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Want positive change for Alaska? Stand and be counted.

  • Author: Gabe Layman
    | Opinion
    , Sonya Hunte
    | Opinion
    , and the members of the Anchorage Complete Count Commission
    | Opinion
  • Updated: July 2
  • Published July 2

The setting sun lights up the buildings of downtown Anchorage beneath the Chugach Mountains as seen from Port Woronzof in west Anchorage, AK, on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

The census delivers power and money to our communities like a giant elevator. If we don’t press the button, it won’t stop for us. Going uncounted means we are underserved, underfunded and disenfranchised from political power.

As members of the Anchorage Complete Count commission, we are dedicated to ensuring an accurate count in the 2020 Census. As protests sweep across our state and nation to support the lives and livelihoods of Black communities and people of color, we feel it’s important to acknowledge the U.S. Census was not originally designed as a tool of equality. The NAACP describes it this way:

“Undercounting of the Black population was first required by law. The Three-Fifths Compromise of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 counted enslaved Black people as three-fifths of a person in apportioning congressional districts for the U.S. House of Representatives. Since then, the Census has severely undercounted the Black population, to great disadvantage in representation, resources, and power.”

The Three-Fifths Compromise is a chilling reminder that the system we use today to count every American was originally designed to devalue Black, Alaska Native, American Indian and other communities of color. We recognize the census is part of a deeply flawed system: That understanding helps us identify steps we can take to improve it. Despite its ugly history, the consequences of the 2020 Census are critical and will affect us for the next decade. Fewer than 50% of Alaskans have been counted so far, with COVID-19 further deepening the divide in this first year of the Census going online for the count.

The Census is a means to empower our families and communities. It shapes our laws and rights. It signals where new schools and houses can be built, where businesses can start and grow. The Census shows where to invest and how to deliver critical services most efficiently. The Census is a blueprint for democracy, determining where we vote, who we vote for and who they’ll represent. Census data helps protect civil rights, preventing voting discrimination based on race, ensuring Native language speakers have the equal access to voting information as English speakers. It allows us to find and fight gerrymandering in our elections, and to determine if we’re being represented equally under the law.

The potential of the census is equal to the potential of each of us. Through the census, we can ensure our laws, our government and our representatives reflect the true nature of our communities — a diverse group of people who expect and deserve equal treatment under the law.

The decennial Census, in its best form, uplifts us. It provides the whole picture of who we are, and breaks down the myth of a monolithic America. If you are a person of color, responding to the Census is an opportunity to advocate on behalf of your family. It’s a way to empower your community and peel back entrenched systems that have promoted systemic racism for decades. Without your voice, your visibility, we will never realize the potential of a nation of individuals, created equal.

Responding to the Census is an opportunity to generate structural change towards equity, no matter your race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, first language, citizenship status, age, or gender.

This is our chance to do our part for a better future, for all of us — be counted for Alaska.

Visit my2020census.gov or call 844-330-2020 to begin.

This op-ed was submitted jointly by the members of the Anchorage Complete Count Commission.

Bill Popp is the president and CEO of Anchorage Economic Development Corporation. Candace Bell is a representative of AARP Alaska and SAGE Alaska. Carol Gore is the president and CEO of Cook Inlet Housing Authority, as well as past chair of the National Advisory Committee to the U.S. Census Bureau. Darrel Hess is the Municipal Ombudsman. Felix Rivera is the Chair of the Anchorage Assembly. Gabe Layman is the chair of the Alaska Census Working Group and co-chair of the Anchorage Complete Count Commission. Katie Bisson is the English Language Learner Family Liaison with the ASD Family Welcome Center. Kirsten Schultz is Executive Director of Marketing and Communication for Providence Health and Services Alaska. Laurie Wolf is president and CEO of The Foraker Group and founder of the Alaska Census Working Group. Mary Jo Torgeson is the Director of the Anchorage Public Library. Monique Martin is the Director of Governmental Affairs and Regulatory Navigation for Alaska Regional Hospital. Robin Bronen is the Executive Director of Alaska Institute for Justice. Sonya Hunte is the Senior Director for the Anchorage School District’s Office of Equity and Compliance and Co-Chair of the Anchorage Complete Count Commission. Tanya Dumas is a program officer with the Rasmuson Foundation. Veri di Suvero is the Executive Director of Aaska Public Interest Research Group.


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