2010 Census: standing Up and Getting Counted

by Aquil Charlton

Census Drive Employees and Organizers

In 2000, less than 50% of Chicago Lawn residents returned their Census forms to the U.S. Census Bureau. Since Census data is used to determine allocations of federal funds to the state of Illinois, which then allocates the funds to our communities, the low response rate translated to fewer dollars for federally funded programs and services, thus denying our community some of the resources it so desperately needs. IMAN believes the residents of Chicago Lawn deserve to be represented and that our community must receive funds proportional to its real population. So from October 2009 through April 2010, IMAN staff implemented a program, under the auspices of the Count Me In campaign, led by the Joyce Foundation and the United Congress of Community and Religious Organizations (UCCRO), to raise the percentage of households that complete and return their Census forms by 20%.

As of the first week in May, the U.S. Census Bureau has received the bulk of the 2010 Census forms that will be used to count the number of residents in the Chicago Lawn area. As a result of IMAN’s community organizing and the efforts of our peer organizations, such as the Latino Organization of the Southwest (LOS) and the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP), the count in Chicago Lawn increased by as much as 37% in some parts of the community. This increase sends a message that the residents of Chicago Lawn want to be represented in state funding formulas. It also translates to nearly $12,000 in federal funds per household over the next 10 years.

IMAN’s work to increase the number of households in the Chicago Lawn community that complete and return their 2010 Census forms has leveraged more than just federal dollars. The significant involvement of local residents and leaders has created powerful connections between us and our neighbors and a greater sense of collective accountability for the sustainability of our community. As a result of our Census organizing, IMAN engaged more than 50 volunteers from Chicago Lawn who made contact with over 2,000 neighbors, substantially deepening our relationships with local leaders and residents.  These volunteers received stipends for their work and learned principles and strategies for community organizing. These resources and relationships will be invaluable in the future for IMAN as it continues to organize around issues important to its community.

Illinois Muslim Action Day – 2010

by Hazel Gomez

IMAN leaders joined over 1,200 Muslims on Thursday, April 22, for Illinois Muslim Action Day in Springfield to advocate for issues that are important to our communities. Organized by the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC), the event provided a great way for Muslims to be involved in the Illinois political system. To ensure an impact on the state legislators, leaders were equipped to discuss issues that affect a wide range of communities, beyond just the Muslim community. They promoted, for example, policies regarding home foreclosure prevention and counseling, equitable access to healthy food in inner-city communities, and educational and nutritional activities in Illinois schools.

It was important for IMAN to participate in this Illinois Muslim Action Day with CIOGC because the event served as a platform for Muslim organizations across Chicago to stand united and promote social change.

Moving the Debate on Immigration Reform

by Fatima Bahloul, Gemali Ibrahim, and Haroon Najam

In April’s Community Forum, attendees learned and discussed how particular legal policies regarding immigration, detention, and surveillance affect communities. The forum was part

of IMAN’s efforts to connect communities and their issues in order to promote human rights and racial equity for all and, in particular, to its ongoing work for immigration reform.  However, in retrospect, the meeting also served as a precursor to IMAN’s recent groundwork for challenging the dangerous precedent set by Arizona’s controversial immigration law.  Most importantly, it was an opportunity for IMAN leaders to engage individuals that are facing immigration issues and for others in the community to voice their opinions in a free and comfortable space.

Qa’id Hassan, the owner of an organic food company, Whole Earth Foods, attended the forum because he wanted to publicly express his concerns for the rights of undocumented workers. His statements were striking because they highlighted the conflicting feelings many have about immigration reform. Undocumented workers are important to the produce industry, Hassan explained, because they ensure a source of cheap labor. In business terms, what Hassan meant was that cheap labor equals cheap food and, consequently, the public benefits from the disadvantaged situation of undocumented workers. At the same time, it is not fair that the public can purchase cheap produce at the expense of the rights of undocumented workers such as the right to healthy living conditions. In sum, Hassan pointed out the basic challenge we face: create and provide inexpensive products and services in ways that do not rob undocumented laborers of their rights.

Hassan’s articulation of his concerns highlighted the positions of the forum participants that were divided into two opposing groups: those that supported immigration reform and those that supported deportations of undocumented immigrants. One attendee, a Cuban immigrant herself, was concerned that immigrants are a burden to American society rather than a benefit. She cited personal experiences where immigrant friends benefited from social services and ‘juiced’ the system without contributing to their society. “They come here without any skills or an education,” she said.

These opposing views expressed in the forum were salient because they genuinely reflect the positions that community members are grappling with, especially in urban contexts where competition over economic opportunities is intense and proximate. Such opposition between community members, that face shared marginalization and discrimination in many other ways, is a serious challenge to creating solidarity and alliances to promote equity for all. However, the forum did provide the participants an opportunity to broaden their perspectives by sharing their opinions and listening to others, thus fulfilling its most important purpose.

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IMAN hosts a forum on the first Wednesday of every month to educate participants on issues facing our neighborhoods while providing practical knowledge in community organizing. Our aim is also to provide a safe and constructive space for the community to connect, relate, and forge mutual understanding.