The U.S. Census Bureau launched a national road tour Monday to drum up participation in the decennial population count, bringing Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other 21st century technology to the centuries-old exercise.
The road tour, billed as the largest civic outreach campaign in the bureau's history, features 13 vans that will bring census information and interactive displays across 150,000 miles for 1,547 days with 800 publicity stops at parades, festivals and major sporting events such as the Super Bowl and NCAA Final Four basketball tournament.
In Southern California, the regional road tour began at Santa Monica Pier with blessings from a Native American healer and Christian minister, a Latino hip-hop performance and community leaders extolling the importance of the count.
Census data are used to allocate more than $400 billion in federal funds; apportion legislative seats; and determine where hospitals, schools and businesses are needed.
"We are trying to take the census from an abstract concept to something tangible so people can see what the census is and why it's important," said James T. Christy, regional director of the bureau's Los Angeles office.
The office, which covers Hawaii and 19 California counties from Merced to the Mexican border, has opened 39 local centers.
Los Angeles' road tour van, with bright blue, 14-foot trailer, was christened Monday with the name "Confidential" with a bottle of sparkling wine. The name, Christy said, projects the message that census officials are barred from sharing the information they collect with any other agency, including immigration and law enforcement.
Samuel Lee, pastor at Young Nak Presbyterian Church of Los Angeles, told the crowd that people in the Korean community are wary about sharing personal information with the government. The 10-question census questionnaire does not inquire about immigration status but does ask for name, gender, age, race and phone number as of April 1, 2010.
His 8,000-member church has already started promoting the census, stressing that it will help secure funding for community centers and other services.
Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, said the census is the most urgent civil rights issue of the moment, since it will determine resources and political representation for the next decade. California gained seven congressional seats after the 1990 census and one new seat after the 2000 count, he said. However, it could lose one seat this year for the first time. His organization, which helped mobilize 1 million immigrants to become citizens last year, has launched a similar campaign to promote census participation.
The census van made an afternoon stop at Los Angeles City Hall, where Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and other officials outlined the financial ramifications of an undercount. City Controller Wendy Greuel and City Councilman Jose Huizar said that Los Angeles was undercounted by 77,000 people in 2000, costing the city $200 million in federal funds.
Similar messages were conveyed at regional road tour launches in 11 other cities, including Chicago and New York. The vans carry interactive exhibits that allow people to share stories and post videos on the bureau's website, at www.2010census.gov.