Making “Census” of the Neighborhood

AAAN Takes Aqsa students canvassing in Bridgeview for the 2010 Census

March 3rd, 2010

“Some people don’t have doorbells,” complained one student jokingly from the Aqsa School, a Muslim school in Bridgeview (all-girls from grades 6-12). “It’s not fair.” The students had been tasked with collecting Census pledge cards in the neighborhood near the school—and the pair that collected the most pledges, they were told, would win a prize.

The Arab American Action Network led the junior class at Aqsa—18 students—in a canvassing activity for the school’s March 3rd Service Day. AAAN Youth Organizing Program Coordinator Gihad Ali led the students in some orientation activities before the students began door-knocking. They played “the name game”—which involves clapping, snapping, and saying one’s own name followed by the name of someone else in the group, without losing rhythm—and “the question game,” in which players ask each other questions and may respond only with more questions.

Two to a team with an Aqsa or AAAN staff member, the young women hit the streets. Armed with clipboards, pledge cards, flyers, and the information AAAN Census Fellow Fatmah Tabally had presented during orientation, they went from house to house promoting civic engagement. “It was good that we were in Bridgeview,” said one student, “because a lot of us are muhajabaat [wear the hijab, or head scarf] and speak Arabic so people felt comfortable.” Not only were the students culturally aligned with neighborhood residents, but many also reported finding friends, family members, and even their gym teacher’s grandparents on the other side of the door. 

In total, the young women collected 40 pledge cards—an amount that might take up to 16 hours for Tabally canvassing by herself. One student described the experience as “enlightening” and nearly all said they would do it again. “People were so nice,” a student said. One of the people her team spoke to—an older person with accented English who tried to persuade them to come in and sit—even ran out after them because they’d forgotten a pen.

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