Blurt: Seven Days Staff Blog

NOTE: Blurt has been retired and is no longer updated regularly. For new content, follow these links:

OFF MESSAGE: Vermont News and Politics
BITE CLUB: Food and Drink Blog

« A New Prognosis for Health Care Reform in Vermont | Main | Democratic Gubernatorial Hopefuls Tackle Labor Issues at Debate »

April 01, 2010

Census Swag — Your taxpayer dollars at work


IMG_4570 Today I ventured out on Church Street to soak up some Vitamin D and watch the bedlam that is Burlington's pedestrian thoroughfare. As I made my way down the street, I happened upon an official government vehicle parked outside of City Hall blasting Argentine Tango music.

Outside the van, were tables upon tables  (ok, just like five tables) of swag. Not the kind of swag celebrities get — free trips to Mauritius, Harry Winston tennis bracelets, etc — but the kind of swag that banks and insurance companies give away to try to get you to join up.

But whereas banks and insurance companies give away a stress ball or a key chain, these folks — dutiful Census employees — were giving away just about every kind of tchotchke ever to be crafted by tiny Taiwanese children. There were Census logo-emblazoned baseballs, ball caps, beanies, keychains, totes, string backpacks, notebooks, travel mugs, stickers, pens and mousepads. (Sidenote- does anyone still use mousepads? Just wondering.)

Behind the tables stood gleeful Census workers, asking everyone loading up on free stuff if they had filled out their Census forms. See, because today was judgment day for the Census. Today was the day they wanted to have all the forms in.

So far, only 50 percent of folks have returned their Census forms. In order to get an accurate snapshot of the nation, participation needs to be much higher. Soon, they'll have to dispatch the armies of Census workers to go door-to-door to track down the info. But today, they brought out the big guns — free shit.

Everyone loves free shit. People will line up to get a calculator, an oversized T-shirt, a goddamned bookmark even, assuming it's free. And people don't care what the graft is advertising — an airline credit card, a newspaper, a maximum security penitentiary — as long as it is free.

At the Census table, most of the people loading up their free totes did not care one wit about filling out forms. They were too entranced by the glint of shiny things. One lady, cigarette dangling out of her house, said, "What else ya got," to the kindly looking lady behind the table.

I understand the point of all the swag, which, I might point out, I paid for with my tax money so it better be damn free. They want people to fill out the Census and the only way Americans will do anything en masse is if they something out of it.

I also understand that they're trying to reach out to a population who might not be inclined to fill out forms sent to them by The Man. But if you're trying to reach that population, why hang out in a van blasting tango music outside of City Hall where most people are apt to have sent their form in already? Why not move the van two blocks up and perch outside of the Burlington Town Center mall for a few hours. That probably wouldn't work because most likely they would get mobbed and all of their free stuff would get taken before they could even gently ask "Have you filled out your Census?"

For the record, I have filled out my Census. I loved it so much, I might even fill out a second or third form, seeing as though that's how many were sent to me. But only if I get a free Census car. Or motorcycle. I'd even take a moped.

As a counterpoint to your gushing post, I'd be more concerned about the census and privacy matters, as reported by James Bovard in the CSM, 'Americans are told that the Census Bureau operates under a reverse Miranda warning: Any information gathered will never be used against them. The House of Representatives, in a Census Awareness Month resolution passed March 3, proclaimed that "the data obtained from the census are protected under United States privacy laws."

'Unfortunately, thousands of Americans who trusted the Census Bureau in the past lost their freedom as a result. [...]

'In 2003-04, the Census Bureau provided the Department of Homeland Security with a massive cache of information on how many Arab Americans lived in each ZIP Code around the nation, and which country they originated from. Such information could have made it far easier to carry out the type of mass roundup that some conservatives advocated. But the Census Bureau denied it had done anything wrong in providing such information. . .

'It was the Census Bureau that led the charge in 1942 to persuade Congress to pass a law permitting disclosure of census responses to federal law enforcement and other agencies. (That law expired in 1947.) But the bureau did not even wait for the law’s passage before betraying its pledge to Americans.'

Read the whole article:|+Top+Stories%29&utm_content=Google+Reader

At St. Michael's, we all got sweet Census 2010 emblazoned red plastic cups in our mailboxes the other day. Expect to see some government-sponsored games of beer pong this weekend.

It's also news to me that yesterday was the day by which the govt wanted all Census forms turned in, because at St. Mike's none of the students who live on campus (that's all of them) have even received the forms to fill out yet.

Tyler, I would assume that as undergrads you would still be considered as part of your parent's household for the purpose of the census, so the forms probably were sent there.

I worked for the Census the last time around, going door to door to get people to fill out their forms. It was an awesome gig. I still have my free Census tote bag somewhere. And I know I've got a free Census mechanical pencil in one of my many junk drawers.

That's what I would have guessed Michael, but we got an email from the Census Bureau saying basically that we should take the survey where we live and sleep for most of the year, so we'd be getting the forms at our campus residence.

Why is it that you think the people in front of City Hall are more likely to have filled out their census than the people in front of the mall?
It sounds pretty derogatory when things like that are written, especially when they are followed up by:
That probably wouldn't work because most likely they would get mobbed and all of their free stuff would get taken before they could even gently ask "Have you filled out your Census?"

I don't find that funny, I find it offensive and frankly, I think Ms. Ober does things like this with some frequency. Shame on you!

the portion of the post referenced by Maura does smack of classism... surprising, coming from our local alternative paper.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

All Rights Reserved © Da Capo Publishing Inc. 1995-2012 | PO Box 1164, Burlington, VT 05402-1164 | 802-864-5684