Civic Participation and the Promise of Democracy

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Craig McGarvey

Drawing from Craig McGarvey’s seven years of professional experience as Program Director in Civic Culture at The James Irvine Foundation, a California-wide philanthropy, Civic Participation and the Promise of Democracy explores civic engagement strategies (faith-based and community organizing, popular education, collective learning) through providing an overview of their use in California. During McGarvey’s time at Irvine’s Civic Culture, the program supported Californians who were working to build a durable pluralism from the State’s unprecedented demographic diversity. One of the great privileges of philanthropic work is the vantage point it offers – program officers are able to build relationships with community geniuses of varying vision and strategy, consequently building overview understandings of their work in communities. The resulting view of civic participation presented in this paper does not necessarily use the language of any particular community organizer or popular educator. In writing this paper, the author notes that there are inherent limitations imposed by the professional perch from which the report has been written. Community practice outside California is necessarily slighted; labor organizing and issue-based organizing are treated with less knowledgeable care than other approaches. Throughout, there has been an attempt to temper attitude with sound judgment, but the essay’s value-laden worldview will become clear from the outset. Here is a first assumption: positive social change in communities can only be achieved when community residents learn how to make the change. From that axiom flows all that follows. 

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