Introducing a City Council Resolution: Organizing Strategy
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
- Margaret Mead
1.) Find a Meeting Space
2.) Recruit an Organizing Team
3.) Assess Your Timeline
4.) Hold a Working Group Meeting
5.) Send a Delegate to the National Conference Call
6.) Meet with Your Council Members
7.) Day of the Vote
8.) Wrap it up
What do we want?
- We want our city council to weigh in on the local ramifications of federal military spending. In solidarity with a month-long national effort, we are calling on city councils to introduce, debate, and vote on our military spending resolution.
Who Makes the Decision?
- City council members decide which resolutions and debates are worth of a meeting agenda.
How do we influence the decision?
- By organizing, we engage our local communities on issues of military spending and related cuts in our neighborhoods and cities. Through effective organizing, we will persuade city council members to adopt our resolution.
October (target month)
Note: October is ideal for a resolution passing, due to anticipated media coverage of the 11 year anniversary of the start of the Afghan war. Passing the resolution anytime in October or before the 2012 election is also timely and important. Some groups will continue this work beyond the November election.
Step 1: Find a Meeting Space
You want a space you can use every week until the date of the city council vote on your resolution. Routine facilitates comfort and efficiency. Since our timeline is urgent, an ideal meeting space may not be doable. Start by pursuing ideal spaces. Cannot secure the ideal meeting space within a short period of time? Quickly pursue the next option.
- Library meeting rooms are ideal. They are often free but sometimes a small fee is required.
- Public parks often include recreation centers / community buildings with meeting rooms.
- Coffee shops, restaurants, and bars often provide closed-door meeting / banquet rooms. These are often free. If not, it can be easy to negotiate free or discounted rate.
- Ask a progressive, peace-centered church for temporary, weekly use of a meeting space.
- Host your working group in the home of a participating group member. If you have an existing, tight-knit peace group, a personal home may be the first choice, because trust has been built. If you are recruiting the general public, a house meeting may not be appropriate. Meeting in a personal home could make the host and potential attendees uncomfortable.
Step 2: Recruit Your Organizing Team
Recruit a local working group to organize around a city council vote on military spending. Your organizing approach will depend on the size of your group. Be prepared for your small group to become a large group or vice versa. Regardless of your group size, it is possible to successfully introduce a military spending resolution in your city council.
First pull together three or four people who will really be fired up about this idea. You can get them together around your kitchen table or talk to them one by one. With them you want to:
-set a date, time, and place for your first Working Group meeting
-make a timeline (see Step 3: Assess Your Timeline)
-make a list of people you know in town who will support it
-split the list in two: people who will put actual sweat into the project and people who will do one thing to support you
-divide up list 1 (who knows each person best?)
-promise each other to call all your people in the next two days
-use these Talking Points to make the case for this project
-keep calling them till you reach them
-explain the project and invite them to the first Working Group meeting
-call them back the night before the meeting to remind them
Step 3: Assess Your Timeline
- Full strategy with three weeks: We encourage folks to start ASAP, in order to make our goal of passing the resolution in the first week of October. If you have your first working group meeting in the 2nd week of September, meetings should be held with council members during the 3rd week in September. Then the 4th week will be dedicated to turnout for the vote / community engagement / possibly organizing a rally or press conference at City Hall.
- Two week strategy: If your group starts later (3rd week in September), it would still be possible to have a vote in the 1st week of October. This would involve multi-tasking.
- Time limited public hearing / open MIC: Individuals and small groups with limited organizing time are strongly encouraged to speak during the public hearing / open microphone section of council meetings. Contact your city council office to inquire about signup protocol. Also, ask how much time each speaker is given. A typical time limit is 3 minutes. Make sure to practice your short speech several times in advance. Time yourself and try to finish with at least a 15 second buffer in case an unsympathetic council member wants an excuse to cut you off.
- Some city councils will not allow a person to speak during the public hearing section unless it is related to an item on the agenda for that day. Fortunately for us, most agenda items can be connected to military spending. For instance, if your city is considering a tax increase to fund parks / extended library hours / roads, etc. we can get on the agenda around those issues and say, “I oppose raising taxes for _________. Instead, I believe our city council should help us move our federal tax dollars from unjust, uncessary wars abroad to programs our city really needs. For this reason, I / we are asking the city council to put our military spending resolution on the upcoming agenda.”
- Please film your city council testimony, interactions, and votes, even with a cell phone camera; post them on youtube; and share the link with email@example.com. Groups in Minnesota are already collecting clips and using them to motivate more resolutions.
Step 4: Hold Your Working Group Meeting
General Meeting Tips
- Time: Make it clear that we want to respect people’s time. Meetings will start and end on time. We will have a time keeper and each agenda item will have a time limit.
- Action-Based: Early in the meeting clarify that this is a “working group” as opposed to a discussion group about the issues. Everyone here agrees with the need to reduce and redirect military spending. We are here to organize a city council vote and bring our issues to the public.
- Advice and Follow-Through: Recommending a plan of action? You should also be willing to help implement the plan.
- Sharing Credit: The meeting facilitator and other leaders should highlight individual group member contributions. For example, “Thanks to Ms. Jones for writing and sending out the mass email reminder about tonight’s meeting. Also, let’s acknowledge John Doe for scheduling a meeting with Council Member Swanson.” Folks volunteer because they want to make a substantial impact on the project. A little recognition of good work goes a long way to build morale.
- Respect: Show respect for group members. “There is no such thing as a dumb idea.” Regardless of members’ political acumen, comfort with meetings, or organizing background, we want to show people respect. In fact, some of the best, most creative ideas come from folks who are new to a discipline.
- Assignments: The purpose of the meeting is to establish a plan of action and to take on roles for implementation. During the first meeting, every member should take on an assignment to be carried out within a specific time frame.
Specific Tips for Resolutions Week Working Groups:
During your initial meeting, the most important task is to identify the necessary roles and responsibilities. After assigning roles and responsibilities, get folks on specific tasks and timelines.
Essential Roles (Small and Large Groups):
1.) Project Leader / Point Person: Ideally, this person has some leadership / organizing experience. Preferably, the project leader is experienced in facilitating meetings, handling logistics, and building morale. This is the “go-to” person and coordinator of all other leaders.
2.) Project Communications Director: This person writes press releases, media advisories, and mass emails. They will do media outreach and follow up with the media over the phone. Depending on capacity, they will do Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube outreach. If there is a rally or press conference, the Project Communications Director may do some “media wrangling” — working with reporters face to face.
3.) Scheduler / Outreach Project Leader: This person schedules meetings with city council members and members of the working group. This person could also do “coalition building” outreach to other organizations: non-profits, peace groups, labor unions, churches, etc.
4.) Advocacy Leader: This role may overlap with the Project Leader / Communications Director. In any case, you will need someone to prepare for and lead the Citizen Lobbying (advocacy) meetings with the council member(s).
Additional Roles for Large Groups
5.) Field Director: If you have a larger group, powerful community engagement is possible leading up to a vote. A Field Director leads phone banks and door-knocks, which achieve: working group and city council vote turnout, and general awareness-building on the project. The more community engagement and community support, the more an elected official feels compelled to support our efforts. When a council member can point to an advocacy group, that provides a political safety net for supporting our initiative.
6.) Field Organizers: Field organizers support the Field Director by volunteering in phone-banks, door-knocks. They may also take direction from the Communications Director in forwarding on mass emails / helping expand the new media presence, i.e. sharing our links on Facebook and Twitter.
Urgent and Essential Tasks:
1.) Hold weekly, in-person working group meetings.
2.) Schedule meetings with city council members.
3.) Assign group roles, responsibilities, and follow-through timelines.
4.) Make a Community Outreach Plan: Mass-Email, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, phone-banking, door-knocking. Urge supporters to call / email their Council Members urging a yes vote.
5.) Learn about public hearing / open microphone protocol at council meetings. Prepare one or more people to speak during this opportunity. These short speeches are often aired repeatedly on public access TV / radio. This also increases the likelihood of media coverage on our issues.
6.) If your group has questions and would like to consult with a Resolutions Week organizer, contact firstname.lastname@example.org and we can organize a small group conference call to assist in your efforts.
Step 5: Meet with Your Council Members
In the first Working Group meeting, think of your most sympathetic one or two councilors. Find out who in your group knows them best and work your relationships. Get that person to call the councilor(s), briefly describe what you’re doing, and ask for a meeting with a few people from your group.
Then follow this three-point plan.
Three asks: This model was developed by Professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer in his meetings with Minneapolis City Council members.
1.) Ask the council member to give a personal endorsement of the resolution. These endorsements are listed on various coalition-partner websites.
2.) Ask the council member to share any information connecting federal and city council budgets, i.e.
“Community development block grants get cut from the federal discretionary budget. This leads to cuts in ________programs / projects in our city.”
3.) Ask council members to introduce our resolution on an upcoming council agenda for a quick debate and vote.
Rule # 1: Define and Stick to Meeting Time Duration:
When setting up your meeting with council members, tell the staffer / policy aide, “Our group is requesting a 15-20 minute meeting with council member(s)________.” Remember the duration while in the meeting. Your group should assign a time-keeper for the meeting, in order to ensure all agenda items are covered within the allotted time.
Rule # 2: Show strength in numbers.
- Mention Coalition Partners: Mention that the New Priorities Network, Vets for Peace, and Code Pink are national endorsers / participants of resolutions week. If your area has members in any of these groups / other coalition partners, contact the local organizer and ask how many people are on the local email list. Add up the total number of members supporting your cause, even symbolically, and tell your council members that we represent_________# members.
- Using your Numbers (Sticks and Carrots): Politely inform your council member the results of these meetings, good or bad, will be mentioned in mass emails to all the supporters of our cause. In order to succeed in political negotiating, we need to play the “sticks and carrots” game. Every politician is concerned with the potential to gain or lose constituent support.
A line in such an email could state, “On September______, members of the military spending resolutions week working group met with council member________, requesting a vote on a military spending resolution connecting the dots between federal military spending and local austerity measures. Council member _____________ [did] [did not] agree to support our resolution.”
- Bandwagon Effect
“By spending time on this resolution, you will not be alone. This is a national week of action and we expect to see military spending resolutions pass in cities across the county. Did you know the National Mayors Conference passed a similar resolution?”
Please help us add our town / city to this list of resolution endorsers:
Deer Isle, ME
Durham, NC (and Durham County Commissioners)
Los Angeles, CA
New Haven, CT
San Francisco, CA
Rule 3: Local Connection:
Often city council members will take criticism for taking on bigger national issues. It is our job to stress the connections between the federal and city council budgets.
* Ask your council member if she / he believes “All politics is local.” Why or why not? What does that mean to you?
* Ask your council member if your city has sustained cuts to “Community Development Block Grants” or other programs from the “Federal Discretionary Budget,” which allocates funds for local use, dispersed by city councils. Click here to see how much your state or community is getting in Community Development Block Grants.
* Ask your council to write their own “whereas clause” in the resolution tying local issues to federal spending. The “whereas” clause can also articulate an explanation for council time spent on military spending issues. For instance:
“Whereas, the_______ city council has received multiple requests from constituents to introduce, debate, and vote on a resolution connecting the dots between federal and local budgetary priorities.”
Rule 4: Prepare Persuasive Talking Points:
* Renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs says that by 2015 the United States “should be able to slash the military budget by at least half” and that doing so and having a “smarter foreign policy” are the keys to economic recovery and resolving the nation’s debt issues.
* The national economy is made of a collection of local economies. We cannot afford to spend over 50% of the discretionary budget on the cost of war while simultaneously bolstering our local communities. We have to choose.
* See the resolution Talking Points for more reasons.
Step 6: What to do after lobbying council-members, prior to the vote.
Now that you have our resolution on the City Council Meeting Agenda, your organizing work should become much easier.
- Ask your city council member to run down the politics of the council — who will support your resolution, who may oppose it, what their reasons will be. This will help you approach the rest of the council. You can also ask all the councilors if there are changes in the resolution that will make them more likely to vote for it.
- Ask your most supportive city council member for a rally / press conference location recommendation. Ideally, it would be held in the City Hall lobby or in front of the building.
During the June, 2012 Resolutions Week on Corporate Personhood, a St. Paul-based corporate personhood working group held this rally in the St. Paul City Hall lobby. The podium, sound system, and public access TV camera person were arranged, free of charge, by the city of St. Paul, specifically by the Policy Aide of our most supportive city council member, David Thune.
- Vote, Rally / Press Conference Turnout: Write letters to the editor, send out mass emails, make phone calls; use new media to invite folks out to the council vote and press conference / rally.
- Public Hearing / Open MIC? Sometimes city council meetings have an open MIC / public comments section. The public often gets up to 3 minutes to comment before a vote. Find out if this is true in your city. If so, prepare a few of your most articulate, well-informed working group members / community leaders to use this opportunity.
- Sign-Making Party: If you have the time, the last meeting before the vote could include a fun “sign-making party” for the rally / press conference. Signs should be positive, on topic, non-partisan, and highlight city council members who were particularly helpful. “Thank you, council member _______.”
Day of the Vote
- The Advocacy Leader / Project Leader should lead the rally / press conference. This person should remember to thank supporting city council members, volunteers, and coalition partners.
- The Communications Director / Media Liaison gets your press release in the hands of journalists in attendance. This person should also prepare 3-4 people for potential interviews. Folks being interviewed by the media should have a 30 second sound bite that condenses our message. It is also important to teach interviewees not to fidget, gesticulate excessively, and to avoid looking into the camera. Instead, look at the person asking you the questions.
- Field Director / General Volunteer should hand out lit-pieces, thank folks for coming, and encourage the crowd to gather around the TV cameras / newspaper photographers. However many people attend, we want to make it look crowded in there. Often times the media will cover rallies by pointing the camera in the least populated part of the area.
Step 7: Wrap It Up
- Send out press releases after the vote. Media outlets may not attend the event, but will still cover it, going off the press release. After the vote, they may realize this was a bigger deal than they anticipated.
- Send out another mass email reviewing the event and thanking folks for participating.
- Encourage your team to celebrate the victory in conversations with friends, on Facebook, Twitter, etc.
- Make sure to inform the New Priorities Network of your victory. We will post it on the website along with the other participating cities. They can be reached at email@example.com / 617-282-3783.