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Changing the Frame: Civic Engagement Through A Racial Equity Lens

Protesters marching towards downtown Chicago with the lake between them and downtown. One protester has a megaphone and out of the megaphone are words that are the title of the report.

State of Racial Justice in Chicago Report

Since Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital came out in 2000, policymakers, nonprofit funders, and pundits have sent out warning signals about declining civic engagement in the U.S. The 2010 Chicago Civic Health Index report began with the startling assessment that “Chicagoland’s civic health is on life support.” However, traditional measures of civic engagement tend to be rooted in a framework that privileges voting and particular forms of volunteering. This narrow focus obscures a broader range of civic activities disproportionately practiced by Black, Latinx, and working-class people.

In this report, we provide a broader analysis of civic life using a racial equity lens. We take into account racial inequities and the practices and policies that reinforce them along with the perspectives of people engaged in the critical work of addressing these inequities. By incorporating a racial equity lens and the voices of these community actors into our analysis, we hope to broaden the discussion of what counts as civic engagement and better understand how to encourage it.