The League of Women Voters, conceived and chaired by the leading suffragette Carrie Chapman Catt in 1920, has evolved over the decades. Supporting women and helping to register many thousands, campaigning for the creation of the United Nations, sponsoring the first televised presidential debates and, more recently, focusing on issues that negatively impact minorities, students, the elderly, and rural voters, the LWV remains a vital nonpartisan organization.
While there is a national LWV, its strength comes from grassroots hometown advocacy. On that theme, the former Marion-Mattapoisett-Rochester LWV is becoming the South Coast LWV.
“We received state authorization to change our name and expand the range of our territory,” LWV member Luana Josvold recently told The Wanderer.
Josvold explained that the local LWV sought to expand their territory and, in so doing, provide meaningful support to historically underserved populations.
The interim leadership team includes, along with Josvold, Mattapoisett residents LWV Facilitator Kris Eastman, Secretary Betty Hill, and Cathy Martens; and Marion residents Deborah Bush, Margie Baldwin, Margot Stone, and Nan Johnson.
The newly expanded LWV will encompass Acushnet, New Bedford, Fairhaven, Wareham, and the three tri-towns. In the South Coast region, they will not only be able to increase their membership base, but they will also be reaching out to people, neighborhoods, families that might be unaware of the LWV and the services it can provide. All that is about to change.
The SCLWV is taking on the immense task of helping to count every single person living in the area as the 2020 Federal Census is rolled out.
Since 1790 and every 10 years since then, the federal government undertakes population counts and data collection on numbers of people in the country and how the population is comprised – every man, woman, and child.
As Eastman put it, “After we received state approval for the name change and expanded region we thought, ‘What can we do now?’” She said that while continuing the work to help people with voter registration, the LWV also understands the importance of supporting those working on the census. “How could we help make the uncounted counted?”
First and foremost the LWV wants people to understand how the Federal Census impacts their daily lives. As people, especially young families, go about their busy days working, getting the kids off to school, managing the household, possibly taking care of older family members or just getting through each day and its challenges, the import of what the Federal government is doing with tax dollars can get lost.
“Between 6 and 8 billion dollars in federal money is impacted by the census,” Eastman said. Where that money is spent and on what programs trickles down to everyone living in the country regardless of their residency status, she said.
The SCLWV has partnered with town clerks and librarians in an effort to get everyone counted and to help assuage concerns that “big brother” is watching and using collected census data in ways that threaten rather than support society as a whole.
Mattapoisett Town Clerk Catherine Heuberger explained, “The LWV will mobilize volunteers to help people complete the census.” While the Federal Census Bureau will direct people to complete the form online, “Many people will hesitate to do that. People may worry about hacking; they can go to the library and use those computers,” she said.
LWV volunteers will supplement library staffing to help people navigate the website and answer any questions they might have, she said.
“The Federal Census isn’t shared with anybody,” Heuberger added. While some of the questions are quite personal, she said, such as ethnicity, financial information, and who lives in the residence, their ages, and gender, “Many people may not want to disclose this information.” But Heuberger stated that the Census Bureau is bound by law not to share any details with other agencies and that all individual data is encrypted. She assured that the data collected does not include bank accounts numbers or passwords.
So what is the point of the census? Simply put, how to spend federal tax dollars.
Susan Pizzolato, Mattapoisett Public Library director, said, “Programs that impact children such as food stamps, WIC milk programs, classroom sizes, where schools should be built… If we don’t have the right numbers these programs can’t help.
“Issues of trust are challenging,” she continued, “but that’s where the libraries can help.”
Pizzolato said that libraries are trusted places, places where everyone can come in and get the information they need or complete the census online. She said getting people to understand that even if they don’t have a green card, being counted – especially the children – is critical to how and where funds will be allocated.
All the census advocates interviewed for this story made the same point: a concerted effort on the part of the Federal Census Bureau will be made to get the count as complete as possible starting in March.
Based on addresses supplied by town clerks throughout the country, a postcard will be sent to households. That card will direct the recipient to go online to complete the census. If that goes unanswered, a second postcard, followed by a paper census form, followed by a knock on the door, will be the progression taken by the federal government to secure the data.
“April 1 will be Census Day,” said Josvold. That is the official day to get the census completed. She circled back to the importance of the census, saying, “This impacts government representation.” And for those who have been historically undercounted, a lack of representation is possible.
In the larger cities such as New Bedford, Heuberger said that religious leaders may be asked to help get the word out to their parishioners.
Pizzolato said that library staff alone couldn’t provide sufficient support for those wishing to complete the form online at libraries, “But the League will deploy volunteers when I need them.”
And the LWV is looking to supplement their membership with volunteers for this effort.
“We are looking for people who are familiar with their community,” said Eastman. She said that the census has “far-reaching ramifications” so that being “positive about the census, making people feel comfortable,” is critical. And not to put too fine a point on it, “The census is looking at where you’re living; it has nothing to do with who you are or whether you are a citizen or not.”
To learn more about the 2020 Federal Census go to www.2020census.gov. You may also reach out to the local 2020 Federal Census representative Jose Dacunha at email@example.com.
To learn more about the South Coast League of Women Voters you may contact Kris Eastman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Marilou Newell