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Declare Detroit, or Losing Your Cynicism

Remember when you were in high school and you met this really cool group of kids and you wanted to hang out with them and get invited to their parties and hoped they'd like you too?

That is how it feels when you are the presence of the people who created the Detroit Declaration. They are a group of smart, polished and professional people. They are friends, co-workers, compatriots. Some are single, others newly married. There is even a parent or two in the mix.

What interests me about this group is its obvious commitment to Detroit, its potential for longevity and its honesty. And that is what Detroit needs most right now.

About a dozen of the 20 original Declaration authors were at a Tuesday event to outline the purpose of their document, watch Mayor Dave Bing's State of the City address and enjoy some lovely pizza and adult beverages at the Majestic Theatre. (Co-sponsors included Model D, WDET and the Michigan Front Page.)

This blog has touched on the Declaration since its emergence in January. That is because it has the potential to be one of the strongest statements about what Detroiters (within the city and the suburbs) want from the community, its politicians and each other. And I'm not alone in feeling that way.

The Declaration itself has more than 2,700 signatures. Its Facebook page has more than 10,000 fans. And its Web site has had more than 30,000 visitors. Other movements in their infancy have joined in, aligning themselves with the Declaration for its common sense and strong statements. The document has garnered press coverage locally and nationally in USA Today. Baby, this thing has legs.

So it was with open ears that people listened to the Declaration's founders Tuesday night. Their one goal – along with the authors themselves – is to create a better Detroit. To turn enthusiasm into action. And to create consensus where there once was division. (These folks know how to turn a phrase.)

To that end, the Declaration now includes an online Guide to Engagement – a helpful 10-page document that outlines three main ways to get involved in the process of changing Detroit. They recommend focusing on personal action, advocating for important issues and electing like-minded political officials. This is the meat of the project – giving Declaration signers some suggested steps on where to go next.

For example, you could join the Detroit Public Schools Reading Corps (which I did -- first meetings with the kiddies start in April at my school). You could learn about your local political candidates and see if their goals and values match those of the Declaration. You could join one of the Declaration's planning committees or related group. The possibilities are relatively endless.

“We will make small changes, and we must make small changes,” co-author Francis Grunow told the audience. Huzzah!

Here is the essence, it seems. To get people moving. A handful of folks – even the cool ones – aren't enough to change Detroit. It will take a state full of dedicated individuals, groups, businesses and the like to get some traction. And it is great to have a document like this to unite their efforts.

And the authors admit their part in the Declaration may not last forever – they might have to move for jobs, families, personal reasons. But the statements found within are strong enough to propel the movement forward, with or without the founding members. Indeed, they are.

I agree with WDET's Craig Fahle, who attended Tuesday's event and served as a kind of MC for the post-speech discussion. Many of us in Detroit are politically burnt. We have seen and experienced too much. But this new level of civic engagement – typified by Detroit Declaration – has taken “a little bit of the cynic's edge” off of all of us.

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