By Wayne County Executive Warren C. Evans
During the Civil Rights movement nearly 60 years ago, the protesters understood that what they were marching and dying for was worth it. But they also understood that the risks they took were no guarantee that their sacrifices would bring about the massive societal restructuring they sought. It could have gone another way – and some might argue that it still can.
The civil rights struggle was never truly won, nor was it ever lost. It simply continues. And for Black and Brown communities, filling out the 2020 Census is as vital a part of that continued struggle as is the need to vote in November. But the largest roadblocks blocking the way to a full count is fear and distrust at a level that we have not seen in quite some time.
Faith and commitment to a worthy struggle are what made the difference in pushing past that fear barrier during the civil rights era. You don’t sacrifice and take risks in pursuit of higher ground only if you’re absolutely certain you will get there. You do it because it is the right thing to do, accepting the fact that you might get there and you might not; but you know that if you do nothing, then the loss is a certainty.
We need that level of faith and commitment now, but I also want to say that I understand why some people are afraid to fill out the Census. That might sound strange coming from the Wayne County Executive, especially when you consider how much our government needs the millions of dollars that a full 2020 Census count will provide, and how much that money will improve the quality of life for so many in our communities, especially those hardest hit.
But these are not normal times. Ten years ago, the percentage of Detroiters who filled out the Census in was 64 percent. In 2000 the rate was 70 percent. This year, Detroit just barely crept over the 50 percent mark in late August. The rates for Highland Park, Inkster, Ecorse, and Hamtramck aren’t much better.
It’s certainly true that the fear of COVID-19 is a factor in suppressing those numbers, especially for Census outreach workers as they attempt to make personal contact with the residents who are hardest to reach. But it is possibly the fear of our own government that is preventing many residents from trusting anything they are being told about how safe the Census is supposed to be.
Anyone who watches the news for just a few minutes a day can’t help but wonder how safe we can be when children are separated from their parents and placed in cages. Or when unidentified, unmarked storm troopers are unleashed against peaceful protesters, all with the full endorsement and encouragement of our current president.
How do we trust our government when our government is doing things like this?
We are literally weeks away from the September 30 deadline to get all our citizens counted for the 2020 Census. And yet, no matter how many ads they see imploring them to get counted, so many simply will not do it. I would argue that in the case of most of them it is not that they don’t care about their community; they are simply nervous and afraid about placing their trust in government at a time like this. And I get it.
But for the sake of all of us, I hope those of you who are holding out will also consider this; the government is not some foreign entity. The government is all of us. We still have the power to make changes, but not if we don’t make ourselves heard. All of us who are paying attention to what is going on are worried and concerned. But if we aren’t willing to push past our fears to make things right then we just might wind up with a situation that will truly be something to fear.
Be counted. Be heard. Complete the Census.