The 2020 Census resumes field operations: Art, Activism and Social Justice

I was trained and began working for the decennial census back in February, but work was abruptly halted in mid-March due to the start of COVID-19 quarantine and social distancing requirements. I just got word today that the 2020 Census is resuming field work in select locations across the nation – and they have a plan to safely restart operations. According to the notice, “2020 Census operational activities have been deemed essential, mission-critical federal work.”

Due to the need for social distancing and masking to guard against new surges of the virus, we census workers will be provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and sanitizer, as well as training on how to stay safe in the field.

Coincidentally, today I came across this quite anachronistic painting titled “Taking the Census” while leafing through an old edition of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. I think it’s quite a “quaint” painting of a gentleman with his feather pen and young assistant visiting a family as the man of the house counts off on his fingers the number of adults and children living there.

Taking the Census, Francis William Edmonds, 1854

Who Counts in America?

Having stumbled on this 19th century painting, I went in search of newer census representations in 21st century art. Check out this amazing exhibit…/come-to-your-census-who-counts-in-ameri…/ that features works that explore and reflect critical considerations about the history of undercounting – particularly in communities of color and immigrant and refugee communities – which has resulted in the inequitable allocation of funds for local services, as well as lack of representation in government.

There are multiple reasons for the undercount, from lack of access due to limited English language or literacy issues, to lack of trust of government.

During my training, I learned that there are significant penalties if any information gathered by the census (which by the way does not include a citizenship question) is shared for any reason other than statistical data collection and analysis. These protections stay in place for 72 years, after which the information is made available in the public record for family history and other research.

Who Will Count in Lowell?

We will be making every effort to count everyone! Shout out to the tenacious Complete Count Committee in Lowell, which has been working for months on outreach strategies to insure every person is counted, and that their worth, dignity and representation are preserved. They’ve created videos explaining the census in multiple languages, and featuring Lowell residents and community leaders. You can check out the videos at this address:

I hope to see you in “the field” though my territory will be stretching beyond Lowell. Be well, be counted, and stay safe!

How I Stay Sane – 6 weeks in

Digory waking from his studio nap

I venture outside, usually with my dog Digory, to walk to my studio downtown. Spend a few hours there making art or writing, while Dig naps in his dog bed or sometimes walks on top of my collage cuttings to look out the 4th floor window. If we’re really “lucky” he’ll spot a neighborhood dog and bark his head off. The studio is my other indoor oasis (my primary oasis is home), and I go there at least 3 days a week. Yesterday I shot some glimpses of my surroundings and some collaged and assembled images. It is when I’m in the midst of creating that I am happiest, whether during a pandemic or not.

The Global Quarantine Museum ©

I am creating a virtual quarantine museum: one that immortalizes our experiences (collectively and individually) of this global pandemic. Its relics and objects, reflections and images. 

The first item I am placing in the museum is a handless clock of limitless time, and a reminder to seize the day, because we never know when our time will run out….

(Image courtesy of PNGKey)

The Soul of Lowell: Small business entrepreneurs await passage of $2 Trillion Stimulus Package

When I woke up this morning, I learned that after much bickering and name-calling, the Senate, House of Representatives and White House had hammered out the details of the $2 trillion stimulus package. All indications were that the bill would soon be signed into law and fast-tracked into economic relief for workers, families, businesses large and small. 

After breakfast and a dose of COVID-19 international news, I walked the half-mile to my studio on Market Street at Gates Block for a change of scene.

During my walk through a usually bustling downtown, I crossed paths with a dozen or so people, in various stages of protective dress (or not) – some, like me, were bare-faced. Others wore surgical masks, and one man was covered head to toe – hood, gloves, and a kerchief worn as a face mask with a slit for his eyes. As we passed each other at half the recommended social distance, I heard a friendly hello and responded in kind.  Just before that, I’d exchanged smiles with a short gray-haired woman in a sweat suit, who seemed both resigned and in good spirits. Is this what pandemic acceptance looks like?  Buses followed their routes, riderless. Traffic was light. I didn’t need to wait for a walk signal to cross Dutton Street.  

Passing dark storefronts on Market Street, my heart felt heavy for friends who’ve had to shutter their shops, art galleries, and restaurants. Our small business owners, whose energy, stick-tuitivity, persistence and pride, are the soul of Lowell, immigrant city of possibility, city of reinvention that inspires us to reinvent ourselves.  

I had a chance to catch up on-line with Patty DiStefano, owner and operator of Gallery Z, Artist Co-operative and Café at 167 Market Street. Originally opened in 2014, the Gallery expanded in 2016 to accommodate performance space for concerts, acoustic and poetry open mics, and theater performances by Balefire Productions. The annual Jack Kerouac Birthday Celebration is hosted there.  

“I shut down a few days before Governor Baker ordered restaurants and bars to close,” Patty said, “and cancelled all events in March on the 12th,” Kerouac’s birthday. “We depend on those events and sales to keep us going,” she said. 

Gallery Z’s overhead is steep. “I’m hoping to get relief from the stimulus plan they are trying to pass in the Senate. If it goes through, it will absolutely save my business.”

In the meantime, she has created a donation page on the Gallery Z website, and put out a call on Facebook. “I try not to worry,” she added, “and focus on one day at a time.”

Tonight, for the sake of all of Lowell’s small business entrepeneurs and their families, for Lowellians, and all Americans, and for a future I expect to be a new normal, I look forward to the Federal stimulus bill to be signed into law, and immediately put into action to provide some measure of relief for those who are suffering economically.

For information about initiatives targeted to support the business community, including ways Lowellians can support their favorite businesses, check out the March 23, 2020  article in The Sun by Danielle McFadden, President of the Chamber of Commerce.  

And if Gallery Z is on your short list of favorites, please consider showing your support!

Census Field Operations in suspended animation until April 1

I’ve been working in the field for the 2020 Decennial Census “Group Quarters Operation.” This means I’ve been conducting advance contact with group quarters, such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities, group homes, and housing for religious people. Some of my GQ field supervisor colleagues have been assigned to college dorms and other locations where groups of people are housed — or would be housed but for the closing of most/all dorms in the state. I have also been undergoing training to assist with the SBE (Service-based Enumerator) Operation, which was set to begin March 30, 31 and April 1 at shelters, soup kitchens and outdoor unsheltered encampments.

I received a call this morning that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for the protection of those being counted and those conducting the count, the operation is suspended until April Fool’s Day (which is also officially “Census Day”). The pandemic is wreaking havoc with many things, and the Federal Decennial Census (taken once every 10 years) is no exception.

In the meantime, individual households will be receiving a notification with instructions regarding three options to respond. For the first time ever, the census is offering an online option in addition to participating by phone or by completing a paper form. The goal is for a COMPLETE COUNT. Why? Because an accurate account leads to appropriate allocation of funding for community needs, as well as representation in Congress. Your participation matters!

For more information, go to:

City of Lowell web page

Coalition for a Better Acre web page

Yet my bones…

scope creep is epic and predictions dire

Today is a day to behold! The sun has raised the temperature to the mid-40’s, phoebes and chickadees flit and sing, the Concord’s whitewater is running, here where spring has sprung early. Blue skies and just-emerging buds. Rain fell last night, but didn’t soak the ground. There’s barely enough run-off to fill thirsty watersheds. In the midst of climate change, this winter’s warmth predicts a tic-heavy season to come. We take such known changes in stride, and adapt as a matter of fact. Yet the scope creep is epic and predictions dire. The speed of arctic melt is accelerating. Coastlines erode apace, toward the disappearance of half of all beaches by the end of this century. What the human eye can see in real time just does not compute with these projections. Yet my bones and cartilage, reptilian brain, my sinews and skin, my imagination, all of me is aware of the great existential threat we face. I am beholden to learn now, fight now and act now. To pray now, give now, ache now, love now. To know that all is here is now. And to live accordingly.

Concord River running behind Bagshaw Mills, Lowell MA (photo by Emily Ferrara)