2020 needs all the civic engagement Baltimore has to give
By E.R. Shipp
Apr 30, 2019 | 10:30 AM
Federal law enforcement agents fanned out Thursday across Baltimore, raiding City Hall, Mayor Catherine Pugh's house and several other locations as the investigation into her business dealings widened.
The mess at City Hall belies the fact that many Baltimoreans are moving full speed ahead to make this the Charm City of our imaginations. In the midst of darkness, that is a source of hope and a testament to resilience.
At a community forum convened by the Real News Network at the restaurant Ida B’s Table a couple of weeks ago, attendees were adamant about altering the balance of power between the mayor and a relatively weak City Council. They also advocated for a mechanism to remove a mayor when the situation becomes as dire as it has been these past weeks. That rallying of the people, coupled with an announcement by elected officials Monday that they’re taking steps to change the city’s governing charter, is a sure sign that a reformation is coming.
A ballot question could come before the public next year — a year that will demand maximum civic engagement from us: It is a presidential election year; even more importantly, perhaps, it’s a municipal election year and a census year.
“Doing the business of democracy” is how Maya Rockeymore Cummings, the state Democratic Party leader, put it Saturday as she addressed representatives from area colleges and civic organizations, like the League of Women Voters, who met to set into motion plans for an unprecedented voter turnout in 2020.
“We need the resources, equitably distributed, to make sure that we get to where we all need to be. That’s politics. You can’t sit on the sidelines,” Ms. Rockeymore Cummings told me as she mapped out her party’s strategy of convincing folks that they matter in a process that too many people are willing to leave to others. “Politics influences every aspect of our lived experience. To say that you’re not interested or into politics is actually to disenfranchise yourself from a system that determines everything about how you exist.”
Whether you officially exist is the concern of the census — and of the city.
A few days before that higher education summit, Ms. Rockeymoore Cummings’ husband, Rep. Elijah Cummings, and other elected officials helped fire up the people who gathered at Poly High School for a festive Census 2020 Open House. City employees and volunteers unveiled plans for reaching everyone in the head count that the federal government has conducted every 10 years since 1790. Baltimore typically falls short.
The congressman, who’s in the spotlight as chairman of the House Oversight Committee that is investigating the Trump administration from a number of angles, says his No. 1 priority is not that but rather the census. He is one of the honorary co-chairs of what the city is calling the Complete Count Committee.
Anyone who cares about Baltimore should pay heed to what the Baltimore City Planning Department tells us: “The Census determines how we will be represented in Congress, in the Maryland General Assembly and in City Council. It directly affects the allocation of over $400 billion per year in federal and state funding for neighborhood improvements, public health, education, social services, transportation, and much more. For Baltimore City, it is estimated that $1,800 in federal funding per resident, per year is allocated based on Census population data.”
That should convince all of us to do whatever we can to make sure everyone is counted. In 2020, people can submit their information by mail or phone or to a census worker who stops by their home or job. The city’s action plan is still in formation and needs the input of everyone who has ideas about reaching everyone — including the homeless, people recently released from prison, college students, the elderly and children. A 73 percent count would be considered successful, but why not go for broke?
“Tell Lottie and Dottie and everybody to participate in the census,” the congressman said at Poly. “Our lives depend upon it and representation depends upon it.”
So to all who often find themselves out of the loop or uninformed, you are on notice. As State Sen. Mary Washington told me at Poly: “This is about creating who Baltimore is and what our future is. This is not just about the past. It’s about the future.”
That goes for the census, the 2020 elections and efforts to reform city government.
E.R. Shipp, a Pulitzer Prize winner for commentary, is the journalist in residence at Morgan State University's School of Global Journalism and Communication. Her column runs every other Wednesday. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.