Your Town Can Demand Justice More Powerfully Than You Can

By David Swanson

Most city council members take oaths to defend the Constitution. The Constitution makes the rights and standards in its amendments and in international treaties the supreme law of the land. Our nation has a rich tradition of local governments lobbying state and national governments through the passage of resolutions. Under Clause 3, Rule XII, Section 819, of the Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives local governments may petition Congress. Under the First Amendment, we all can.

Just in recent years, on issues of peace and justice, hundreds of cities have passed resolutions in favor of peace, diplomacy, restraint from launching wars, and the cessation of wars in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan, including 287 cities, 4 counties, and 17 states on Iraq alone. Through this and many other means, we have thus far prevented an attack on Iran, and we’ve won over a majority of the country to support ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan — which we will eventually end if we keep up the struggle.

Over 100 cities passed resolutions urging the impeachment of Bush and/or Cheney. They have yet to be impeached, but an impeachment push drove Alberto Gonzales out of town, may yet nail Jay Bybee and bring down the whole criminal power structure, and has solidly laid the groundwork for prosecutions. In fact, three cities have already passed ordinances committing their police to arresting Bush or Cheney should they dare to visit. I strongly recommend that your town do the same, as well as publicly backing the impeachment of torture-memo author Jay Bybee.

Meanwhile, Berkeley, Calif., has now joined United Nations human rights treaties that are not supported or complied with by the United States as a whole. And Amherst, Mass., may invite released Guantanamo victims to settle within its welcoming borders.

Perhaps most impressively, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) has led a campaign that has seen 414 local, county, and state resolutions passed defending our civil rights against abuses in the PATRIOT Act, and committing local police to noncooperation with federal violations of rights that were created by the U.S. Constitution.

Now the BORDC is launching a campaign to pass a pair of new ordinances, which I cannot recommend more strongly. These are powerful tools for restoring the rule of law and defending our civil rights. Passage of resolutions by towns often leads to their passage by states and to support for their substance by congress members, as well as to public education and a shift in media discourse.

The first model resolution offered by BORDC (which you can alter to suit local needs) limits local law enforcement efforts in support of federal warrantless spying. Of course, local and state police, as Americans, are required to comply with the Fourth Amendment anyway. But what happens when the feds say otherwise? This explicit legislation backs up those who take a stand.

The second model resolution is even more important. It places your town on record supporting federal and requiring local criminal investigations into torture. It includes an optional clause requiring the arrest of accused torturers as in the three ordinances noted above.

A third resolution that I can imagine but have not drafted would be modeled on this torture accountability resolution and require a criminal investigation of warrantless spying, which is not only unconstitutional but also illegal under state law in most states.

While we understand that there is strength in numbers in the abstract, too seldom do we employ that power through our levels of government from the smallest and most democratic up to the largest and most corrupt. Together, our towns can save our country, if we force our local representatives to take action.

David Swanson is the author of the new book “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union” by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town:

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