On November 11, the Common Council of Syracuse, New York passed a resolution opposing a U.S. led military strike against Iraq. In doing so, Syracuse joined over 30 city councils that have passed similar resolutions. Santa Cruz, Oakland, and Ithaca were the first cities to pass resolutions in October, 2002. Over the next few months, they were followed by others including Seattle, Washington; New Haven, Connecticut; Washington, D.C.; and Santa Fe, New Mexico. Activists in many other cities, such as New York and Chicago, are currently campaigning to convince their councils to pass resolutions. That so many of these efforts have been successful is encouraging and it speaks to the times. Throughout the Vietnam War, peace activists in Syracuse tried but failed to pass an antiwar resolution. Now, even before a big military offensive has even begun, the resolution passed with relative ease.
The city council resolutions being passed all over the country differ in content. Some are brief, merely stating the city council’s opposition to unilateral military action against Iraq by the United States. Others go further. The Santa Cruz resolution, for instance, not only opposes war, but opposes continuing non-military sanctions. In New Haven, councilors raise concerns that “committing American troops to Iraq will put in harm’s way citizens of New Haven, a disproportionate number of them racial and ethnic minorities from our city’s most economically deprived neighborhoods.” The Aaronsburg, Pennsylvania resolution states that killing “innocent Middle Eastern people, including Muslims, will widen the gorge between people of different races and religions rather than nurturing a union of humanity here and abroad.” Many resolutions cite potential destabilization of the Middle East and the failure of President Bush to present convincing evidence of Iraq’s threat to the United!
States as reasons for dissent from the national war drive.
The Syracuse resolution is strongly worded. It states that “it is essential to exert untiring efforts to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts and to advance democracy and human rights,” and that “military force against Iraq or any other sovereign nation should be used only in self defense when there is an imminent threat of attack by the sovereign state against the United States.” The document also asserts that the enforcement of United Nations resolutions should be the sole job of the United Nations and not its individual members.
Though copies of the Syracuse resolution have been sent to President Bush, New York State Representatives, and the United Nations, letting politicians know of the city’s opposition to the national war policy is not the only purpose of the resolution. City councils do not have real authority in the international arena. Their decisions cannot directly impact the government’s plans for war. Instead, antiwar resolutions can serve as a vehicle for public education, media outreach, and building relationships between community groups. “It got people talking and that really was the main objective,” explains John Brule, a Syracuse peace activist. “And we wanted to get more indication in the news media of the fact that there is a significant number of people in the city who are opposed to this war that’s being pushed by Bush.”
Antiwar resolution campaigns are one way that activists are organizing against a possible war with Iraq. Activists in cities all over the United States are working to make themselves visible, widen the debate, and reach a broad range of people. When activists put together an antiwar resolution and submit it to organizations and institutions for consideration, they move the discussion to their conversational turf. It enables them to promote ideas on their terms, putting the opposition on the defensive. In Syracuse, the process helped antiwar activists achieve greater visibility and backing from diverse groups in the city.
Activists in Syracuse worked to get support in the city council for their resolution, but they also asked other community leaders to sign onto the strongly worded antiwar statement. They approached, Kate O’Connell, a progressive member of the city council and asked her for support. While she attempted to get other council members on board, Syracuse activists gave copies of the resolution to community leaders for their consideration as well. The result was important dialogue and debate in the city council and other organizations and institutions. In addition to the Syracuse Common Council members who signed, the resolution received endorsement from several churches, the Syracuse Area Middle East Dialogue Group, unions, colleges, the Syracuse Jail Ministry, and the Syracuse Republican Community. Thus, the campaign opened up new venues for the antiwar discussion, and it provided the opportunity for many groups to come out officially and openly against war.
Another important aspect of the Syracuse antiwar resolution is that it “urges the Executive and Legislative arms of the government to attend to long neglected problems of this country which include the depressed economy, the precarious state of the environment, the availability of affordable health care and the internal domestic security of our nation.” Many of the resolutions passed by cities call attention to the connections between war and domestic policy, pointing out that the budgetary casualties of war will be much-needed social programs and calling out the president and Congress for ignoring problems at home or attempting to cover them up with a war.
The Syracuse Common Council Resolution also “urges the people of Syracuse to exert efforts to convince the President not to unilaterally initiate any war.” Activists are already doing just that. In Syracuse there are efforts to educate the public, distribute antiwar yard and window signs, and organize civil disobedience. “We know that opposition to this war is widespread, yet the media has rarely noted this fact,” says Andy Mager, a long time peace activist in Syracuse. “Getting the Syracuse Common Council to pass an anti-war resolution made that point very clear and, hopefully, makes it safer for people to speak out against war.”
City councils are not the only organizations passing antiwar resolutions. They are just one part of a growing trend. Unions, colleges and universities, religious organizations, and community groups have been busy passing their own antiwar resolutions. When used strategically, they can be a powerful achievement. At a time when politicians are shirking their responsibility to represent the antiwar sentiments of their constituents, these resolutions are a powerful tool for communities to speak from the bottom up.