Encouraging passage of local government resolutions to influence national policy

Prior to 2003, Cities for Peace, a coalition of local elected officials and concerned community members, worked to get City Councils and other civic bodies to pass resolutions against a US led war on Iraq. Although the group focuses on the anti-war effort, this tactic has also been used to show local opposition to a variety of federal actions, such as investment in apartheid and the curtailment of civil liberties under the Patriot Act (2001).

The Cities for Peace Campaign formed when the Institute for Policy Studies saw several local governments passing resolutions and decided to develop a set of online “how-to” guidelines for creating and passing similar resolutions. The majority of individuals who access these online resources are members of locally-focused, grassroots groups. However, government officials have also used the guidelines. Information about Cities for Peace has spread largely through word-of-mouth, but has received an amazing response. By the end of February 2003, 113 cities and counties had passed resolutions and over 90 new campaigns were underway.

The website provided organizers with a “step-by-step guide to getting a resolution passed in your city” including: types of local organizations that can most likely be gathered to support a resolution and advises organizers on how to survey the opinions of their City Council members and gain Council members as allies for their cause; and a sample petition that can be used to gather public signatures, as well as advise on how to set up a public education event and reach out to the media. A large function of the website was to facilitate conversation between communities and organizations within states. However, individuals can also use the site to find models of resolutions that have been passed in cities of comparable size and demographics. The resolutions are not standard, but almost all of them stipulated that a copy would be sent to Congressional leaders and President Bush.

As the umbrella group, Cities for Peace used the resolutions together, so they became “more than the sum of the parts.” They launched a media campaign leading to articles in the Washington Post and the New York Times. They also provided organizers with sample op-ed pieces and press releases to help publicize the effort. On February 13, Council Members from 30 of the cities that had passed resolutions gathered in Washington DC to advocate continued UN weapons inspection as an alternative to war. Delegates held a news briefing, symbolically delivered their resolutions to the White House, and met with members of Congress who were in favor of the war. The following day they participated in a large anti-war rally in New York.

In many cases, resolutions had been easy to pass. Once they reach the point where they would be voted on, they often passed by a wide margin. The main difficulty encountered by local groups was convincing the Council that this was a local issue. For organizers who encountered problems getting resolutions introduced or passed in their city, they shifted to having individual Council Members and city government officials circulate letters and make public statements against the war. In addition, resolutions were passed by other civic bodies such as universities and labor unions.


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