Why I’m Working For An Inclusive Census

Mar 27, 2020

By Gayla Tillman

I am several generations Black and Southern. As a descendant of people once lawfully considered property, being counted in the census is a personally and politically important act in my fight for equity and justice.

I believe we all deserve to live in a world where no one has to fight for their human rights. Where Black women don’t experience medical malpractice, where children are not being torn out of their parents arms, where health crises are not exacerbated by polluted air and waterways. I became both a civic engagement and environmental organizer because I know communities cannot recycle our way out of the climate crisis; to create the large-scale policy we need, we have to address the underlying problems in our democratic structure.

The overt and covert violences inflicted on Black communities and other communities of color I’ve seen are based in imbalances of power; and this inspires me to work in the equity and justice movement to ensure that my community can build long-term power. So, as an organizer born and raised in a state that has historically left out, disregarded, and disenfranchised the communities that I belong to, I know that one of the ways my community can build long-term power is to participate in the 2020 census.

Following the Atlanta, Georgia legacies of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dorothy Bolden, I want to engage working class people of color in civic engagement, specifically the census. The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the many ways that working class people and people of color are vulnerable to economic imbalance. 

By historically undermining the power of these communities, our country has created a power imbalance that translates to vast economic inequities in working class communities of color. At the root of what our communities need is investment. That investment begins with knowing where and who people are — the census helps determine how resources are allocated in our country. So often, communities of color are used to being left out of decision making and the solutions that follow, which means we make do with what resources we have. As a descendant of people once lawfully considered property, I consider being counted in the census as personally and politically important to the fight for equity and justice. However, in taking steps like the census, communities can shift that power dynamic. 

Like many state legislatures, Georgia’s General Assembly will use census data to redraw the districts for state representatives. This determines political representation and if not watched closely, can lead to gerrymandering, which further undermines the needs of our communities. Our communities need a fair chance to elect officials who will advocate for clean air, water, and energy.

I care deeply about the census because we need climate protections and solutions that cover all our communities. Black, Brown, and low income communities disproportionately feel the effects of polluted air, water, and utility burden. An inclusive census will not only tell decision makers, but also, climate advocates how to best serve communities that have been traditionally hard to count. Some of these communities do not speak English as their first language, live far from fresh food, have many children in their home, or may have other social factors that affect their lives. We need accurate population counts that reflect where people are and who they are to better inform policy decisions. 

Will you join me in pledging to take the census for an inclusive, equitable, and sustainable Georgia?