Resolutions as Resistance




D

espite
sizable dissent, President Bush has resolved to declare war on both
constitutional rights and the country of Iraq. The United States
Congress has been largely complicit, declaring its support of his
policies. In passing both the USA PATRIOT Act and the more recent
Iraq War Resolution, congressional representatives ignored a huge
outpouring of letters and phone calls by constituents demanding
the opposite. In response to the obvious flouting of democracy and
the bill of rights, several city councils across the U.S. have made
some important resolutions of their own.


These
resolutions differ in content and strength. Some assert opposition
to unilateral U.S./UK military action against Iraq and demand cooperation
with the United Nations while many condemn a war on Iraq altogether.
The Santa Cruz resolution not only opposes war, but also argues
against continuing the non-military economic sanctions that have
been strangling Iraq since 1990. The resolution passed in Syracuse,
New York “urges the people of Syracuse to exert efforts to
convince the President not to unilaterally initiate any war.”


The
reasons that councilors give for their resolutions are many and
they reflect the depth and diversity of objections that people have
to the possible war on Iraq. In New Haven, for instance, 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 in the Middle East and the failure of President
Bush to present convincing evidence of Iraq’s threat to the
United States as reasons to oppose the national war drive. Some
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.


Though
copies of the resolutions have been sent to President Bush, State
Representatives, and the United Nations, city councils do not have
real authority in the international arena. Their decisions cannot
directly interrupt 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.
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 a city council, they move the discussion to their conversational
turf. It enables them to promote ideas on their terms, put- ting
the opposition on the defensive.


In
many cities, the process has helped antiwar activists achieve greater
visibility and backing from diverse groups in their communities.
In Syracuse, for example, activists gave copies of the resolution
to community leaders for their consideration. The result was important
dialogue and debate not only in the city council, but in other organizations
and institutions as well.


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.



S

ince
its passage in October 2001, numerous cities have passed resolutions
condemning the USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America
by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct
Terrorism Act). The resolutions have many different names such as
Resolution to Defend the Bill of Rights and Civil Liberties, Human
Rights Resolution, Resolution Regarding the USA PATRIOT Act and
the Protection of Civil Rights, or Civil Liberties Resolution, to
name a few. What the resolutions have in common is that they assert
community criticism of the USA PATRIOT Act and other Executive Orders
that violate the constitution.


The
resolution passed in Madison, Wisconsin, for instance, declares
that “the provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act expand the authority
of the federal government to detain and investigate citizens and
non-citizens and engage in electronic surveillance of citizens and
non-citizens and threatens civil rights and liberties guaranteed
under the United States Constitution.” It goes on to say, “the
City of Madison recognizes that such infringement of the constitutionally
guaranteed rights of any person, under the color of law, is an abuse
of power, a breach of the public trust, a misappropriation of public
resources, a violation of civil rights, and is beyond the scope
of governmental authority.”


Various
city councils wrote that the USA PATRIOT Act significantly:


  • Expands the
    government’s ability to access sensitive medical, mental
    health, financial and educational records about individuals

  • Lowers the burden
    of proof required to conduct secret searches and telephone and
    Internet surveillance

  • Gives law enforcement
    expanded authority to obtain library records, and prohibits librarians
    from informing patrons of monitoring or information requests

  • Gives the Attorney
    General and the Secretary of State the power to designate domestic
    groups, including religious and political organizations, as “terrorist
    organizations”

  • Grants power
    to the Attorney General to subject citizens of other nations to
    indefinite detention or deportation even if they have not committed
    a crime

  • Authorizes eavesdropping
    on confidential communications between lawyers and their clients
    in federal custody

  • Limits disclosure
    of public documents and records under the Freedom of Information
    Act, etc.


Some
city councils expressed concern that the Patriot Act increases the
vulnerability of minority and immigrant populations. For example,
the Oakland, California resolution declares, “The Department
of Justice interpretations of this Act and these Executive Orders
particularly targets Muslims, people of Middle Eastern and South
Asian descent and citizens of other nations, and thereby encourages
racial profiling by law enforcement and hate crimes by individuals
in our community.” Meanwhile other resolutions, such as the
one passed in Santa Cruz, California articulate the potential danger
to activist groups. “The Patriot Act defines ‘domestic
terrorism’ so broadly as to apply to certain acts of civil
disobedience that may include lawful advocacy groups such as Operation
Rescue or Greenpeace as terrorist organizations and may subject
them to invasive surveillance, wire tapping, harassment, and may
criminally penalize them for protected political advocacy; also
the Patriot Act grants unchecked power to the Secretary of State
to designate domestic groups as ‘terrorist organizations.’”


While
the antiwar resolutions are largely symbolic, resolutions denouncing
the PATRIOT Act have real potential to change law enforcement activities.
These resolutions go beyond words that affirm civil liberties and
actually call on local law enforcement agencies to protect the rights
of their citizens. The majority of city council resolutions concerning
the implementation of the PATRIOT Act in their communities request
that local law enforcement preserve the civil rights of their residents
even when ordered or allowed to infringe upon those rights by the
USA PATRIOT Act or Orders of the Executive Branch. Many extend their
request to any state or federal law enforcement agencies acting
within their community. These resolutions also strongly forbid racial
profiling in areas under their jurisdiction, and most of them demand
that congressional representatives work to repeal aspects of the
Act that violate constitutional rights. The resolution passed by
the town of Carrboro, NC provides a good example: “The town
of Carrboro, NC acting in the spirit and history of our community,
hereby requests that:


  • Local law enforcement
    continue to preserve residents’ freedom of speech, religion,
    assembly and privacy; the right to counsel and due process in
    judicial proceedings; and protection from unreasonable searches
    and seizures, even if requested or authorized to infringe upon
    these rights by federal law enforcement acting under new powers
    granted by the USA PATRIOT Act or Orders of the Executive Branch.

  • Any federal
    or state law enforcement officials acting within the Town of Carrboro
    work in accordance with the policies and procedures of the Carrboro
    Police Department, and in cooperation with the Department, and
    not engage in or permit detentions without charges or racial profiling,
    and to regularly and publicly report to the Town the extent and
    manner in which they have acted under the Act or the new Executive
    Orders, including the names of any detainees held in the region
    or any Carrboro residents detained elsewhere.

  • Our congressional
    delegation monitor the implementation of the Act and Orders cited
    herein and actively work for the repeal of those portions of the
    Act and those Orders that violate fundamental rights and liberties
    guaranteed by the United States and North Carolina Constitutions.”


The
resolution approved by the city council of Leverett, Massachusetts,
like many resolutions, calls on local and federal law enforcement
to “report to citizens regularly and publicly the extent to
and manner in which they have acted under the USA PATRIOT Act, new
Executive Orders, or COIN- TELPRO-type regulations, including disclosing
the names of any detainees.”


In
an acknowledgment that gathering information under the PATRIOT Act
often requires the cooperation of private citizens, the resolution
passed in New Haven, Connecticut asks “private citizens—including
residents, employers, educators, and business owners—to demonstrate
similar respect for civil rights and civil liberties, especially
but not limited to conditions of employment and cooperation with
investigations.”


The
over two-dozen city councils that have passed these defiant resolutions
are just the tip of the iceberg. Civil rights activists are campaigning
for similar resolutions in over 60 additional cities. They are holding
town meetings, circulating petitions, and securing help and endorsements
from various community groups, unions, church- es, and universities.


In
Oakland, California, for instance, the effort to pass a resolution
opposing the PATRIOT Act was led by the Oakland Civil Rights Defense
Committee. In addition, it was endorsed by the following local organizations:


  • Labor Immigrant
    Organizing Network (LION)

  • Paul Robeson
    Chapter of the ACLU, ACLU-NC

  • National Lawyers
    Guild (NLG)

  • Lawyers Committee
    for Civil Rights

  • Centro Legal
    De La Raza

  • American-Arab
    Anti-Discrimination Committee, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter
    (ADCSF)

  • Oakland Public
    Library Advisory Commission

  • Critical Resistance

  • UAW Local 3030

  • Green Party
    of Alameda County

  • Lake Merritt
    Neighbors Organized for Peace (LMNOP)

  • Peoples NonViolent
    Response Coalition (PNVRC)

  • California Women’s
    Agenda (CAWA)

  • Filipinos for
    Affirmative Action

  • Asian Pacific
    Islander Legal

    Outreach


  • Electronic Frontier
    Foundation, National Organization for Women-Oakland/East Bay (NOW)

  • Berkeley Women
    In Black

  • Alameda County
    Peace and Freedom Party

  • African Peoples
    Solidarity Committee


 The
strong wording of many of the anti-PATRIOT Act declarations challenges
the authority of the federal government. Brave cities are drawing
protective circles around themselves, boldly telling would-be wiretappers,
racial profilers, and rights violators that they are unwelcome.
Some say that these lines are only symbolic, that it is impossible
for city councils to hold back the national government. But according
to Nancy Talanian, of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, cities
and towns have the right and responsibility to uphold their state
and U.S. constitutions. The wording of most of the resolutions reflects
that sentiment. Many resolutions contain quotes and references to
the Bill of Rights and outline how the resolution is meant to reinforce
those rights. So far, no resolution has been challenged in court.



T

he
fight to stop war on Iraq and the struggle to resist the encroachment
on people’s rights is going to be long and difficult. It is
important to find practical, shorter term goals along the way, and
in many places city resolutions represent a good option. The networking
and mobilizing employed to pass these resolutions contributes to
the broader goals of our movements. Working to see these resolutions
adopted on the town or city level helps activists enhance their
influence within their own communities.


 City
councils are not the only organizations passing antiwar or anti-PATRIOT
Act 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 resolutions. When used strategically,
they constitute a telling achievement. At a time when politicians
are shirking their responsibility to represent the sentiments of
their constituents, these resolutions provide a powerful tool for
communities to speak from the bottom up.







Jessica
Azulay is an activist and writer from West Virginia.