Organizing in schools for the census

Community organizers in the northeast of Chicago are partnering with school communities to make sure that their neighborhoods are accurately counted in the 2010 census.

When census forms are sent out at the beginning of March, the returned forms may not record everyone living in communities in northeast neighborhoods of Chicago, which may impact funding for those communities.

Hina Mahmood, a community organizer with Organization of the Northeast, an organization of congregations, schools, nonprofits, and businesses, that engages people in issues affecting residents in northeast Chicago  neighborhoods, said the 2000 census return rate for Rogers Park was only 53 percent.

A 2001 PricewaterhouseCoopers report, commissioned by the U.S. Census Monitoring Board, showed that 2000 census undercounts resulted in lost federal funds for communities.  The report, which looked at the effects of census undercounts on funding from eight major programs from 2002 to 2012, estimated that Cook County would lose over $192 million in funding.

Housing instability is one factor that contributes to undercounting in northeast Chicago, Mahmood said.  She said people living in homeless shelters may not be counted in the census or count themselves in another neighborhood, such as the one where they grew up.

Mahmood also explained that as affordable housing disappears, some families double or triple up in a housing situation.  Fearing eviction for over-occupancy, the residents may only fill out the census form for one family, Mahmood said.

Mahmood said there is a “fear factor” for many people that keeps them from participating in the census.  Undocumented immigrants are particularly reluctant to provide census information.  Mahmood said undocumented immigrants may think, “’If I report myself, ICE or Homeland Security will come out to get me.”  But she stressed that there were safeguards in place that restrict the census bureau from sharing information with other government institutions.

Funding for public schools, libraries, transit, health care, and job development programs were all tied to census numbers, Mahmood said, adding that under-counting a community meant “missing out on really important and necessary resources.”

Organization of the Northeast facilitators such as Mahmood are trying to work with parents in a number of local schools, including Gale, Boone, and Clinton, to encourage participation in the census.  Mahmood said that organizers arrange presentations to parents by census workers to describe the census process and explain what happens when a community isn’t accurately counted.

Mahmood also saw engaging the community in the census as an opportunity to open up dialog and build leadership around other community issues.  “Who knows what other conversations will come up,” Mahmood said.

Core technologies/concepts for community organizing

Last summer at the AMC, I presented a session about Web 2.0 and social movements.  Because I inherited the session from someone else, I kept the session proposer’s rubric of introducing technologies/services by name  (Twitter, Jott, so that people would be able to link the name/buzz with an idea of what it could do.  If I had it to do all over again, I would start with core concepts and technologies that I see as being really helpful with my own use of tech. in organizing.   These would be things that underly a lot of Web 2.0 services and also make technology more fluid for users of all levels of technological familiarity. I’m starting a list here.  What core concepts/technologies do you all use?

RSS Feeds/Aggregation

One of the biggest frustrations that I (and other users I would suspect) have with the multitude of useful sites is having to have a bunch logins and remember which information lives where.  One has to choose between using the right tool for the job and making it easy to locate and access information.  E-mail is one convergence point, but that doesn’t neccessarily mesh with every service that people might use.  Services from to Twitter to Google Calendar to most blogging platforms all allow you to publish RSS feeds.  I would explain what a feed does, show what a feed looks like in various services, and then show how to aggregate and organize feeds with a web-based aggregator and a desktop app.

Feeds are so important because understanding them is crucial for mashing up services or making them easier for collaborations.  Examples:

  • Blog to twitter using Twitterfeed
  • Twitter “mailing” list using #hashtags and RSS Feed for

Email Filters

People are often overwhelmed by mailing lists, but few know that you can pretty easily filter out all the different kinds of e-mails that you get to do the inbox triage that everyone is familiar with for you.  I think having imapfilter or Thunderbird sort my mail into folders is super-useful, if only to evaluate the actual importance of data.  If I never click on a partcular folder where some of my mail is auto-sorted, do I really need to be on that mailing list anyway?

Human URLs (TinyURL or similar services)

Things like Google Docs often generate long, difficult to remember addresses for important information.  If people have to first dig through an e-mail with a link to a shared resource (and do this every time they want to access it), they’re going to be less likely to use it.  If they can just remember it (or enough of it that it is found in their browser’s location history) I think these online resources will get more use.

Mailing Lists

I think we all take these for granted, but there are ways to use these that make them more or less effective.  What strategies do you use to handle list management and message moderation.  How do you not flood people’s mailboxes?  How do you make it easy for people to (un) subscribe to lists?  This is more a discussion of usage than particular technologies.


Electronically mediated communication can often be ambiguous.  I find that I often spend extra time trying to disambiguate something in e-mail when it would have been way, way faster to call and let someone as questions.  Still, a lot of collaboration that I do involves looking at text or files together.  Chat is really crucial for these kinds of tasks.  I use it every day at work.


I don’t have a texting plan and I share my mobile phone, so I’m not the hugest txter but I like that it’s more purvasive than e-mail but less intrusive than a phone call because it lets people get the information first before deciding their timeline or content for response.  It’s also better than a call or voicemail for infromation that you might have to lookup again (a phone number or address for instance).


For the times when you want to be more personal than chat, voice/video conferencing is perfect.  We have a fancy system at work for having meetings that span Indy and Bton but I think folks can achieve much of the same functionality with Skype, cheap webcams, and projectors.


Cash rules everything around me … There are probably better alternatives, especially if the organization seeking cash is a 501(c)3, but Paypal is definitely the easiest to use.  The awesome Pledgie service helps you use Paypal to organize campaigns.