Why Feminists are (Still) Fighting for the Census

Incumbent lawmakers, fearful of the growth of urban centers and the rising political power of immigrant communities, once found themselves waging a battle against an unlikely political opponent: the Census. Worried that re-allocations in the wake of the survey would cost them their seats, they slammed it as “inaccurate” and attempted to prohibit the final data from counting residents who were not legal citizens.

100 years later, President Trump and his administration’s officials are leading the charge to relitigate that fight—using much of the same deceitful and xenophobic messaging that lawmakers in 1920 relied on in their own attempt to maintain their political power.

(comedy_nose / Creative Commons)

Perhaps proof that their concerns were common sense was Trump’s response to that ruling by the Court. The president continued to insist on adding the question, threatening to do so via an executive order or addendum to the survey—and on Thursday, when he finally announced that he was relenting two days after halting printing the Census, he insisted that the “fight wasn’t over.”

In June, the Supreme Court blocked the Trump administration from adding a question to the 2020 Census about citizenship status. The battle he waged to include it struck fear in immigrant communities, who were afraid in the current political climate to declare their status to the government. The administration has previously targeted DACA recipients for detention, and he has threatened widespread raids against immigrant communities.

“This is about making America white again,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said earlier this week. “They want to make sure that certain people are counted. It is really disgraceful and it’s not what our founders had in mind.”

Pelosi also highlighted the dual dilemma created by the citizenship question: Answering it would spur deportations by alerting immigration services such as ICE exactly whom to target, but if certain communities didn’t participate, they would lose critical state and federal funding during appropriations that followed. Funding for schools, childcare, health and welfare programs and infrastructure repairs is determined, in part, by Census data. Inaccurate counts would further contribute to the lack of accessibility of social services to the communities that need them most.

But the fight for a wholly representative Census is far from over. The courts have blocked the Trump administration’s attempts to deter immigrants from participating—but now community organizers must begin the arduous and important work of collecting their responses.

This is a critical opportunity to stand up and be counted that only comes once per decade, and much is at stake.

“What they want to do is put a chilling effect so certain populations won’t answer the form,” Pelosi explained, ending her statement with an urgent call for Census participation. “Don’t give them that victory. You must respond or otherwise they win.“

Dolores Huerta echoed the same message during remarks earlier this month in Los Angeles. “Answer the Census!” she shouted to the crowd from the newly-named Dolores Huerta Square in the largely Latinx community of Boyle Heights. “If you don’t get counted, your community loses 15,000 dollars per person.”


Rachel Kennedy is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and Associate Opinion Editor for The Daily Princetonian. A Bostonian by birth and a feminist by choice, she hopes to empower women by sharing their stories. She is particularly interested in covering maternal healthcare, women activists, pop culture, and politics. Rachel currently studies History, Journalism, and African American studies at Princeton University.