February 1, 2003
Antiwar Sentiment in County Seats and City Halls
ORTLAND, Ore., Jan. 31 — Spurred by local antiwar sentiment, dozens of cities and counties around the country have passed resolutions imploring President Bush to slow down his confrontation with Iraq.
Some of the resolutions ask for more evidence that Iraq is hiding weapons. Some urge Mr. Bush to work more closely with the United Nations. Almost all oppose a unilateral strike.
City and county councils in 20 states have passed such measures, from small towns like Woodstock, N.Y., to cities as large as Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit.
Many have liberal leanings, like Berkeley, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; and Santa Fe, N.M. But others, like Des Moines; San Luis Obispo, Calif.; and Blaine County, Idaho, have large numbers of Republican voters.
This past week, resolutions were approved by the Board of Commissioners of Multnomah County, which includes Portland; and by city councils in Cleveland; Tacoma, Wash.; Nederland, Colo.; Amherst, Mass.; and Topanga, Calif., bringing to 57 the number of municipalities that have acted. Together, they represent about 13 million people.
More resolutions may be on the way. Officials at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, a nonpartisan group helping to organize municipal campaigns against the war, said that nearly 70 other cities and counties — and one state legislature, Maine's — were considering similar resolutions.
"Ours reflects a growing ambivalence, even opposition, to a military invasion of Iraq," said Alderman Joe Moore of Chicago, the largest city to take a stand, in a 46-to-1 vote two weeks ago. "There's a strong feeling here that the president has not made the case that we should depart from 200 years of history of not launching a preemptive strike against another nation."
The resolutions stray far from the disputes over garbage and teacher salaries that usually ensnare local governments.
In some places, officials have resisted taking a symbolic stand on foreign policy, an issue reserved for the United States Congress. Last week, Portland's usually liberal City Council heard two hours of fervent testimony before a 2-to-2 vote killed a similar resolution.
But on Thursday, by a 4-to-1 vote, the county Board of Commissioners trumped its largest city, passing a measure that opposes a "threatened violation of the United Nations Charter by unilateral, pre-emptive military action against the sovereign nation of Iraq, and the dangerous precedent such action would establish." It urges Mr. Bush and Congress to work "with and through" the United Nations.
"The time to express our concern is now," said Commissioner Serena Cruz, a cosponsor of the Multnomah County measure, "before our troops are put in harm's way."
Clare Buchan, a White House spokeswoman, dismissed the notion that antiwar resolutions represent a split in public opinion. "We're confident that the American people will support the president if Saddam Hussein chooses not to disarm peacefully and the United States leads a coalition to disarm him," she said.
But conservatives stand ready to try to mobilize a countermovement. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, said his organization had sent every state legislature a proposed measure for adoption the day fighting starts that supports Mr. Bush's actions.
The resolutions are just one sign of an active antiwar movement. Today, the group Win Without War began airing a 30-second television spot featuring Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, the chief ecumenical officer of the United Methodist Church, which counts President Bush as a member.
In the advertisement, Bishop Talbert says that going to war "violates God's law and the teachings of Jesus Christ."
They say a war effort would cost billions of dollars that are desperately needed by cities and states, which have been hurt by the economic slowdown and the new costs of security since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"A protracted war with no sure end would have such a damaging effect on social spending," said Tom Hutchings, a city official in San Luis Obispo, where an antiwar resolution passed the City Council by a 4-to-1 vote this month. " This is not only a fiscal issue, but also a human issue."
Some lawmakers call such symbolic stands a waste of time. Lonnie Roberts, an Army veteran and former state lawmaker who cast the dissenting vote in Multnomah County, said he would rather debate local issues.
Of the resolution, Mr. Roberts said, "I believe this would not make any difference in Washington, D.C., at all. I used to send memos to Congress all the time and never heard back."
Sponsors in many cities and towns are unsure whether the resolutions are having any effect.
"I don't think the administration is paying us any attention," said W. Lee Smallwood, an Air Force veteran and city councilman in York, Pa., who sponsored a resolution that passed there by a 3-to-2 vote. "The administration is hell-bent on doing what it wants to do."
But Mayor Marty Blum of Santa Barbara, Calif., where a measure passed by a 4-to-1 vote, said, "With antiwar resolutions passing and people marching, I feel like the administration must be listening.
"In September," Mr. Blum said, "the president said he would go to war with Iraq and not talk to the U.N. Now it feels like there's some kind of hesitation. I feel like he's changed his tune, but who knows what he's hearing."