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An Organizing How-To Guide to Get Your City Council to Pass a Resolution against Military Aid to Israel, Freeing Funds for Unmet Needs in Your Community
Welcome to the organizing how-to guide for “Fund Our Community’s Needs, Not Israel’s Misdeeds!”
The goal of this project is for activists like you to organize successful, winning campaigns to get your local government to pass a resolution opposing U.S. military aid to Israel and calling for that money to be redirected to unmet needs in your community.
In this guide and on our web site: http://www.fundcommunityneeds.org you’ll find all the ideas, resources, and inspiration you’ll need to win this campaign. As your local campaign achieves milestones and victories, we’ll highlight them on our web site!
Why get involved in organizing a campaign like this? Here are a few good reasons:
1) You will raise awareness in your community about the moral and financial costs of U.S. military aid to Israel and how U.S. support enables Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians.
2) You will identify and mobilize new sympathetic people in your community to take political action, and in the process you will build your base of support.
3) You will build crucial relations with allies in your community working on various social justice issues by including their issues of concern in your campaign.
4) You will set the agenda and the terms of debate in your community about this important issue by managing an ongoing and proactive campaign that will force the opposition to respond to you.
5) You will create tangible political change by succeeding in getting your local government to put itself on the record as preferring to fund unmet community needs rather than more weapons for Israel.
You can win this campaign in your community because you will find, for example, that an overwhelming majority of goodhearted people prefer to fund local affordable housing rather than finance the United States giving Caterpillar bulldozers to Israel to destroy Palestinian homes.
Best of all, we’ve already done for you all the research that you’ll need to educate people in your community and get them to join with you to take action!
Check out our web site: http://www.aidtoisrael.org to learn how much money people in your city provide in weapons to Israel and what that same money could purchase instead for programs in your community.
The numbers are amazing and politically compelling, especially in a time of local, state, and federal government budget cuts and ballooning deficits and debts. From 2009 to 2018, the United States is scheduled to give Israel $30 billion in military aid. For a typical mid-size U.S. city like Fort Wayne, Indiana (population 250,000), its residents will be paying more than $40.9 million of their taxes in weapons to Israel! With that same amount of money, each year the federal government could do one of the following:
* Provide 497 low-income families in Fort Wayne with affordable housing vouchers;
* Retrain 697 unemployed workers in Fort Wayne to enter the green jobs economy;
* Teach early reading skills to 1,209 disadvantaged Fort Wayne school children; or
* Provide basic health care to 33,125 Fort Wayne residents without insurance.
These are real trade-offs with real economic and political implications. Find out the equivalent statistics for your city at: http://www.aidtoisrael.org and then go out into your community to educate and organize people to re-prioritize our budget.
Of course, not only does U.S. military aid to Israel have a financial cost; it has a huge moral cost as well. From Sept. 29, 2000 to Dec. 31, 2009, Israel killed 2,969 unarmed Palestinians, including 1,128 children, who took no part in hostilities, according to the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.
On our web site: http://www.weaponstoisrael.org we provide details on more than 670 million weapons and related equipment, valued at $18.9 billion, given by the United States to Israel during the same period. On this site, we provide incontrovertible evidence that the same weapons systems provided at U.S. taxpayer expense are being misused by Israel to commit grave human rights abuses against Palestinians.
How many people in your community, other than a few hardcore supporters of Israeli occupation and apartheid, would want their taxes being spent this way?
If we’re going to end U.S. military aid to Israel, then we’ve got to bring our message to our communities. All politics, after all, is local, as they say. The Washington, D.C. politicos, beholden as they are to special interests and lobbying groups, currently strongly support even more weapons to Israel.
However, even they have to take stock of opinion back home if they hope to be reelected. Your winning campaign in your city will have a substantial impact on the political calculations of federal decision-makers who authorize weapons for Israel. Using our voice at the local government level to affect change at the national level is one of the most important and powerful actions we can take in our own communities!
Join us in this important campaign today!
Note: In some localities it is possible for citizens to place referendums on the ballot. If your local government allows for this, then you may consider organizing a campaign to pass a referendum. This how-to guide will focus primarily on getting a resolution passed by city councils; however if you choose to campaign for a referendum, most of the organizing steps and strategies listed here will also apply. This how-to guide can also be modified easily to run a statewide organizing campaign targeting your state’s legislature.
You should plan for this campaign to last for about a year. A campaign, as compared to a stand alone event, is more time-consuming and intense, but can yield better results if you have dedicated people willing to put the time and sweat equity into the project. In other words, we want to strongly encourage you do undertake this campaign because we believe in its potential to affect political change. However, we don’t want to mislead you that it will be quick or easy to achieve results. Nothing worthwhile ever is!
We have listed a loose timeline as a guide, which you do not need to follow precisely. Each local campaign will have its own pace and rhythm. However it’s important to allow enough time for your campaign to gain widespread community support, but not so long that it becomes difficult to keep up the momentum and people begin to forget about your issue.
Securing committed leaders and creating a comprehensive and viable plan are paramount to the success of any organizing campaign. A lot of work behind-the-scenes initially will make for a more organized and successful launch.
a. Form a group
- If you are not already part of an organization that commits to this campaign, then reach out to other people in your community who support you and form a cohesive organizing body.
- You can find organizations near you that are members of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation here: http://www.endtheoccupation.org/groups.php. Pitch the idea to them and commit to playing a leadership role in the campaign.
- The US Campaign also can connect you to people who are already organizing to end military aid to Israel in your community. Check out a map of nearly 800 cities where individuals are organizing: http://www.endtheoccupation.org/modinput4.php?modin=114
- Once you locate interested individuals and/or groups to join you, give each leader a different role within your campaign. Different roles can include media relations, government relations, petition organizer, outreach coordinator, online coordinator, etc.
- Lay out descriptions and estimates for the responsibilities and time commitments that each position entails.
b. Research local government politics and procedures
- Find out if your local government has existing policies regarding human rights, violent conflict, equality, or a history of passing other resolutions that would give precedent to your campaign. Here’s a list of U.S. cities that have already passed resolutions in support of peace: http://www.ips-dc.org/articles/cities_with_peace_resolutions
- Get background information on the political views of city council members and figure out who you can cultivate as an ally based on their voting record and other community involvement.
- Learn about the process by which resolutions are passed in your local government system.
- Gauge the political climate of your community on this issue and determine which constituencies will provide greater support or opposition.
c. Develop a campaign statement and organizing plan
- Draft a document with language that reflects your group’s principles and clearly states your campaign goals.
- Include background information on Israeli military occupation and apartheid policies toward Palestinians, your city’s contribution in weapons to Israel, and what that money could purchase instead for unmet needs in your city.
- Define concrete short-term and long-term goals that your campaign hopes to achieve, i.e. number of petition signatures collected and delivered, number of signatures to get on ballot (only for referendum campaigns), number of attendees at public events like city council meetings, etc.
- Determine ways you will achieve your goals, i.e. organize petition canvassing X number of times, attend or table at X number of community events, organize X number of protests/actions/media conferences, publish X number of letters-to-the-editor, speak at X number of city council meetings, etc.
- Determine the budget, including in-kind contributions, for your campaign, and make viable fundraising plans.
- Pick goals that fit your local context in terms of the size of your population and its political climate. The more people you can mobilize to support your campaign, the more it proves to local officials that your campaign is serious and that they need to respond positively to it.
d. Develop online and local organizing resources from templates
- On the web site under the “Resources” link you will find a petition, sample letters, flyers and other publicity guides useful for building a web site and downloading information to distribute. Highlight your campaign statement on your web site and provide ways for community members to become involved. Update your web site regularly with the latest events, photos and news that pertain to your local campaign and be sure to send us your updates as well.
- Begin compiling a list of email addresses and send out updates regularly.
e. Build a coalition
- Present at meetings of local organizations whose missions and values are justice-oriented and propose forming either a formal coalition or a loose alliance. A few group members should be the central contact people for reaching out to other organizations.
- Be creative in brainstorming potential partners. Getting support from lots of different constituencies only proves the universality of your campaign for justice and human rights: examples include social justice, human rights, faith, and ethnic identity groups.
- The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation is proud to be part of the New Priorities Network, a national network of groups that seek to fund urgently needed jobs and restore vital public services by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and substantially cutting the core Pentagon budget. Find local groups that are organizing similar city council campaigns here: http://newprioritiesnetwork.org/ and join with them.
- Remember the importance of reciprocity and figure out what your group can do to further the goals of the other organization. Agree on what the nature of your relationship will be and how much you expect the other organizations to be involved.
- Figure out if other cities--either in your region or with whom you have unique relationships (sister cities)--have any similar resolution or precedent in their community that you could use in your own
***Remember, for community organizing to be successful, community members must feel that it is their movement—not that they are helping you with your movement.
The launch of your campaign should be as public and visible as possible because you want to get community members engaged from the very beginning. If possible, launch your campaign on a day that is significant for the movement for Palestinian human rights. The US Campaign often calls on it its member groups to organize around significant days of widespread action, such as Palestinian Land Day.
a. Media conference/kickoff event
* Write a media release announcing the start of your campaign. Speak with a variety of local media sources to generate interest.
* This media conference should serve as a forum to begin ongoing relationships with local media outlets throughout the life of your campaign.
* Gather in a central community location to demonstrate. Signs should present the message of your campaign as clearly as possible so that onlookers will quickly be able to ascertain your purpose. Or march down the main street in your community in a similar fashion.
* Be sure to get any permits or approval necessary from your local authorities. If you do receive approval but get shut down anyway, then be sure to publicize that censorship and use it to gain visibility and support.
* Have your organizing materials with you at this and any subsequent events to attract support for your campaign and recruit new members.
c. Op-ed/Letters to the Editor
* Getting published in a local newspaper is a highly visible and often fairly easy way to publicize your campaign.
* Local politicians often consult local media outlets in assessing the views of the community they represent.
* Look under our “Resources” link for sample op-eds and letters to the editor.
d. Initial appearance at city council meeting
* Bring as many supporters as possible, and have as many of them speak on the council floor as possible depending of the regulations of your city council meetings.
* Meet beforehand and agree on who will speak when, then walk in together as a group.
* If your city council regulations allow it, bring in signs supporting your campaign and/or consider wearing matching t-shirts.
This is the longest phase of your campaign because it is the time when you are intensively organizing to achieve your goals of visible community support for your campaign. In this phase, you also will make it clear to community members and local politicians that you are making a serious and long-term effort to align your community with justice and human rights.
a. Petitioning & list-building
* Advertise the goal you have set for the number of signatures from the start, and put a link to your petition on the web site you have created.
* Add spaces for people to provide their email addresses and phone numbers, so that you can continue to contact them with updates regarding the campaign. Be sure to let them opt-out of your communications if they so choose. Look for our sample petition under the “Resources” heading.
* We can help. Let us put our fancy, high-tech on-line petitioning tools at your disposal. We can create an easy-to-use petition page that will help you collect campaign supporters. We can even set it up so that it blends seamlessly into your website.
* Put flyers in locations where many people gather or pass by often. Return to those locations regularly to replace the flyers.
* You can print examples from the “Resources” section of our organizing web site.
* Attend popular local events such as community fairs, farmers’ markets and holiday fairs and set up a visible table with a banner, flyers, petitions and photos.
* One or two people should sit behind the table and a few stand in front of it to pass out information to those who walk by, and get them to sign the petition.
* Tabling should occur on a weekly basis if possible in different parts of your city.
d. Canvassing (going door-to-door)
* Organize teams of volunteers to canvass neighborhoods. Develop a walking plan to go door-to-door through a neighborhood to talk to people.
* Not everyone appreciates the canvasser. Be prepared to have a few doors slammed in your face. Just don’t take it personally. You’ll find many more people who will be interested in taking your information and even signing the petition.
* This is how politicians win elections--good old-fashioned campaigning. This will also be a great way for you to raise awareness about the issue in your community and garner the support levels necessary to get the city council to pass your resolution.
* Move around to different neighborhoods within your city. Start in neighborhoods where the need for social services is greatest. You’ll probably find your most sympathetic audience there.
e. Speaking/educational events
* Host your own event (fundraiser dinner/performance/panel) during which informed, articulate speakers present about the importance of your campaign and the issues that form the reason for it.
* Ask to speak at other social justice related forums. Present at religious services, school and university classes, PTA events, special holidays related to service and justice (i.e. MLK’s birthday).
* This is a great opportunity to cultivate and develop your relationships with partner organizations or other groups that agreed to support your campaign.
* Every time you go somewhere to speak, bring information to pass out and ask attendees to sign your petition.
f. Film screening
* There are many fantastic films to choose from. For examples, and to purchase copies, see the film list of US Campaign member group Palestine Online Store at: http://palestineonlinestore.com/films/
* Pick a venue that has a lot of comfortable seating, a large screen, and consider providing refreshments of some type.
* Introduce the movie, your group and your campaign before you play it. Build time into the event to discuss the movie afterward.
* Choose one person to lead the discussion. Toward the end, ask people to consider the relevance of the film’s message to your campaign and discuss the national and international significance of your campaign.
g. Advertising (paid and non-traditional, i.e. flash mobs)
* Traditional advertising is not as expensive as you may think, especially if you live in a smaller media market city. The US Campaign and many of its member organizations have used paid advertising to good effect to raise awareness about the costs of U.S. military aid to Israel. For a selection of ads and downloadable guides for advertising, see our web site: http://aidtoisrael.org/ads.html
* Non-traditional forms of advertising, such as flash mobs, are becoming more popular and are very effective in spreading your message. For inspiration, see our flash mob how-to kit at http://www.endtheoccupation.org/article.php?id=2893
* Unleash the power of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter. Update them regularly to keep supporters abreast of new developments in your campaign. You can also set up paid advertising campaigns narrowly tailored to Internet users in your city on sites such as Facebook and Google. It’s cost-effective and you control your ad budget.
* Get donations and endorsements from local businesses. Ask them to post your flyer and information in their places of business.
h. Involve young people
* Collaborate with high school and college groups, such as Students for Justice in Palestine, to reach a younger constituency.
* Not only do young people vote, but they are often the catalysts for social change and can have a dramatic impact on political developments within your community.
a. Don’t be intimidated or sidetracked. Stick to your plan. That is why you spent so much time planning!
* Defenders of Israeli occupation and apartheid often try to intimidate people working for Palestinian human rights by questioning their motives, calling them names, etc. All of this is designed to deflect attention away from Israel’s human rights abuses of Palestinians. Don’t let them succeed in bullying you into silence. Of course, words can hurt, but the best antidote to spurious charges of “anti-Semitism” or “singling Israel out” can best be addressed by your group taking principled stands against racism in any form and affirming the universality of human rights.
* Defenders of Israeli occupation and apartheid may also attempt to sidetrack you by trying to engage you in endless debate about arcane historical minutiae. This is done deliberately to draw you away from your message; namely, that U.S. military aid to Israel is responsible for terrible human rights abuses against Palestinians and that this money could be better spent on needs here in the community. Don’t engage people who are obviously hostile to your organizing work--spend your time reaching out to people who are open, not trying to convert people who are already set in their ways.
* Defenders of Israeli occupation and apartheid will also insist that everything you do needs “balance.” Of course, events and actions organized by them never will include a perspective in support of Palestinian human rights. Don’t agree to add these speakers to your events. Your events are yours and you can structure them in whatever way you see fit to support of your campaign. Also, don’t get sucked into a dialogue effort with groups that oppose your campaign. They are, of course, free to oppose your campaign. But you are not going to convince them to support your campaign, so don’t waste your precious organizing time on them. It’s just another effort to sidetrack you from being effective.
b. Don’t allow your campaign to be censored.
* Nobody can legally prevent you from exercising your First Amendment rights and your rights to organize in support of your opinions. Of course, businesses and governments can create all kinds of regulations to prevent you from organizing wherever and whenever you see fit. For example, a store or mall may have the legal right to throw you out of the premises if you’re organizing there and you may have to register to get a table at your city-sponsored farmers’ market.
* But, if you do everything by the books and comply with all the regulations, any attempt to prevent you and your group from organizing is censorship that your group should not tolerate. If your library event is canceled; if your permit to march is not granted or is withdrawn after being granted; if your city council changes its procedures because of your initiative; these are all forms of censorship.
* Fight back (nonviolently, of course) against any attempts to censor you or prevent you from legally organizing. Most people hate censorship and you can use that censorship to draw additional attention to your campaign. Also, if you feel that your group is being censored, contact your local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and/or the National Lawyers’ Guild to see if you can get their legal and political advocacy, which is often very effective, going on your behalf pro bono.
c. Use their opposition to your advantage.
* Many people and organizations have a tendency to shy away from controversy. A lot of human beings have a natural inclination to be liked and to back down if they’ve offended someone. Your campaign will generate controversy and it will offend people, no doubt. In fact, if it doesn’t, then it probably means you’re not being visible enough in the community.
* You should never be deliberately offensive toward someone in your organizing campaign, but neither should you feel apologetic if someone disagrees with your message and goals. After all, creating social and political change means upsetting the apple cart. You are trying to challenge the status quo, and the status quo always has its avid defenders and vested interests. Think of controversy as the yeast you need to make the bread rise.
* Controversy is great for raising awareness about your campaign. The media thrive on controversy. Dueling rallies, dueling organizing campaigns, dueling ads--it’s stuff like this that the media love to cover. So, if you get organized opposition to what you’re doing, embrace it. Stand up for your First Amendment right to freedom of expression and use the controversy generated by your proactive organizing to get even more awareness and support for your goal.
Once you have convinced at least one member of your local government to propose a resolution, you have achieved your first success. Now you just need to convince the rest of the council to vote for it.
a. Engage the decision-makers to determine how to achieve your desired political outcome
* Reframe the context of your campaign in terms of how their support will help them as local politicians.
* Ask local government officials who already support you to publicly promote your campaign and persuade their colleagues to sign on.
b. Publicly deliver the organizing results
* Deluge local media outlets (newspaper, radio, TV, Internet) with the community support that you have gained for your campaign and emphasize your numbers and diverse testimonies from community members.
c. Pack city council for vote
* Publicize the date of the vote and bring as many people as possible. Call government officials’ offices all day and have people speak in front of the council if permissible in your city council meeting structure.
d. Celebrate your victory
* Winning this vote will be a huge political achievement. Be sure to celebrate it to thank all of your volunteers for helping, and to start planning your next successful campaign!
a. You win even when you “lose”
* Even if you can’t get a resolution introduced by the city council, or even if your city council votes against the resolution, you’ve still won. If you’ve organized well, you’ve still educated thousands of people in your community about how we are enabling Israel’s human rights abuses and hopefully identified hundreds of new people to support you in your future efforts. If you don’t yet have enough political power, you’ve already taken a big step toward achieving it.
b. Keep up the momentum and come back even stronger
* Rome wasn’t built in a day and many successful business people have had to declare bankruptcy on several occasions. It’s okay if you don’t “win” right away or if it takes multiple attempts to do so.
* Take a break for sure, but begin reorganizing as soon as possible in order to stay in the news and on the minds of your neighbors. At least you’re starting from a much stronger position the second time around. You should have more volunteers and a broader base of support for a renewed push.
* Debrief and figure out what worked and what didn’t. Try different strategies. What if you got more signatures? Created a broader coalition? Advertised on local buses? Did a flash mob at city hall? Had a bigger budget? Think creatively, and keep organizing! It’s the only way to affect change.