Guest column: Building Community Power Through Participation | Opinion | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper
As our region confronts COVID-19, civic participation is more vital than ever with the 2020 Census in full swing and Pennsylvania’s election season beginning June 2. At the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership (GPNP) — a network of more than 400 local nonprofits — we have seen the staggering need and immense generosity of our communities here in southwestern Pennsylvania. Too often, however, nonprofit organizations and the people we serve are left out of policy decisions. As a result, we see the impacts of inequitable policy clearer today than ever, with COVID-19 exacerbating disparities in health, wealth, and connectivity.

When residents are equipped with the information and tools they need, they are in a better position to advocate for policy changes they want to see.

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We know that when everybody counts and everybody votes, a diversity of constituents influence decisions made from local town halls to Congress. The problem is that many of our communities who have historically been undercounted — communities of color, rural residents, immigrants, people experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, and families with young children — also typically have lower levels of voter turnout. The Constitutional purpose of the U.S. Census is to reapportion the US House of Representatives and the PA General Assembly, but it is so much more than that. Funding for federal and state programs in areas such as public education, infrastructure, housing, healthcare, and more all rely on an accurate count of the population in every state. Without our voices holistically represented at local, state, and federal levels, our communities will continue to be underserved.

Nonprofits have a unique and important role to play here. When residents are equipped with the information and tools they need, they are in a better position to advocate for policy changes they want to see. When organizations ensure those residents are counted and vote, systemic change happens. In this effort, collaborations and partnerships are essential. Since 2018, GPNP has partnered with the Allegheny County Complete Count Committee, the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management, and Keystone Counts to educate nonprofits on the 2020 Census. Together with our partners at The Forbes Funds, Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Group and Keystone Progress Education Fund, we are hosting Get Out the Vote training sessions during May and this upcoming fall to prepare the communities we serve to make their voices heard.

The effects of this year’s census and the election will be felt for years to come. Decisions at every level of government deserve to be made with our communities in mind. As a united sector, nonprofits and the people we serve can have a collective seat at the table. 

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