Vote Assyrian shifts gears on census project amid COVID-19 limitations

April 2020 | By Yasmeen Altaji | Featured photo provided by Vote Assyrian

CHICAGO — Vote Assyrian, the civic engagement advocacy group that has, since January, been spearheading a campaign encouraging Assyrians to write their ethnicity into the 2020 U.S. census in an effort to obtain minority status, has implemented strategical changes to the movement in accordance with coronavirus-related social distancing guidelines. 

Prior to the stay-at-home orders implemented as a result of developments to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vote Assyrian had planned on fulfilling the majority of its outreach by setting up once weekly information desks at Chicago’s Assyrian churches and canvassing at Assyrian residences. 

Now, Mary Oshana, executive director of the Vote Assyrian census project, says the committee has shifted its outreach plan almost entirely to an online approach. 

“We’re…trying to think of innovative and creative ways to meet our community without meeting them in person,” Oshana said. “The limit is around making sure our community is safe and healthy.”

The organization had stationed at Mar Gewargis Cathedral in Chicago and St. Andrew’s Parish in Glenview, Ill. twice before stopping in March amid social distancing concerns, Oshana said. 

Oshana and her team have since revamped their strategy, utilizing platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to reach its audiences, according to Oshana.

Those with no access to computers or social media can now utilize newly instated phone hotlines, accessible via text or call, Oshana said. Vote Assyrian also began phone banking Saturday, April 4. 

Online informational tutorials – even videos of star Assyrian athletes expressing their support of the write-in campaign – supplement the phone banks. 

Ashur Shiba, a member of Vote Assyrian’s executive board, says the shift has “absolutely” impacted their ability to reach people.

“It is what it is,” Shiba, who has also been involved with the census project, said. “These are uncertain times, so we have to learn. We have to adapt.”

Oshana said the committee will continue phone banking efforts as well as social media efforts in the coming weeks.

“We’re going to think strategically; we’re going to think creatively,” Oshana said. “We’re doing just about everything we can to leverage social media.”

Vote Assyrian will be hosting a Q&A-style Facebook Live Thursday, April 9 at 6:00 pm CST. Updates and more information about the census project can be found at Vote Assyrian’s Facebook and Instagram pages. Questions can be directed toward the following phone resources: 

Text: (773) 839-6152
Call: (847) 802-VOTE (8683)

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James B Yonan April 5, 2020 at 4:38 pm

Hit me up! I’d like to volunteer to help in any way I can, esp. w/ Phone Banking. (I have previous experience).

Vote Assyrian names new executive director May 24, 2022 at 8:56 am

[…] group most notably led a 2020 campaign for the US census to encourage Assyrians to check the “Other” box under the Ethnicity category and to write in […]


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