As I was watching TV the other night, my dog started growling and pacing around the room. I know from experience that means someone's approaching the house. I looked out the front window but didn't see anyone. Then I heard a tapping sound at the back door. I went into the kitchen and peeped out. There was a wide-eyed Mulenga Harangua motioning for me to hurry up. I opened the door and let him in. He was breathing hard, like he'd been running or something, and sweat beaded up on his forehead.
"Man, you are lucky I'm not one of those guys packing heat," I said. "I might have popped a cap on you. What's up with you coming through my yard like that?"
"I came over from the street behind you and hopped the fence. I thought you might not want anyone to see me coming to your house."
"Why? Are the police after you? Are they getting ready to come through the door? Should I even be standing here talking to you?"
"No, don't worry. You know I'm good at keeping my profile on the down-low." Mulenga pulled a big brown envelope from his back pocket and waved it around. "I've got the goods on Mayor Bing right here, all of his secret plans for ethnic cleansing, relocation and giving our city away to outsiders. I'm going to spread the word and take him down. If they catch me with this, I know I'm in trouble. They don't want a brother to know anything around here."
"Let me see that." I pulled a sheaf of papers from the envelope and took a quick look. It was the Detroit Strategic Framework Plan the city has been circulating. The document was from an August "soft launch" of the process to create a plan for revamping Detroit. I had a copy that came in my e-mail that morning.
"Have you actually read this?"
"Uh, no, but I know all about this plan. I was in the barbershop the other day and everybody was talking about how ethnic cleansing is coming to the blackest city in America. They can't wait to squeeze us out and give it all to the white people so they can move back downtown."
"I don't recall seeing that in here."
"You have to read between the lines to get the real meaning."
"Exactly which lines should I be reading between?"
Mulenga gave me a dismissive look as though actually looking at the document was beneath his dignity.
"And another thing, they're going to steal the houses of people who live in the areas they want to create land parcels for the corporate giveaway. There are going to be islands of prosperity surrounded by wasteland with you and me in it."
"You need to sit down and relax. Can I get you some water or something? I've got ice tea in the fridge."
"Ice tea, no sugar, I don't like putting that refined poison in my body."
Well, he was right about refined sugar. I got him some tea and we sat down at the table. "OK, what else did you learn about this plan at the barbershop?"
"Like I was saying, they're going to use this eminent domain thing to move people out of their houses like they did for Poletown and Ford Field. The whole plan is already together. Bing and those foundations have already put together their own secret plan with the suburbanites."
"I don't think they have a plan yet."
Mulenga waved his papers at me. 'What do you think this is?"
"It's a framework for putting together a plan. The process is supposed to take 12 to 18 months before we even have a plan to move forward with. I used to teach small group problem-solving at Penn State University. This isn't a small group we're talking about here, but the basic process you need to go through is outlined here. And it's pretty close to the process Community Development Advocates of Detroit came up with earlier this year for creating neighborhood revitalization plans. Bing's framework calls for six forums across the city to garner citizen input in the first phase."
Mulenga leaned forward in his seat and poked a finger at me. "I know that trick. It's the old okey-doke to make us think we're in on it before they spring the surprise trick on us."
"I can't say that's not true but I don't think so. If he already has a plan, why bother going through an 18-month process? He could just hold a couple of community meetings and whip out the plan with a little bullshit about how it's based on what was expressed at the meetings. I'm not a Bing booster myself, but he's the mayor and I hope he's sincere."
"He can be sincere all he wants to be, but what's going to make him actually take our advice?"
"I'm with you on that one. I'm a little peeved that he's already said that he doesn't see urban farming as a viable economic strategy. It's going to take you and me and everyone else in town to make sure we're heard. During the second phase of the process, there are 40 neighborhood forums planned. People have to get to those meetings and participate. Ask tough questions and follow through. Whatever neighborhood organizations we have in place have to push back when city officials aren't responsive. Other than that, if we're not happy with the results of the process, we'll be pretty close to another mayoral and City Council election. Maybe the next election will be a referendum on the direction we're headed with the plan. Although I think if we can't get it right this time we'll be in deeper and hotter water than we are now."
"Well, I don't trust him."
"You don't have to. Get that bunch over at the barbershop to do their talking at the community forums. That gives us the best chance to do this right."
Mulenga drained his glass and clunked it down on the table. "I got to get a move on."
I escorted him to the front door and opened it. Mulenga hesitated and peered out into the darkness. There's a streetlight right in front of my house but it wasn't working. That's typical.
"I got to make sure no one's out there to get me," he said. "By the way, Bing has been mayor for about 18 months. Shouldn't he already have a plan together?"
I gave him a gentle push out the door. "And next time come to the front door instead of mucking around in the yard. You do that again and I'll have my dog answer the door for you."
Mulenga Harangua is a fictional character. However the Detroit Strategic Framework Plan is real. The next forum is 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16, at American Serbian Memorial Hall, 19940 Van Dyke St. Full schedule at tinyurl.com/3xsfjjq.Larry Gabriel is a writer, musician and former editor of Metro Times. Contact him at [email protected]