The spirit of the people is palpable.
From unheard voices to hundreds of thousands coming together against racism in powerful, peaceful protests around the globe. From invisible injustices to more than eight million Black Lives Matter hashtags, some with videos of police violence against Black men, women, and children, on just one day (May 28). This is the strengthening of democracy by what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called “thick action.” It is taking to the streets and Internet with evidence that sways opinion, with truth that generates momentum from apathy. It is, moreover, the galvanizing of pain and passion in service to justice and, I hope, joy.
Opinion pieces have opined of late that this moment of engagement is so fierce because so many have not been otherwise preoccupied with life. As we slowly start to reopen Marin, will our lives once again get in the way of others’ living?
No, we cannot go back. While we may yearn for normalcy through the routine of what we enjoyed before, it is not hard to recognize that we are all changed: by the tragedy of the pandemic itself; by the realities of the inequities it has revealed; and by our being tested personally in response to both.
Now, we wear masks, but we know those who have been hardest hit among us are people of color and low income. Now, we might question the presence of a police officer. Now, we value differently the people who look after our children and hold up our economy. The question of how we will go forward with each passing day becomes more urgently relevant.
Last year, Community Action Marin stepped up to help strengthen a fight for civil rights through a fair and accurate census on behalf of those we serve: people of color, the immigrant community, undocumented workers, people of low income, families experiencing homelessness, people in need. We did so because these are the people too often left out of participation in the things we most believe in about our country.
Mandated by the U.S. Constitution, the census determines the apportionment of federal funds to states and local communities—it translates to money for schools, health facilities, transportation, and local programs such as ours funded through the Community Services Block Grant. It controls allocation of congressional seats and how legislative district lines are drawn.
Democracy needs an accurate population count for it to have representative government. In predominantly white Marin, this means that some 20,000 historically under-counted people, once counted, will be part of a fair system that honors their contributions, one that says they matter. We wanted to give the invisible hand guiding our community’s resources a larger fist-full of dollars and a more powerful, visible, punch.
What else can we do? As the Black Lives Matter movement offers in #WhatMatters2020, we can “vigorously engage underrepresented communities in the electoral process.” Specifically, we can get out the vote in 2020’s U.S Presidential Election. We can:
“build collective power and ensure candidates are held accountable for the issues that systematically and disproportionately impact Black and under-served communities across the nation.”
The Governor’s Executive Order requires that every registered voter receive a vote-by-mail ballot for this year’s November 3rd election. With this change, it will be difficult for many unfamiliar with the new process to complete it, and we must work in the county to educate our underrepresented communities. We must have funding for these efforts to create clear messages that link civic engagement to meaningful results. Importantly, we must show up as the voters who create those results.
The good news is that for as long as we’ve been working on the census, we’ve been building power and growing the public spirit with awareness of how an individual matters in the quest to create change for the better. Through trusted messengers who are eliminating fear and mistrust of anything that comes from the federal government, we have been bringing, along with our partners, people together in a spirit of hope for a society that cares for the well-being of all of us. It is hard work, but as Barack Obama reminds us, “In the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it.”
Our call is for action: to be counted in the census, to help get out the vote. How much it matters has perhaps never been clearer. Join us in a response to racism that transforms civic duty into something sexy, something joyful, something bold. Racism must end, and so too must the thin democracy that has kept injustice alive. We want an open Marin to be a stronger, more vibrant Marin because of each person, each family, who calls this home.
Read our statement: Racism Must End and look for more information soon on our plans for a July 4th event to inspire and engage the love of our entire community.
Read a version of this that appeared in the Marin IJ (as of June 12, 2020) and added information from our partner, Canal Alliance.