                  One of the reasons that we know that response rates have been low is the Trump Administration is doubling down on their efforts to inject confusion and chaos into the Census count, by cutting the Census operation short by a month, but also by introducing an unconstitutional memorandum that directs the Census bureau to take people who are undocumented out of the totals that are sent to the White House for the purposes of reapportionment, doesn’t change how people are counted but I think it causes a lot of confusion in communities about, “Can I participate in the Census? Should I participate? Do I count?”


And I think we, the Census Counts Campaign and at The Leadership Conference say loudly and clearly, “Yes you count, you count.” I know you have been having a lot of conversations with folks in California, particularly work with undocumented communities and telling folks, “you count. The constitution is very clear, you count. Participate in the Census.” What does that advocacy look like and how do those conversations go?


Cristela Alonzo:          It is really hard because, again, in school we are taught that the President of the United States is the most important person to guide us. That is why they get named President. We forget that they work for us to represent us as a whole, but in this time it is easy to cause doubt by having the President, the highest office in this country say, “Hey, undocumented citizens, this is how it works.” And what happens is that when he says something like that, then a lot of media picks it up because it is this hellacious story. It is like, “Can you believe this is happening?”


But what happens, is that we do not have enough people countering that argument on TV. So, we are just left with the idea that the president wants to do this against the undocumented community. So, I will tell you, when I talk to people, it is hard, and I have been doing it for years. So, for me, what I want to tell people, and what I like to tell especially the undocumented community is, “You as a person matter so much,” and I explain it this way because I talk to a lot of farm workers, right? So, the idea is, “As a farm worker, you gather fruit, vegetables, whatever crops you work in, and I know that it seems like you don’t matter,” because this is one of those jobs that people, they kind of generalize as like, “Oh, these people.” Anytime that people use ‘these people’ or anything like that, it is never good.


I always try to explain to them, “Without you, the country cannot eat. So, that is an example of how important you are. If you do not show up for work, those crops do not get picked.” And this is specifically for the farm worker community. So, then what I try to tell them is, “That’s how important you are. You not going to work can cause people to not eat. Especially right now, that is why we see you as essential workers during this time. Because you really are essential. And you have got to understand that you are so necessary in everything we do.”


And I think that is another thing that we constantly have to remind people because I think we do a good job in this country of showing people that, “You matter more the more money you have.” Anyone poor, disadvantaged, economically disadvantaged, it makes them feel like, “Well, what do I get out of it?” The thing is is that the Census, everyone counts, everyone exists because of the Census. The Census is actually about trying to make life easier for everyone.


Beth Lynk:                  When folks ask, “Why does everyone count?” It is like, well, let us just think purely pragmatically. If you are on the interstate or on the highway and your community did not get highway funds to extend the highway lane one more lane so that you weren’t stuck in traffic, do you really care if the families next to you are undocumented or not? You want the resources to come to your community, you want the resources that your community deserves. And then frankly, we know that undocumented people and families work, live, contribute to our communities as a part of our communities count, and that is really why we are going all in to get the count.


So, Cristela and I are both wearing our ‘Count All Queens’ shirts, we want to make sure we are counting all queens, all people. But what are some ways we can make the Census real, human, what are some actions that people can take as they are listening and getting fired up about really the crisis point we are in in terms of Census participation? What are some ways that people can take action, what have you been doing?


Cristela Alonzo:          You know, for me, I always say that it is always fun to sneak in learning in what you do. So, I like to make people laugh and then afterwards have them think, “Oh, I learned something about that.” I also think that you lead by example. Do it on an Instagram Live, fill out your Census while you are doing your Instagram Live to show people how easy it is. We talk about how it can take 10 minutes, maybe less. I mean seriously, you go online, you fill it out while you are talking to people, you can just show them how easy it is and then you are done. Because if people are unfamiliar with it, they can think it is really extensive, so they might be surprised. So, lead by example.


Also, you have got to be a real person with people, you know. And understand that when you talk about it, you talk about it because it is really important to you. Not because someone is telling you this is the agenda we are working on right now. You have got to talk to the community and tell the community, “Hey, this is what I am coming to tell you. We need to do the Census. Have you guys heard of the Census? Yo, let me tell you, like, I did the Census, and this is what happens.” You know, it is this thing where you almost have to share the wealth and share the information in a way that you see it as a cool thing to do. I think that if we approach it in a lighthearted manner, we understand that it is not so serious. What is serious is what we get out of it, which is money.


Beth Lynk:                  Absolutely. And as we mentioned the Census has been cut short by a month so at this point it is ending on September 30th, which is crazy. But we also want to make sure everybody knows that they should participate as soon as possible. So, if you are posting something reminding folks to register to vote, or encouraging them to vote, also make sure you are talking to them about the Census. And we want to get the word out that everyone should participate and particularly everyone has an opportunity to exercise their right to get counted in the Census. Okay, last question, Cristela. In many ways these are dark and challenging times, so what is giving you hope right now?


Cristela Alonzo:          We found out Kamala Harris is running for VP. I have always said, growing up as poor as I did, the only thing you could ever count on having is hope. You know, that is the one thing. Hope just gets you by, and you realize that sometimes things aren’t good, but you realize that you have those bad moments so that when they are good, you appreciate them on a different level. So, when I see, right now, in this year, that has been difficult for so many, the fact that I see history being made in front of me, gives me so much hope because it makes me realize that in a time of difficulty, equality can always thrive in any situation. So, as hard as it may be, as hard as it may feel, things are still happening. And when I see things happening that evolve and change our lives for the better, that for me is the hope that we all need to remember and hold on to.


Beth Lynk:                  Wow, we are definitely going to leave it there. Cristela, thank you so much for joining us on Pod for The Cause. Back to you Ashley.


Ashley Allison:           Thanks Beth and Cristela for that great interview. Also, can I get one of those shirts, because I am really feeling left out. Up next, Beth will hit you with her Hot Take, where she gets a few things off of her chest in three minutes or less.


Beth Lynk:                  Welcome back to Pod for The Cause, where we have been talking all things Census. Between the Pod Squad and my conversation with Cristela Alonzo, I have a few things to say.


Across the country, people are wondering where congress is on a COVID relief package. Families and communities are hurting. They are out of work; they are struggling to educate students and children at home or considering sending them to schools that are ill-prepared. Families are struggling with slow internet, or no connectivity at all, and worried about putting affordable food on the table. One thing you may not realize is that the 2020 Census will help us on our road to recovery and it is essential for our communities to survive and rebuild from this crisis.


The 2020 Census will provide some of the relief that our communities are yearning for. That is why the Census Bureau and the administration called for more time for communities to respond and gave communities the opportunity to raise their voice and say, “I count,” through October 31st. And fortunately, people in power in this administration now want to shorten that time period by four weeks – by one month less. We need to stop this. Congress can save the Census in the upcoming COVID relief package and give communities the resources they need and give the Census bureau the time it needs to count everyone.


Tell Congress to save the Census. America needs lasting COVID-19 relief and any bill to stop efforts to cut the 2020 Census short. This is not a partisan issue; Congress must act before it so too late. A failed Census will fail this whole country – every state in the nation will live under the harm of an undercount for the next ten years. Tell Congress to save the Census.


Ashley Allison:           Thanks for listening to Pod for The Cause, the official podcast of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and The Leadership Conference Education Fund. For more information, visit civilrights.org. And connect with me on Twitter or Instagram @PodForTheCause. Please subscribe to our Podcast on your favorite Podcast app, and do not forget to leave a five-star review. Until then, I am Ashley Allison for Pod for The Cause, and remember, a cause is nothing without the people.