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Lens Equity Tool: Communities in Action

Equitable Development Planning can serve as a catalyst to build community vision

that grounds collective research, analysis and action between neighbors

To illustrate a collective process for turning collective problems into community action grounded in building the realities we want to see, we began the Lens Equity Tool as an offering to new and existing organizing groups  as a way to quickly analyze what is valued, what is targeted (and lost from the community) during extraction and exploitation, and push groups to think in terms of building collective power by organizing strategically to build out organized campaigns grounded in the material reality of those most impacted in the community who have come together to organize a better world. Grounded in the material and economic conditions that shape the reality lived by 9 out of 10 families in the neighborhood, we begin by focusing on specific, non-mutually inclusive dimensions of community life (we name these overlapping conditions as: health, economic, environmental, community-determination).


Through identifying collective problems, organizing around a collective vision, and engaging in collective, community-determined research, analysis and action, organized communities are able to strategize and build collective action that brings us closer to our collective vision of a world where all worlds fit.  This process also supports the redress (reparations and redistributive policies) to these past and present disparities (inequities) . Power-mapping can be used in order to begin locating strategic points of intervention, influence and leverage on public and private development, and/or by starting new projects, programs, campaigns and coalitions that move organized neighbors closer to the world that we want to build, live and see.


We identify specific stages of collective action (identifying collective problems, pinpointing the root causes, forming a collective vision, researching collective solutions, mapping power through decision-makers and influencers, and building on issues/campaigns) to assist our organizing work to frame a process to build out the demonstration and impact of community power- whether it be through advocacy, fundraising, organizing and opposition campaigns, or through new projects, programs and resources directed toward collective self-determination and community defense. The purpose of the Lens Equity Tool is to be adapted by community groups at any stage in order to catalyze a collective analysis of your targets (and identify collective goals related to community identified issues or problems). It is important that the Lens Equity Tool be used by organized groups in tandem with one or more attempts to complete a power analysis of the influencers and decision-makers closest to your collective targets. Understanding the Lens Equity Tool in this way can help groups identify possible strategic points of community intervention surrounding your issues/goals, and can support organized groups to identify collective (neighborhood) energy, and ignite collective energy into organized action: writing collective goals and norms, building power-sharing structures, and organizing collection research, synthesis and action.

Vision of the Lens Equity Tool

Our shared vision locates family health at the center of housing stability, historic displacement, economic development, and market speculation.


Our organizing work in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea was specifically founded on collective goals that define anti-displacement strategies with the purpose of keeping families in their homes (goals established by housing stability for families most impacted by displacement pressures). 

The purpose of the Equity Lens Tool (and why we began working on this collective analysis tool in the first place)

Through our fight against displacement of our neighbors, we have looked for community-determined regenerative solutions and equitable processes to assist our collective efforts to define (and redefine) our organizing model, vision and scope of strategic activities. As a starting point, this EDP Workbook aims to reject the framework of investment and development that relies on extraction, and instead we suggest developing a process of community planning, organizing practices, and collective action to combat the extractive nature of development, and addressing the root causes of displacement pressures. The Lens Equity Tool should allow your group to begin identifying targets through a collective analysis that allows your group to best review possible strategic points of leverage and intervention in active and ongoing investment and development in your neighborhoods.

The steps for using the Workbook

To build on the collective process and practice, we have

generalized four stages of collective action, to allow us a

quick synthesis for how we build momentum from the energy:

1. Understand the systemic roots of our problems and specifically

understand how systemic disparities in health and housing have

impacted our communities (through the collective analysis of racist

policies on everyday life)

2. Build a process for strategic community action, starting with a

collective vision (collective tools adapted from the history of

community organizing, autonomous communities, and


3. Move collective research toward community-determined process,

programs, projects and solutions that address systemic harm

(collective research, direct action, equitable development,

community stewardship of Community Land Trusts (CLTs)

4. Organize campaigns (or coalitions) to amplify issues through

strategic community action

Development of the Lens as a Land-use/ Anti-displacement organizing tool

The need for this type of tool was first collectively identified in 2015, as a need to amend the recently passed (but inadequate and incomplete) Globeville and Elyria-Swansea Neighborhood Plans, (that were passed by Denver City Council in 2014, and 2015 respectively) which omitted the themes of housing, health, displacement, culture and community-determination from the plans. The plans also formalized the City of Denver’s aspirations for future and upcoming development and investments, and made recommendation on rezoning, with no consideration or mention of community health. Through 2016-2017, this group learning continued, and we began to realize that none of the strategies promoted as “anti-displacement tools” that we analyzed should actually deserve to be called anti- displacement tools, nor are the majority of the tools/resources promoted as “anti-displacement strategies” are made accessible or designed to be used by organized communities. 

Later in May of 2018, Gus Newport visited Denver, and met with our CLT Group Center, and in that meeting, he explained that a type of Equitable Development Plan had been successfully utilized by Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative for the development of their CLT. From this meeting, GES Coalition began fundraising to write this Equitable Development Planner, and in February 2019, was awarded a two-year grant from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to develop, publish and organize on "We Decide The Future". Through the course of collectively researching and writing "We Decide The Future" during 2019-2020, we began to understand that this type of upside down equitable planner is designed first and foremost for our community, and soundly, we offer it as “lessons learned” with the hope that they can be adapted by organized communities facing similar neighborhood disparities (inequities). This project was not designed for developers nor legislators nor city agencies, although we hope this upside down planner can positively influence a new commitment from developers, investors, city staff and policy makers to better value, understand, and ultimately support organized communities seeking community protections, community stewardship, and community-determination.

During these years (2015-2018) we came to understand that structurally, Denver’s offers no policy or legal protections, nor government funds nor programs to redress past harms, nor is there any effort or funding to prevent or mitigate displacement driven by Denver’s public and private investments and development. We also noticed that again and again, an ongoing pattern of disparities (inequities) that are impacting our neighborhoods are also the same disparities (inequities) facing other neighborhoods in Denver. We soon learned that nowhere in the City’s planning process are the health impacts caused by development and displacement addressed. We also learned that there are no legal or policy protections around enforcing equity or requiring equitable development, and that all mentions of equity in Blueprint Denver (2019) are aspirational and suggestions only and lack any policy/enforcement (“teeth”).  

Why change the patterns of development? 

Development depends on the profit-motive of exploitation and extraction that then makes the development financially viable for the developer and their investors, and this model of extraction and exploitation requires that there are people, land and resources to exploit. Wealthy neighborhoods (and the political and business elite who live there) often write the policy and receive the majority of benefits that facilitate the investments and development that drive neighborhood extraction and exploitation. This web of exploitation, extraction and speculation creates great wealth for developers and investors while compounding greater health, economic and environmental disparities (inequities) in the Black and Brown communities where the extraction and exploitation occurs.

Through our collective analysis and research, we believe that equitable development and anti-displacement measures should be a critical part of what is needed to define a process to address disparities (inequities) in our neighborhoods. These themes of Equity and Anti-Displacement, we realized, shouldn't be a singular or isolated section of this Workbook, nor should it appear as a singular or isolated policy solution, but should be utilized as an analytical/ questioning pathway that is applied holistically as a collective tool.  The Lens Equity Tool is therefore not meant to be used in parts but rather as a whole picture as each of these categories of collective life are completely interdependent and interrelated. While the Lens Equity Tool lays the foundation for an analytical tool to create an equitable process for organized community groups, the Lens Equity Tool does not replace the organizing work of organized neighbors. Rather, if the Lens Equity Tool is to be an adaptable tool, it will always first require organized communities as the drivers guiding and pushing the collective process to build community-determined solutions.  

Tip for the Collective: The sooner and earlier in the investment and development that communities can intervene, the more likely communities can successfully influence points of public leverage and turn collective energy into community-determined partnership and solutions. Unfortunately, an overall lack of transparency makes it difficult for organized community groups to intervene in the investment/development before it is too late. 

How to use the Lens Equity Tool

Once your group has a target (collective goals centered around collective problem/issue), and once your group runs through a satisfactory power analysis of your targets (goals), you are ready to begin to utilize the Lens Equity Tool. 


In order to complete the first part of the collective analysis, your group will begin by focusing on your target areas, by defining the target’s impact/relationship to the four areas of collective life (health, economic conditions, environmental conditions, and community-determination).  This tool then seeks to cross-reference these dynamics and dimensions (of the target’s impact/relationship with the four areas of collective life) and runs them through an analysis with the four stages of collective action. Through this analysis, you can begin to localize the target area by identifying impacts of extraction (collective problems), and utilizing the site of this harm (locating loss to systemic extraction) to develop a collective strategy (building on community vision) and collective action plan (building on collective research, solutions, issues and campaigns) around restoring and regenerating the one or more areas of collective life (organized through community-determined solutions). 


Our process always begins with a line of questioning and discovery on how best to create an equitable process to gain material community benefits as part of the possible advocacy, organizing, collective leadership, and stewardship opportunities surrounding new and upcoming investment and development in the neighborhood. The more in-depth relationships that the members (neighbors) of your group have with your neighborhood, and the more experience your group has with solidarity, mutual aid, and community organizing, the more relevant your answers will be in terms of directly addressing, linking to, and building on these previously identified community priorities. It may be important in each of these areas of collective life to stress short- and long-term goals that can lead to quick “wins” which can be critical for the community when galvanizing and building mobilization for longer term goals and targets.

  1. Identifying external/ internal targets and goals for your Group Center

Before your group begins, your group must decide what specific targets (and specific strategic activities) will assist your group to successfully fulfill your collective vision and reach your collective goals. This can be achieved successfully through building on issues through organized communities: projects, programs, campaigns, etc. As a tool designed to facilitate collective analysis at a level that interconnects problems and impacts to community health (specifically related to systemic harm related to policy and spending in the public and private domain), we recommend first to specifically identify where the energy is in your community, and where the energy is in your group. Ideally your target should be centered on a problem or issue identified in your community through previous collective analysis and research that your group (or other similar groups) have conducted. Collecting neighborhood level survey data is a critical piece in beginning to know what you are talking about, knowing the depth of the problems facing your community, and having numbers to back it up. Having data from neighbor to neighbor surveys will allow you to move a factual, urgent and compelling story that will be the foundation for turning your issues and solutions into organized campaigns.


  • Your target should be easily located by collectively reviewing the areas of collective life and their connection to the stages of collective action.


If your group is focusing first on group-centered targets (community-determined solutions)

  • Your target should be stated as a goal (as part of a solution) stated specifically to address (or in response to) a community problem or need. If possible, try to start with a goal/solution that is named and described as a project, program, campaign, etc.)


If your group is focusing primarily on external targets (influence/pressure: policy, investments, development, incentives, spending, zoning/rezoning, etc.)

  • Your target should be stated as a goal (as part of a solution or win) stated specifically to address (or in response to) policies (and policy makers), investments (and investors), development (and developers), including other projects, programs and incentives (public/private spending). This may include organized opposition campaigns intended to block or prevent public and private activities (policies, investments, etc.) that have been identified by the community of having perpetuated historic and ongoing harm on the community. External targets may include advocacy campaigns to build on community and political support needed to accomplish target goals. These external targets may also include smaller campaigns intended to build relationships with external partners, developers, funders, government agencies, etc., that may assist in the successful completion of the goals established from the primary group-centered target.


If your group is using both types of targets, we recommend starting first with your group-centered targets, and then identifying secondary external targets that may assist your group in meeting your primary goals.

     2. Power Analysis

After you have selected one or more targets, it is important to begin by completing a power analysis on the history, policy tools, financial structures, and political and economic interests and relationship between the persons (elected officials, companies, investors) that are driving current (and often connected) displacement drivers in Globeville and Elyria-Swansea. 


This focus of your group analysis might begin to take shape to be a singular or groupings of solutions, related to singular and groupings of policies, investments, development and related spending on incentives, programs and projects that is negatively experienced (as exclusion, exploitation and harm) by many families and individuals across the neighborhoods. The goals and issues you identify are most likely on the minds of many neighbors across your neighborhood, and this energy should be the driver of how the group approaches the Lens Equity Tool.  By connecting to the power analysis, these extraction models (drivers of displacement facing our community) have long-been identified as community problems of great concern. The process intended to become embedded in this tool, should then make clear where the group (and neighborhood) energy is located, and make it clear where (and in what way) the collective work is best suited to begin.

  • Through this power analysis, it is critical to think specifically beyond campaigns oriented to stopping or preventing harm (extractive investments, development). While opposition and prevention of extractive policies and development are important for organized communities, we also recommend utilizing a large part of your group’s time to begin researching and vetting a variety of community-determined solutions that your group has identified as relevant to collectively identified community problems, and in addition, begin to continue investigating the solutions that appear to match the capacity of the group (or potential for building to capacity) needed to undertake this possible and new strategic and collective action. Examples of types of activities include events and celebrations, projects, programs, organizing campaigns, fundraising and long-term community stewardship. Many larger group-centered targets will require secondary, external targets to make the primary goals possible.

  •  In this way, by analyzing community problems, policies and investments, and researching most relevant solutions for your community, your group should be able to determine if:


  • Your target is external (targeting a policy, investment, development, incentives, spending, programs, projects, and processes), and/or building an opposition campaign (targeting: new policies, rezoning applications, application for affordable housing incentives, etc.)




  • Your target is group-centered (research community-determined solutions, build group capacity to reach them) like a program or project designed to serve community need, or a longer-term community stewardship campaign, like a Community Land Trust




  • Your group requires both group-centered and external targets to reach your group goals. (This is common with most campaigns)


NOTE: We have found that many campaigns will require both group-centered and external targets. A group-centered target like a Community Land Trust may also require external targets (i.e.: changing city or state policy or funding around availability and use of permanent housing subsidy). 

Tip for the Collective: Considerations for your Power Analysis

We believe that an organized community approach to equitable development requires a provocative tool to break through business as usual assumptions about development and the community, and we believe this process starts with a power analysis of your targets and their investments, legislation and relationships. In the case of the Globeville and Elyria-Swansea neighborhoods (and many similar neighborhoods), new and upcoming development is always preceded by extractive policies, investment, and city budget spending, and includes many public incentives for private investors and developers. These relationships and transactions are often documented in the public record, city council meeting agendas and meeting minutes, and business journals. These supplemental tools can assist organized communities to complete a power analysis of the spending and find possible public and private leverage points for building collective power, and using this collective power to build organized campaigns to bring more material benefits/support to those most-impacted by these community problems and issues. If your group does not have the expertise to complete a satisfactory power analysis, consider inviting and paying qualified thematic experts as well as experts from the struggle for solidarity, mutual aid, cooperatives, community accountability, reparations and justice to assist the group in conducting, participating or facilitating the power analysis needed prior to using the Lens Equity Tool.

Examples of historic and ongoing neighborhood disparities (inequities) in the following four areas of collective life. 

Health conditions

  • Works at risk of exposure to COVID-19

  • Lack of health care//coverage

  • Lack of health insurance

  • No access to healthy food

  • Food apartheid (not food desert)

  • Increase disease from poor diet

  • Few recreation opportunities

  • Stress from economic insecurity

  • Stress from housing instability

  • Stress from job insecurity

  • Stress from built environment

  • Stress from no green space

  • Stress from loss of community autonomy and determination

  • Cumulative loss to health from ongoing environmental abuse

  • Increased rates of cardiovascular and pulmonary disease

  • Poor air, water, soil quality

Economic conditions

  • Most homes extremely rent burdened (% of income to rent)

  • Low wages for most workers

  • Few protections for workers

  • Few protections for renters

  • Few protections for locally-owned businesses

  • Many homes on fixed income

  • Many houses in poor condition

  • High risk for displacement

  • Neighbors have few economic opportunities

  • Neighbors are targeted for extraction and exclusion

  • Loss of formal and informal childcare opportunities

  • Fewer educational opportunities

  • Rise of abuse from corporate landlords & corporate employers

  • Rise of LLCs becoming holders of residential properties

Environmental conditions

  • Increased exposure to industrial contaminants via mixed use zoning

  • Increased pulmonary & cardiovascular disease

  • High soil contamination

  • High air contamination

  • High water contamination

  • No connectivity in the built environment (highway & rail)

  • Highways and railway pollution

  • Former smelter pollution/ Superfund sites

  • Lack of green areas

  • Lack of tree cover

  • Loss of habitat/ ecosystems

  • Loss of biodiversity (flora/fauna)

  • Green Space becomes a commodity


  • Loss of community traditions and places 

  • Lack of grassroots fundraising platforms

  • Lack of meaningful inclusion of neighborhood via public spending and community investments

  • Lack of power or influence at political level

  • Exclusion of opposing and dissenting ideas and groups

  • Targeted for political violence, exploitation and extraction

  • Lack of community cohesion intentionally perpetuated by economic powers

  • People having to work two or three jobs to make ends meet can no longer participate at their child's school.

Putting the Lens Equity Tool into Action


Putting this collective tool into action can support organized groups to prioritize what types of strategic action and outcomes to work toward, and how to best spend valuable time as organized neighbors. By highlighting the historic and ongoing extraction that target these four areas of collective life, we also identify where to start building and organizing on collectively-decided issues/actions in the community, as they are located in the four stages of collective action. In the table below, we have identified some example activities that fall within each of these four categories of collective action. We recommend that organized groups follow their own adaptation of these four stages of collective action. If your group is just getting started, or examining new problems and issues, we recommend first identifying the unique problems impacting your communities, the collective vision, strategies, issues and solutions unique to your neighborhood, and unique to your organized coalition or groups. Active and established groups will be able to locate their activities across each of the four stages of collective action. To identify what's already in our community and what's missing-- This is also helpful in identifying what resources or partnerships will be needed to carry out the campaigns.


Getting started

The following table illustrates how our analytical tool cross-references the four areas of collective life with the four stages of collective action.

Begin your group reflection on the areas of collective life, and think about how they fit into the stages of collective action (specifically for the stage(s) of your group). What expertise does your group have?  Where is the energy in your group? What themes or ideas keep coming up?


Tip for the Collective: Remember to keep going back to the world your group is willing to fight for, and keep going back to what brings your group hope, and what recharges your group's energy. Use your answers to begin to build your collective vision, frame your research/issues/solutions, and begin points of intervention to organize community power, including all kinds of events, celebrations, projects, programs and campaigns.


Example series of questions for beginning to run your target through the Lens Equity Tool. 

Use these questions to begin generating ideas for the Lens Equity Tool, as needed by your group. These questions do not need to be completed or addressed in any particular order . They are offered as an example of types of questions your group might address at each stage of the Lens Equity Tool.

Identifying collective problems and locate the historic and ongoing disparities (inequities) specific to the issue

  1. How are existing (disparities/inequities) in the four areas of collective life measured and defined in your neighborhood? Who do these exclude?

  2. How does investment/development impact the housing stability of historically targeted neighbors? How does it affect the most vulnerable?

  3. How does the investment/development impact existing health disparities (inequities) of neighbors?

  4. Can these disparities (inequities) be addressed through community-identified issues, solutions and organized campaigns? 

  5. Are there similar groups already fighting for better (Health, economic, environmental, community-determined) opportunities? Do they take a community-centered approach? Or can they be influenced to center community experience and community decision-making?

  6. What roles do people feel comfortable taking in order to plan and execute an event, project, program or campaign? Be aware of various levels of comfort in taking risks. For some, civil disobedience has minimal impact, for others, it can have significant life-changing consequences.

  7. What are different people’s skills, where can organizers collaborate to bring into fruition a collective vision? What strengths / skills / resources are already present in the community that can be used for campaign work?

  8. What are the potential hazards to the environment of the project?

  9. How does this project impact/worsen/alleviate current environmental inequities? What other unintended consequences will the project trigger?

  10. What gaps exist that would reinforce historic inequities or would worsen the condition of the already existing inequities in your community

  11. How are environmental (disparities/equities) measured and defined? Who measures/regulates this?

  12. How is the community’s environment impacted (by policies/solutions)?

  13. How are economic (disparities/equities) measured and defined?

  14. Does the project bring economic opportunities or benefits for neighborhood population most impacted by displacement? Do these benefits provide economic opportunity for the most impacted populations? Does it incorporate business utilization for locally-owned businesses? Do jobs pay a living wage? Do jobs provide an opportunity for upward mobility? Is economic opportunity embedded throughout the life of the project (not just during construction)? Does it provide youth an opportunity for development? 

  15. How is the community’s economy impacted at a micro and macro level (by policies/solutions)? 

  16. Is the municipality investing in the project? Does your group believe this is the best use of the money? Is there a social return on investment?


Identifying a collective vision, locate community energy, and beginning to create a collective framework related to the specific issue

  1. What are concerns and worries related to the areas of collective life in your community? 

  2. Is there an order of importance/urgency or are all concerns equally-as-urgent for your community? 

  3. How has the city succeeded or failed to recognize/remediate historic concerns?

  4. What kind of community goals/solutions make the most sense for addressing problems? 

  5. What kind of collective vision is required to achieve these collective goals?

  6. What kind of organized community coalition/group would be required to achieve these collective goals?

  7. What kind of impacts from community problems does your group members have that make them experts on solutions for these problems?

  8. How familiar is your group with the four stages of social action? What stages does your group have opportunities and energy?

  9. What type of solutions are needed immediately to help bridge and close any gaps of inequity (jobs/types of jobs/wages of job/access to benefits/access to housing units that are affordable?

  10. What are the potential barriers to creating solutions (political, economic)? 

  11. Who do you know that can help you? Who do you trust to stand in solidarity with your community? What are the requirements/ values of a potential partner?

  12. What does community-determination mean for the members of your group?

  13. How does your vision connect to your goals and mission?

  14. What do your norms require in order to protect the vision, values, principles, members and integrity of the collective work? 

Identifying potential action related to the specific issue

  1. Where is the energy of the group? Are there ideas in the group that address these disparities (inequities) and neighborhood needs? Perhaps you can measure the energy of the group by conducting a priority area/issue analysis. A simple way is to ask residents to rank order the issues they see in the community to determine where the energy is most clustered.

  2. What kind of solutions address specific restoration of health, economic conditions, environmental conditions and community-determination?

  3. What kind of solutions are based on and utilize collective action strategies? 

  4. How many neighbors has your group talked to about this vision?

  5. How many neighbors does your group know that are interested in this shared vision?

  6. What kind of solutions seem nearly impossible? What kind of change in conditions would make these solutions more viable?

  7. What kind of solutions are solidly in the hands of community groups? (think in scale of events, projects, programs, community stewardship, culture and tradition)

  8. Is there an opportunity within this development to make material economic gains?

  9. What leverage does the developer have/ what leverage do you have?

  10. What type of actors are involved on this project (Local EPA, city/state/federal government, private business actors)? Are there hidden leverage points with any actors involved?

  11. How do neighbors and community groups become partners in development and stewardship?

  12. How will neighbors and community groups become decision-makers in the development? How will partners/allies play a role without taking agency from neighbors?

  13. How do neighbors and community groups benefit (by policies/solutions and investments/new development) ? Give evidence.

  14. How is the project inclusive and accessible to historically targeted groups? (Disabled, queer/trans, previously incarcerated, homeless and houseless, elderly and retired, multi-generational families, immigrant households, households threatened by involuntary displacement?)

  15. Who has power in this situation? Follow the money, who are the developers, owners and investors in this property

  16. What actors hold what power in this relationship (Where is there an imbalance in power)?

  17. Where in the process can communities leverage their collective power to gain ownership and power in a project? How can this gain in ownership be maintained through the campaign?

  18. Who are looked at as experts in the community?  Is there recognition of community knowledge? Is community knowledge compensated?

  19. How will community members have access to training and hiring for new jobs created during construction and after completion of your investment/development? How will these jobs offer protections and livable wages?  

  20. How much of a grant or fundraising can go directly back to the community (through mutual aid, community contracts, and gift cards?)


Build on issues, projects, programs, campaigns, coalitions, events (around economic conditions) related to the issue

  1. What other groups in your neighborhood share your vision and values? How can you reach them and teach each other?

  2. What other groups in other neighborhoods (across the city or region) share your vision, or are doing similar work? Can you reach them?

  3. What kind of events can bring attention to your issue/campaign? Are there fun or social ways to get people/families interested?

  4. What kind of fundraising does your group have the capacity to do? Are there grants you know of that might support your work?

  5. What part of your issue has the most energy? What part of the issue has the capacity to most-energize (and re-energize) your group?

  6. What event or direct action would your group have the best capacity to follow out?

  7. What kind of community programming does your group have capacity to develop and implement?

  8. What are the limitations that your group must first overcome to make this campaign or program viable?

  9. What topics, themes, types of training and public education have your group identified from neighborhood need, interest, energy?

  10. Do you have or plan to fundraise a budget? How much of a budget do you think is necessary for your group to plan, develop and implement this event, program, campaign, etc.? What is the minimum viable product?

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