The guest at Thursday’s first “Brews and Views” speaking engagement of the year was Sandy Close, a revered San Francisco-based journalist whose work around the globe earned her a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” award.

One of moderator Lenny Mendonca’s first questions to Close was to ask what animates her today. (Mendonca is a member of the group that owns the Half Moon Bay Review.) Close’s answer was surprising: the coming U.S. Census.

“How are you going to govern the governed if you don’t know who they are,” she told a crowd at the Half Moon Bay Brewing Co. that night. “The Census becomes imperative.”

The U.S. Census, as most know, is the federal government’s effort to systematically acquire and record information about the people who live in the country. It is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, which requires a full count every 10 years. This is one of those counting years.

While that may seem a straightforward task (if not necessarily a simple one), it has become more political than ever in 2020. Many have distrusted the federal government and the true purpose of the count for years. That’s not new. But the Trump Administration’s efforts to add a citizenship question gave the skeptical plenty of reasons for concern. The U.S. Supreme Court blocked the question, but many — particularly in American immigrant communities — continue to worry that anti-immigration forces will use the count to harm individuals in a variety of ways.

Many undocumented workers, people of color and others from marginalized communities worry that their information will be given to law enforcement, used to deny benefits or otherwise make them targets for government intrusion.

Many of your neighbors are likely to make themselves scarce when the Census letter arrives or a Census worker comes to call. That could have a devastating effect on California. We already know hundreds of thousands of people have left for less expensive habitation in an exodus that will likely claim representation in Congress and our fair share of $1.5 trillion in federal funds that are annually doled out through the states.

This month the U.S. Census Bureau begins with counting in remote parts of Alaska. It is also hiring thousands of people, many to go door to door when residents fail to answer the query that begins in earnest in March.

Now is the time to remind your neighbors of the importance of being counted. We understand why some don’t trust the federal process, but the real fear is that an undercount will steer government resources elsewhere.

Sandy Close spoke at length about the importance of the Census during her Coastside appearance, and that may have been a surprise to everyone in an audience who came to hear her speak about the future of journalism.

But it’s fair to say she sees the Census as a baseline for understanding our communities and that is fundamental to journalism. It will help us to answer twin questions Close said are at the heart of our humanity: “Who are we and who are we becoming?”

This year, be counted.

— Clay Lambert

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