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.