Advancement Project California’s Alejandra Ramirez-Zarate and John Dobard walked into the California Community Foundation’s (CCF) Joan Palevsky Center for the Future of Los Angeles (JPC), looked around the room and said, “Back to where it all started.”
They have not seen each other since the March 2020 safer at home orders were issued. Standing six feet apart, they smile behind their masks, happy to be together in the space where We Count LA first launched. Starting more than two years ago, CCF helped convene more than 115 community-based organizations to take on one of the most daunting census counts in our history.
“We Count LA is a family, and this room at CCF was our living room. Here we got to know each other, share our vision and make our plans,” said Alejandra. A policy and research analyst, Alejandra, along with John and the team from Advancement Project California, informed the entire campaign with real time data to target census outreach, particularly for historically undercounted communities of color.
L.A. County was long designated as the “hardest-to-count” region in the nation, which was made more challenging with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and continued changes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s in-person enumeration efforts and deadlines.
At the center of We Count LA were eight regional hubs that served as coordinating bridges to more than 250 organizations and stakeholders. Each regional table was led by an anchor organization. In Metro Los Angeles, it was Advancement Project California, while the others included Antelope Valley Partners for Health, Community Coalition, LA Voice, Long Beach Forward, Pacoima Beautiful, Pomona Economic Opportunity Center and SELA Collaborative. The coalition represented 16 diverse populations and 60 languages and served as trusted community ambassadors to help combat mistrust and fear by reinforcing the reasons why being counted is critical during this pandemic.
The resiliency and grit of the nonprofits collaborating within and across regional tables made it possible for the campaign to pivot and find innovative solutions for outreach.
“We needed to ensure organizations had a space to convene for focused, regionally tailored conversations to find responsive approaches to outreach that could match the needs of those specific areas,” said John, director of political voice for Advancement Project California.
This annual report is dedicated to all those who have and continue to change course and rise to historic challenges. Grassroots organizations have emerged — like they always do — as the heroes of the story. Amid a political firestorm, global pandemic, economic turmoil and a shortened deadline, they are on the frontline of getting out the count to ensure everyone is heard.
They are relying on their rooted networks while branching out to make new connections to design innovative responses and lasting renewal. The newly formed partnerships and relationships formed by campaigns like We Count LA are a part of a social justice movement infrastructure that will drive our efforts to build a better L.A. with good schools, access to health care and thriving community in which families can grow.
John and Alejandra walk out of the CCF convening center to jump on their next We Count LA Zoom call. But before they rush off, they take one look back at CCF’s convening space. They cannot be certain when they will be able to gather in person again, but they know this place will be ready for them and everyone in our community when that time comes, hopefully very soon.
“We needed to ensure organizations had a space to convene for focused, regionally tailored conversations to find responsive approaches to outreach that could match the needs of those specific areas”
— JOHN DOBARD,
Director of Political Voice, Advancement Project California