Under the Sun

Under the Sun: A Would-Be Census Worker Finds Herself Shilling for Trump

Under the Sun: A Would-Be Census Worker Finds Herself Shilling for Trump
Phoenix New Times illustration

Sherry Maxwell thought she was applying for work as a government census taker when she answered a “Help Wanted” ad, she explained last week.

“I was just a housewife trying to get back out into the work force,” Maxwell said. “I hadn’t worked in 10 years and I figured I’d take what I could get and sort of build up my resume again.”

The Google ad was listed under “Census Work.” She thought it was odd that the interview was held at the downtown Marriott hotel. “I figured, it’s a government job, they’ll have the interview at City Hall or something.”

Instead, Maxwell was surprised to find herself in a cramped third-floor office, and even more surprised to learn she’d mostly be handing out pamphlets promoting President Donald Trump’s reelection.

“They told me the office thing was temporary,” she explained. “They kept calling the job ‘census work,’ and they tried to convince me it was census work, but there was no census work. It was more like just passing out deals for the election.”

She was interviewed by a man named Stephen, who told her he’d pay $1 for every door she left a flyer on. There were two different flyers, which she referred to as “pamphlets.” One promoted Trump’s reelection; the other was for Merissa Hamilton, who’s running against Mayor Kate Gallego.

When Maxwell said she thought census workers asked questions as part of their job, Stephen told her she could.

“He said, ‘Sure, ask them if they’ll throw their support behind Donald Trump.’ And he said, ‘Ask them if they want to put a Trump sign in their yard.’ That was when I started to think this wasn’t really what you would call a census job.”

Still, Maxwell needed the work. She left the interview with a list of neighborhoods she’d be leafletting and a box of Republican propaganda. It was risky work, she said. It was hot outside, and she had to take someone with her who could watch her bike while she walked downtown streets.

“I don’t mind being outside, but they had me in lower-income neighborhoods, and people down there don’t like Trump. They made it known. Every time I asked if they were going to vote for him, the answer was always a very loud ‘No!’”

Nobody she spoke to wanted a Trump yard sign, Maxwell reported. “I didn’t really talk to that many people, anyway. Most people aren’t home during the day, so I’d just knock and drop my pamphlet and go. There was this little speech I was supposed to give if someone answered the door, but lots of people didn’t answer, so I didn’t have a lot to do.”

Even though she needed the money, Maxwell only lasted a week as a pretend census taker.

“I thought, I’m not going to keep going, because it’s flyers for Trump, and he’s a man I don’t like. He’s taking our rights away,” she said. “This is not a good thing.”

Her exit was met with a shrug. Her employer, Maxwell said, told her they were finished with the Trump flyers anyway. “He said they’d passed out all the Republican stuff they were allowed to in Phoenix. He wasn’t mad that I didn’t want to do this anymore.”

In the end, Maxwell was paid only $22 for passing out pamphlets. “I didn’t expect to get rich doing this, but I had been looking forward to some real census work,” she confessed. “Do you know what I mean? Asking someone how many people lived at their house, and their ages and stuff. That sounded like something that would be important to do.”

For now, she’s waiting for her next assignment from the not-really-census people. “I guess I didn’t actually quit. I got busy with errands. My spouse and I have a side business; we cater to the LGBTQ community where, if they need things fixed, we go out and do that. Our thing is we don’t charge for estimates. Those are totally free.”

The leafleting job had taught her a big lesson, Maxwell insisted. In the future, she’d make sure to always ask a lot of questions when applying for a job.

“It seems a little weird to sign up as a census taker and end up sticking things on doorknobs instead,” was how she explained it.
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela