Exposing the Census Conspiracy
At a time when millions of Americans are considering how to most effectively resist what seems like government intrusion into most every aspect of their lives, employees of the federal government are knocking at the door to collect personal information.
Citizens and non-citizens alike, ‘the feds’ want the names of each person staying at the address, regardless of whether the individual actually lives there or merely surfs the couch. To consider a household questionnaire complete, the federal government will walk away from your front door with a profile of each person that includes date of birth, ethnic and racial designations. They will also ask the way in which each person listed is related to each of the others. Thus, a skeptic nation raises its collective eyebrow when this stranger at the door, speaking on behalf of The United States of America, gives every assurance that the confidentiality of the information they collect is under the strict protection of Title 13 of the U.S. Code. You are not alone if you find these assurances, made on behalf of the federal government, incredulous. Calling themselves patriots, scores of Americans prepare to stand against this intrusion by the U.S. federal government, which they perceive as indicative of tyranny and repression, by refusing to participate in the 2010 Census. While this is an idea that certainly resonates with many of the federal government’s detractors, clearly, it is an ill-considered position, an ill-advised action. As an act of civil defiance, failure to provide basic identifying information and demography to the U.S. Census Bureau is convenient and risk free, though a questionable tactic in defense of personal freedom.
In fact, an individual who refuses to fulfill their civil obligation to participate in the Decennial Census, as mandated by the U.S. Constitution, makes a hollow, meaningless gesture. With zero risk to that person’s well-being or personal liberty, it is a petty stance taken in contrast to that of the men and women, who, throughout our nation’s history, put themselves at tremendous risk to stand against injustice – even sacrificing their life to defend against legitimate threats to our nation and its ideals. I have yet to hear or read any rational argument to lend credible support to the idea that conducting a thorough accounting of the people within our borders constitutes a threat to anyone’s ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness – much less national security. What is irrefutable, is that a refusal to comply with Title 13 is direct subversion of the U.S. Constitution. Defend the constitution, and if conscience or values demand an act of civil disobedience:
Subvert the government, not the constitution!
There is a profound legacy in the United States of ordinary people initiating extraordinary social change acting on such conviction. Nowhere in that legacy will you find subversion of the U.S. Constitution as the catalyst for any change in the best interest of Americans.
As an Enumerator doing non-response follow-up for the 2010 Decennial Census, I counter frequent resistance and hostility with a brief review of American Civics 101. In Article 1, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, just after establishing the Legislative Branch of Government, the framers of the constitution mandate that a Census of the entire nation be taken every ten years. The constitutional reason for conducting the census is fundamental: apportioned representation requires an accurate accounting of the population. If we don’t want our government to take this constitutional duty seriously, we may as well call the whole thing off! Without the Census, there is no representative democracy. Another historically significant detail I will mention, is that the basic line of questioning on the 2010 Census questionnaire is the same as the 1790 Census. These are, in essence, the questions that Thomas Jefferson and James Madison came up with for the first census!
Propagating ill-founded chatter that casts the federal government in the role of ‘big brother’ conducting a sinister, albeit banal, violation of our civil rights is dangerous because it diverts attention away from real threats to our civil liberties. Again, rather than a defense of the Constitution, there is subversion. Historically, when large numbers of people are drawn to false conclusions based on fictional versions of real circumstances - it never ends well. Those who choose to undermine the constitution in a less anonymous manner than that of a ‘census scofflaw’ often find themselves held in contempt or ridicule by their contemporaries. The more fortunate of these are forgotten by history. Refuse to complete a census questionnaire and you will likely just be forgotten. After all, the reason that so many in this country are able to trace their ancestry to the earliest days of the republic is that after 72 years (and only after 72 years) the information becomes invaluable public record. Alternately, consider how many data bases on which your personal information surely resides – utility companies, banking, credit card companies, department stores, medical facilities, publishing companies, as well any web site with which you register – every one a profit driven enterprise. With no incentive or capacity to do anything other than use it for statistical purposes, personal information is considerably safer in the hands of the U.S. government.
Giving our rational nature the benefit of doubt, let us assume for now that the federal government is not guilty of some Orwellian conspiracy, but that in fact, much like free and transparent elections, the census is a critical, non-negotiable institution required for democracy. What the U.S. Census Bureau is perhaps then guilty of is a failure to communicate – specifically a failure to educate. Consider this: When enumerating, I encounter resistance on a daily basis. In most situations (defining ‘most situations’ as an unscientific four out of five), I am able to provide a quantifiable paradigm shift for even those offering the most hostile resistance. This is accomplished in less than two minutes with that same review of U.S. Civics I convey in the paragraph above. In other words, significant numbers of people living in this country do not know the history of, or understand the critical nature of the Census. Provide the history as a basis for that understanding and people have a different attitude altogether. So how important is the knowledge that the Census is mandated in Article 1 of the constitution, or that Thomas Jefferson developed the basic questions still in use today? As long as we are content with an America where the interest of a privileged few are disproportionately represented at the expense of everyone else – then not very. The ignorance spawned by one or two missing pieces of information can defect the attitude of a generation. The collective will is as feeble as any one individual’s understanding of what is at stake is deficient. To the extent that the Census Bureau began a year in advance to provide the kind of message and information that would persuade the greatest number of people to comply - perhaps a simple history lesson would suffice. For while nothing quite distracts like rumor of a fresh government conspiracy; nothing compels an American quite like real constitutional and historical precedent.
Rex Taylor Smith is a 2010 Decennial Census Enumerator working on non-response follow-up in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood.