Yesterday when I got home from work, my Census form was waiting for me with the rest of the mail. My husband and I filled it out, and I have to say, it was as gratifying as going to the polls.
I'm quite sure I didn't feel that way before I started working at MPC six years ago. Back then, I rarely gave a second thought to how programs and services developed from one person's idea into reality. And when I did, cynicism prevailed. I worked as a journalist for a community newspaper and an environmental magazine, and wrote a good number of stories about funding shortfalls, cuts to important programs, and struggling neighborhoods and communities. My pessimism grew as I typed away at my computer, pounding out people's frustrations about their elected officials, broken government, and greedy corporations.
When I came to MPC, I slowly began to realize that there are people out there, in every area of policy and advocacy and, yes, even in the government and private sectors, pitching in to make the system work better to serve people. It may sound hokey, but when I look around at my colleagues, some of whom have been slogging away trying to get the same bill passed for four-plus years, I am humbled by their perseverance and optimism. They believe they can change the world -- or at least their part of it -- or they wouldn't keep coming here every day or traveling to Springfield each spring.
I'm not a policy expert; my role here is in helping communicate what we do to reporters, other advocates and stakeholders, lawmakers, and the public. A big part of that involves tying our efforts to timely events that people can relate to, such as the U.S. Census. Here's how the Census affects you and our work:
- Census information affects the numbers of seats your state occupies in the U.S. House of Representatives.
- Researchers (including at MPC), advocates and other regular people use Census data to make a case for their cause, whether that's increasing funding for public transportation or helping a low-income community get a new grocery store.
- Census data will help determine how more than $400 billion dollars of federal funding -- more than $4 trillion over the next 10 years -- is spent on things like new transit services, schools and health centers. This is of critical importance to metropolitan Chicago and other growing regions, so that we can meet our increasing demand for infrastructure and services.
Please, take it from this reformed pessimist: When your Census form arrives in the mail, don't toss it in the recycling bin. Take a few minutes to fill it out and send it in, because it's one of the best ways you can affect change.
And, if you fight for a cause, leave a comment to let us know why the Census is important to you.