For Mayor Bing’s next community meetings
By David Rambeau
We have heard repeatedly in recent months about the Mayor’s call for Ideas from the citizens of Detroit. To implement his proclamation he held last fall a series of five community-based meetings that generated a huge, surprising response from the people. About 5,000 interested residents attended these meetings and participated enthusiastically in them. Spirits were high, energy was elevated.
I went to the one at the Whittier Manor located near E. Jefferson on a sunny, brisk, fall Saturday morning and was welcomed by greeters who distributed literature for the event. I was impressed at that point. That was the end of my favorable impression.
The pamphlet handed out, though well designed, was vague, poorly written and contained multiple inconsistencies. When I followed up with a telephone call the following Monday to the number listed in the pamphlet and asked a couple of questions, I was quickly informed that the city didn’t underwrite the seminars, they were paid for by outside sources and resources, foundations and businesses I guess.
Maybe that explains why the power point presentation didn’t work and was finally, in technical frustration, turned off completely. Why the speakers played ring-around-the-rosey in response to questions from the audience. Why every response sounded like a pre-recorded script. No problem. That’s the politics and semantics of obfuscation.
Now, about six months later, I’m patiently waiting on the write-up or the executive summary of the sessions, still hoping the written report arrives before spring. Even if it does arrive before Easter, I’ll probably have forgotten most of what was discussed. If you attended, you probably will have forgotten too. That’s ok, we can all start over from the beginning. We do this when every new mayor gets elected.
Let’s look at the beginning again. When I was wandering recently through the Main Library I came across a book, Ideas That Changed the World. It struck me that if the citizenry of the city was going to respond once again to a call from the Mayor, they/we might as well aim to achieve the highest result; we might as well change the world with our ideas, not just Detroit.
With that in mind I read the book and found it worthy of its title, and so when I attend the next series of community meetings promised for the spring or the summer, or whenever, I’ll be ready with some ideas of the highest caliber.
If you read the book, you’ll be ready too. It’s well written, features explanatory graphics and is comprehensive in terms of the world-changing ideas presented. Come prepared when you attend next time.
But ideas are just part of the scenario. We must consider what really happens at community meetings, that is, the presentation of a wide range of ideas and complaints and opinions. Opinions are virtually worthless. In one ear and out the other, more suited to barber shop or beauty shop oratory. Filler for radio talk shows in between commercials, or emotional rants espousing one suspicious ideology or another.
That’s why we never have live call-ins for our television show, For My People. We’re primarily interested in your action, what you want to do, not what you want to say. But if you want to call in and leave a message on our answering machine, that’s fine with us, at least that is an action based on your own initiative, not ours.
Another part of the production will be complaints. Complaints have a lot of value. They reflect actual experience and a request to city officials to change that experience in the future and the environment that produced it.
Complaints, then, should affect administrative behavior, improve service, provide security. People in this city have a lot of complaints to talk about. I have a bunch too, focusing on DDOT, which I ride every day. Don’t get me started on DDOT’s service. I’d need to write a book, an encyclopedia.
Finally, there’s action. That’s an idea with work attached to it. Work in the form of research, study, patience, time, training, investment, communication consistency and a team. Then add evaluation, correction and some more work.
When the work begins most of the ideas, opinions and complaints should end. Don’t throw ideas, opinions and complaints at work, throw work at work. Do you feel me? See you at the next meeting. And remember the Project BAIT motto: It takes teamwork to make the dream work.
David Rambeau is the producer/host of Project BAIT’s television production, For My People, which airs on Ch. 50 WKBD-TV on Saturday mornings, and on http://youtube.com/projectbaitdet. He is also the publisher of the Urban Theater Magazine and is editor of the website: http://www.projectbait.blakgold.net.
(ed. note: go to October and September archives of Voice of Detroit to read “Trail of Tears: a Critical Analysis of Bing’s Detroit Works Plan, in five parts.”)