Organizing and Adapting to COVID-19 in 2020: A Reflection on the 2020 Census

Posted on December 6, 2021

Organizing to ensure our communities were counted in the Census was a central focus of 2020. Join us in reflecting on the unique year of collective organizing amidst the unforeseen challenges of COVID-19 and the adaptations that became vital.

Bay Rising began planning for the 2020 Census campaign before the COVID-19 pandemic began. The goals we initially set alongside our partners were to gain 15,000 commitments from our community members that they would fill out the Census (1,000 commitments per Bay Rising partner organization), to reach out to 250,000 community members in order to get those 15,000 commitments, and to reach 500,000 people through social media.

The organizations that initially planned to participate in this project were: Oakland Rising, San Francisco Rising, Working Partnerships USA, East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, Chinese Progressive Association, Mujeres Unidas y Activas, Ella Baker Center, Filipino Advocates for Justice, PODER, Lift Up Contra Costa, Housing Leadership Council of San Mateo, and SOMCAN (South of Market Community Action Network)

We were planning to implement a diverse array of tactics, with door-to-door canvassing being a central piece of each organization’s strategy. Other tactics included tabling and flyering at community events, planning free giveaways, flyering at businesses, sharing graphics and information over social media, incorporating Census conversations into existing organizational events and campaigns, and hiring local artists to create murals, posters and other art as part of a robust cultural strategy. Each organization’s tactics were slightly different based on the communities they were targeting and the outreach activities that were the best fit for that community and organization. Our organizations started census outreach early, so they had begun to implement some of these plans already when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

COVID-19 forced our organizations to overhaul the original tactics planned to reach our communities, and instead come up with creative alternatives to make sure that we could hit our census outreach goals. Bay Rising and our partner groups ran digital and radio ads, sent postcards, incorporated census information into mutual aid campaigns and GOTV efforts, gave away swag items that included census messaging, crafted social media video series, led phone and text banks, coordinated distributed social media outreach, organized livestreams, and experimented with other relational organizing tactics.   

While we don’t have comprehensive data from all of our partner organizations, we have enough to confirm that we contacted over 1,000,000 community members to educate and support them in filling out the census. These are stories and photos that illustrate some of the amazing work that our organizations did, in challenging and changing conditions, to make sure that our communities were counted in the 2020 Census. 

Category: Updates