Skip to main content
Chicago Minute Civics

Chicago Minute Civics

By Chicago Minute Civics
Chicago Minute Civics: What it sounds like.
Listen on
Where to listen
Breaker Logo


Google Podcasts Logo

Google Podcasts

RadioPublic Logo


Spotify Logo


Nelson Algren
Today’s episode is brought to you by Joe Engleman, about novelist Nelson Algren. His “epic poem” Chicago: City on the Make may be the best literary love letter to the city. His short story collection, The Neon Wilderness, has many stories that capture Division Street after the war. His stories came from embedding himself with the people no one else seemed to be interested in — boxers, boozers, barflies, gamblers, hustlers, sex workers, and tramps. During the Great Depression, Algren worked for the Federal Writers Project of the Works Progress Administration. For two decades, he was spied on by the FBI for being an active communist and a vocal critic of the Vietnam War. He had a long-term romantic and intellectual relationship with the French feminist, philosopher, and writer Simone de Beauvior. After their break-up and as he grew older, Algren developed and deployed a hard-bitten, embittered, cynical, and at times misogynistic public persona — not unlike the persona Ernest Hemingway established for himself – that obscured how approachable and supportive of young artists he was. If you aren’t planning on picking up one of his books, maybe you can learn about Algren from the tours of Chicago he’d give. First, he’d take you to Cook County Jail to see the electric chair, then onto the race track to play the ponies, then he might take you to see Gwendolyn Brooks or Studs Terkel, before closing out the day with the taverns out west on Madison Street or closer to his West Evergreen Avenue apartment. To him, that'd be a pretty good Chicago day. Joe Engleman is a Chicago-based writer and his website is
April 27, 2020
Ida B Wells
Welcome to Chicago Minute Civics. This episode is about Ida Barnett Wells, an African-American investigative journalist, educator, and activist who lived in Chicago. As editor and co-owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, Wells-Barnett documented lynchings across the country, White Tennesseans angered by her indictments, destroyed the Free Speech offices, and Wells-Barnett eventually moved north to Chicago, publishing Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases. In Chicago, she worked to establish the first black kindergarten and helped elect the city's first black alderman, living in Bronzeville until her death. (I’m so nervous about this one bc Ida B Wells is the first successful Twitter personality. Thankless/etc.) To learn more, check out Paula J. Gidding’s biography of Ida B. Wells, a Sword Among Lions. You can also check out Gregory Pratt’s article from the Chicago Tribune about the street named after her here:
April 8, 2020
Aldermanic Prerogative
This week’s episode is about fake and real power in aldermanic prerogative.
March 24, 2020
Chicago Police’s Use of Facial Recognition Technology
Welcome to Chicago Minute Civics. This episode is about the fight to stop facial recognition technology in Chicago. Do you remember that scene in Charlie’s Angels where Drew Barrymore wears someone else’s face to get access to a high security room? Potentially not if you are not trans masculine, or have good taste in movies, but the city has used that kind of facial recognition technology for over a decade. During that time, billions of images have been collected… without people's consent. In January the Chicago Police Department signed a contract with Clearview Ai, which uses images of faces from social media to power the tool. Google, YouTube, Venmo and LinkedIn have all sent cease-and-desist letters to Clearview Ai. Press Pause Chicago, a coalition of seventy-five groups called on Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to end the city's use of facial recognition technology, calling this tool, and any AI tool using facial recognition technology, inaccurate and racially-biased. For more, check out the show notes. Read More: (Lucy Parsons Labs)
March 18, 2020
Alderman Daniel La Spata, 1st Ward
Welcome to Chicago Minute Civics. This episode is about Alderman Daniel La Spata, who represents the 1st Ward. The 1st Ward includes parts of the UIC neighborhood, West town Wicker Park and Maplewood. La Sparta is a new alderman, elected in the 2019 election. He is often described as the nerd alderman, in contrast to his predecessor Joe Moreno, the hipster alderman. Joe Moreno gets his own episode. What does it mean to be the nerd alderman? Besides making a lot of charts, La Spata is a member of the democratic socialists of America, one of 4 alderman on city council who are members. He is in support of many campaigns run by the democratic socialist including advocating for Chicago to end its contract with comed and criticizing Mayer Lightfoot for her budget’s overreliance on property taxes.  He has also joined with other alderman calling for a more aggressive response to Lakefront erosion caused by climate change. For more on the first ward and Daniel La Spata, check out the show notes. Learn More:
March 6, 2020
Chicago’s Spanish Influenza Epidemic
Welcome to Chicago Minute Civics. This episode is about the public health response to the Spanish flu epidemic in Chicago. The Spanish Flu Epidemic killed more than 50 million in 1918. That’s four times the number of people killed in World War I. Compared to other major cities like New York, where 20,000 people died, 8,500 people died of the disease in Chicago. some historians say that’s because Chicago took serious public health precautions, making the spread less endemic than in other cities: slowly, as the spread worsened, there were bans on public dancing, closings of theaters, public houses, night schools, and lodge houses. Health Commissioner John Dill Robertson, was in charge of Chicago’s health department at that time, also had a phenomenal mustache. He banned smoking on trains as part of this series of bans. As the epidemic slowed, the other bans on public gatherings were lifted __ but the train smoking bands were kept in place and are still in place today. His approach was extreme but also may have meant Chicago was spared the worst of the epidemic. Of course __ it’s Chicago, so there is still a deeply messed up structural racist part of this story! According to the Influenza Encylopedia, an amazingly named resource, far more white people in Chicago died during the epidemic -- Roberston attributed the difference to an “intrinsic immunity to influenza among the city’s African American population.” Historians tend to agree that it was actually that the numbers were wayyy off part of the systemic racism of Chicago’s access to health care. If you want to know more about the Spanish flu epidemic in Chicago, or structural racism and healthcare in Chicago, check out the links in the show notes. Chicago Life Expectancy Gap Driven by Race, Segregation, Says Researcher | Chicago News | WTTW Image from the Chicago Public Library. Read more from WBEZ: or the Influenza Enclyopedia
March 5, 2020
Chicago Minute Civics: 49th Ward
Welcome to Chicago minute civics. This episode is about the 49th Ward (coveting parts of Rogers Park + Edgewater) alderwoman Maria Hadden. Maria Haddon was elected in March 2019 the last round of aldermanic elections. She was the first black and Queer other woman elected to Chicago city Council, and she beat long time alderman Joe more for the seat. She was voted best alderwoman by the Chicago reader in 2019. She has tackled the erosion of beaches caused by changes in the lake and voted against Mayor Lightfoot’s 2019 budget. Read more:
February 7, 2020