We are Detroiters because of an agreement reached almost 300 years ago. It is our social contract, the compact we have with each other that states: "We will live here and be responsible for what happens here." It is the agreement between a people and the government they create. Drafted by our original social entrepreneurs to build a city that would last, it stands as the elemental relationship we share with every other Detroiter.
The parameters and obligations of this agreement are enshrined in the City Charter, and today -- that's Tuesday Nov. 8 -- it is under review by voters.
The most basic structure of our governing agreement doesn’t change often. Only extreme circumstances force us to examine the Charter. We opened it up when the text message scandal of 2008, corruption in City Council and the resulting gamut of elections to replace Kwame Kilpatrick raised serious questions about our Charter’s ability to handle ethics violations. When demands for ethics reform combined with a 30-year movement toward electing city councilmembers through neighborhood districts, Detroiters voted overwhelmingly to revise the City Charter.
The two-year process of revision has been one of the most open and transparent efforts Detroit has ever seen. There were two or more meetings a month all over the city. The resulting document, like Detroit, isn’t perfect, but it’s ours and it is taking steps in the right direction. It strengthens ethics enforcement, promotes citizen participation, solidifies districts, and polices government corruption. Thousands of Detroiters contributed to the new agreement, and now it’s time to put it to a vote.
Maybe the most important thing about this new charter is that it matches the energy and social entrepreneurship of today. It works to break apart the unglamorous government kludge that holds us back. If this charter passes, the City Council will no longer be able to put off drawing districts. Once they are drafted, we can begin to organize a new political system that puts our neighborhoods first based on district representation that focuses on local concerns. It will open a process to new perspectives and participation that has been sealed up for almost 100 years.
Today our most effective leaders work in earnest to shuffle, restructure and work around the entrenched inner bureaucracy to get stuff done - but we can do better. Next Tuesday we have the opportunity to formalize some of what has worked and dump what hasn’t. We can give leadership trying to move the city forward a better platform for success. There are those that are threatened by accountability or increased attention. Some lose the big picture by getting stuck on a single issue. Some argue that everything is us vs. them. Some argue that too much change is a threat. We’ve heard it before and deep down we know the politics of fear that divide us have failed us.
Every day we are finding ways to succeed in the shadow of bad decisions of the past. As we have been rebuilding a positive outlook we’ve even begun to figure out how to have a good time. Maybe it’s because we’ve starting to feel the blood pumping in our veins again. Maybe we see flashes of genius and spirit that fuel the conviction that this time it will work. It’s all hinting at the possibility that we are the Detroiters who will break the cycle of decay and launch the next golden era of this great city. It's a new future that does not hinge on a new office building, or casinos, or stadiums, or a train. This city will rise from the shared agreement, the commitment of its people.
We have an opportunity to redraft our social contract with optimism and resolve. We have a shot at a new government to match the new energy of the city. Get to the polls today, Tuesday, Nov. 8, and vote YES on Proposal C for the revised City Charter.
Detroit community activist Vince Keenan created the interactive voter guide Publius.