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City Council Resolutions

Back to Campaigns

Has your City or Town Council passed a resolution in support of the Bhopal campaign? Probably not, but they should. Organize a campaign to put your City Council on the record in support of justice – and in favor of the basic human right to an environment free of chemical poisons.

Why A City Council Resolution? How to Pass a Local Resolution
How it Makes a Difference Resolutions & Letters
Campaign Outline  Resources


Why A City Council Resolution?

City Resolutions

During the struggle against South African apartheid, local resolutions banning investment in the racist regime were key to eventually bringing down the government. Student activists caused the loss of tens of millions of dollars of university contracts to the Boise Cascade Corporation by passing resolutions forcing their universities to stop buying paper and office supplies from the old-growth logging giant. Non-binding resolutions that simply express a city’s opposition to or support for an idea can also be effective. For example, when citizens were fighting a corporate rights treaty called the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI) in the late 1990s, non-binding resolutions declaring cities and towns "MAI-Free Zones" were essential in educating people about the dangers of the agreement, and eventually stopping it from becoming law.

Legislative statements such as City Council resolutions are a key means of bringing pressure to bear in support of justice for Bhopal. They do so in two key ways:

..........1. They lend credibility to our campaign, and undermine the credibility of Dow.
..........2. They help quantify our campaign's mainstream strength and support, which can help us leverage further support for our efforts. For example: Dow shareholders are more likely to pressure Dow to address Bhopal when city resolutions begin to tarnish Dow’s reputation and interfere with business.

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How it Makes a Difference

City Council resolutions aren’t only embarrassing for Dow – they represent a direct threat to its reputation, its credibility, and the future of its business. As expressions of credible and mainstream opposition to Dow’s policies in Bhopal, City Council resolutions help set the stage for further legislative action, regulation, and shareholder action. Widespread, mainstream opposition never bodes well for corporations – as Dow itself has painfully learned. Instead Dow runs the risk of becoming the next Big Tobacco - a cruel and heartless industry that has zero credibility and zero political cover. When legislatures can sue you, regulate you, tax you and fine you with impunity, and when major institutions dump your shares at any price - that is corporate hell. The place no corporation wants to be.

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Campaign Outline

Vision
Dow’s credibility is damaged and its reputation soiled, forcing it to address its responsibilities in Bhopal.

Goals
..........1. Educate the public about Bhopal, thereby growing and strengthening your local campaign for justice in Bhopal.
..........2. Build pressure against Dow by passing a City Council resolution that demands justice – and which (possibly) mandates such concrete action as divestment or shareholder action.

Strategies
..........1. Build a widespread coalition in support of your resolution
..........2. Educate the public and the members of your city council through media coverage, educational events, etc.
..........3. Draw parallels between Bhopal and your community: is your city at risk because of Bhopal?

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How to Pass a Local Resolution
Courtesy the Rainforest Action Network Activist Toolkit

So how can you pass a resolution in your community?

Plan Your Campaign
Determine what kind of resolution you want to pass. Your overall campaign goals will naturally influence your decision. Depending upon the nature of your campaign, you may want to pass a binding resolution that will actually affect city policies or a non-binding one that is simply the expression of an opinion. You should know that, in general, non-binding resolutions are easier to pass.

San Francisco, April 2004

Identify and reach out to supporters. Campaigns work best when they are anchored by a coalition of groups and individuals. Who else might be interested in helping to pass the resolution? What natural allies do you have in the community? Try to find coalition partners sooner rather than later. Coalitions work best when everyone is involved in the process from the beginning.

Determine who will work with you to pass the resolution and what their roles will be. As with any campaign effort, it’s useful to make sure everyone knows their assigned tasks. When trying to pass a resolution, you probably want at least one person responsible for communicating with elected officials, at least one person responsible for working the media, and at least one person responsible for putting together public education materials. Everyone should work on spreading the word to the general public.

Plan a timeline for the resolution campaign. Make sure you know when, and how often, the city council meets and how long it typically takes for a resolution to be passed. In bigger cities, it may take months for a resolution to become law.

Find a Champion - Someone in Local Government to Introduce Your Resolution.
Identify a member of the town council who you think will be sympathetic toward your issue. This is essential. Without a government official who will actually take ownership of the issue and make it his or her cause, it will be difficult to successfully pass a resolution. You can identify likely champions by investigating officials’ voting records and asking your coalition partners if they have any allies on the city council.

Contact your champion. Find people who live in the official’s district or ward and request a meeting with the representative. Once you arrange a meeting, try to organize as diverse a group as possible to represent your cause. By involving a wide range of coalition partners in the discussion, you demonstrate that your issue has community support. At the meeting, make a strong case for why the resolution is important and why the city should pass it.

Get your champion to introduce the resolution to the council for a vote. When you meet with the elected official, you should present them with the sample text of the proposed resolution. This will make the official’s job easier, and make them likelier to support your issue.

Chart the political landscape. When meeting with your champion, ask them to predict which members of the city council are likely to support or oppose the resolution. Knowing your allies and opponents will help you in your campaign.

Work with City or County Staff
Get to know the city staffers. In many city halls, especially those in small towns, the unelected bureaucrats wield as much power as the elected representatives. That’s because the staff are permanent and work full time, whereas the elected officials come and go and often work only part time. It’s crucial, then, that you get the city staffers on your side. Ask for meetings with the city manager, the city attorney, the pension fund manager, the city purchaser, or whoever else may be affected by the proposed resolution. Explain to them why the resolution is important. If you gain their support, you’re much closer to winning the campaign.

Educate the Public
Spread the word. Without real public support, passing your resolution will be difficult. At the same time, one of the main reasons for working on a local resolution is to educate the public about the issue you care about. The resolution is, in a sense, a vehicle for educating the public. There are several ways you can do this.

Try to get the media interested. Once your resolution is introduced and scheduled for a vote, contact the media and ask them to do a story about the campaign. Resolutions give local media a way to cover larger issues through a community angle. Write letters to the editor and op-eds in support of the resolution.

Host a public forum about the resolution. It may be a good idea to hold educational events to talk to your fellow residents about the resolution. Organize a film screening that addresses your issue. Bring an inspiring speaker into the community to talk about why the resolution is important.

Lobby Other Elected Representatives
Make contact with other officials. "Lobbying" is just a fancy word for letting your elected officials know how you feel about an issue. Communicating with your representatives is a right, not a privilege. You should make sure all of the representatives on the city council have a packet of information about your resolution. Try to get constituents from different districts to arrange meetings with their representatives to show support for the resolution.

Expand the base of support. As the date of the vote approaches, make sure you are working with residents across the city and asking them to call or write their representatives in support of the resolution. Constituents throughout your town should be contacting their representatives on the city council. There are some ways to coordinate this. Organize a community-wide "call-in" day during which people from every neighborhood will call their representatives in support of the resolution. If a particular representative is opposed to the resolution, do targeted outreach in that neighborhood.

Cover all the bases. In some cases, especially with binding resolutions, committees or subcommittees will consider the resolution before the full city council does. Make sure you attend these meetings and present the argument for your resolution during the public comments section of any hearings.

Pack the house. On the day your resolution is going to be voted on, make sure the city council chambers are filled with supporters of your resolution. Bring colorful and eye-catching signs to show support for the resolution. Encourage supporters to speak in favor of the resolution during the public comments section, and make sure you have a few people ready with prepared remarks. The day of the vote is your final chance to show that the community really cares about your issue.

Follow Up
Make sure that what the resolution calls for actually happens. This is crucial when it comes to binding resolutions. Keep in touch with your champion and city staff to ensure the resolution is being implemented. If it isn’t, make sure all of your supporters, your champion, and the media hear about it.

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Resolutions & Letters

..........US Congress. Letter to Dow signed by 18 members. Dated July 18, 2003. Members write: “More disturbing is the manner in which Union Carbide and Dow Chemical have ignored the summons of the Bhopal court. This exposes a blatant disregard for the law.”

..........US Congress. Resolution proposed September 29, 2004. The resolution calls upon Dow to completely restore the polluted plant site to a habitable condition, fully remedy the drinking water supply, and produce Union Carbide to face criminal trial in the Bhopal court. So far co-sponsors of the resolution, which was referred to the House Committee on International Relations, include: Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Karen McCarthy (D-MO), Ed Towns (D-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Nick Lampson (D-TX), Anna Eshoo (D-CA), Michael McNulty (D-NY), Joe Crowley (D-NY), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

..........European Union Parliament. Resolution passed December 17, 2004. Read the text here.

..........European Union Parliament. Resolution passed October, 2005. The resolution notes that twenty years after the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, the site has still not been cleaned up and calls on the Indian authorities and on Dow Chemicals to clean up the toxic waste immediately. Read the text here.

..........European Union Parliament. Resolution proposed, 1999.

..........UK House of Commons. Early Day Motion, proposed March 24th, 2003. Supported by 61 MPs.

"Mahon/Alice, MP

DESCRIPTION :: That this House is appalled by the continuing suffering of the people of Bhopal 18 years after the world's worst environmental disaster; notes that the contaminated land on the site of the disaster has never been cleaned up, that high quantities of lead and organochlorines continue to be found in the breast milk of local women and that the local population is plagued by ill health and birth deformities; congratulates the work of the Sambhavna medical clinic in treating survivors and that of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal in trying to make Union Carbide and its present owner Dow Chemical face up to their moral and legal responsibilities; and further applauds the campaign for the extradition from the USA of former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, wanted in India on criminal charges of culpable homicide in connection with the deaths of 20,000 people."

..........City of San Francisco. Resolution passed April 15, 2004. Read the text here.

..........City of Boston. Letter signed by three members of the City Council. Dated May 12, 2004.

..........University of Michigan student government. Resolution passed March 17, 2003. A copy of the letter that the Michigan Student Assembly's Environmental Issues Commission sent to the President and Regents of the University of Michigan, as called for by its Bhopal resolution

..........University of California, Berkeley student government. Resolution passed December 8, 2004.

..........Wheaton College student government. Resolution passed April 24, 2003.

..........Faculty Petition for Justice in Bhopal. Signed by more than 400 academics, worldwide.

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Resources

..........Survivor testimonials
..........• Amnesty International report: Clouds of Injustice
..........In-depth background information
..........Handouts and fact sheets about Bhopal
..........Draft Media Advisory/Press Release
..........Bhopal Posters

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The international student campaign to hold Dow accountable for Bhopal, and its other toxic legacies around the world.
For more information about the campaign, or for problems regarding this website, contact
Shana Ortman, the US Coordinator for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
Last updated: April 30, 2008

WE ALL LIVE IN BHOPAL

"The year 2003 was a special year in the history of the campaign for justice in Bhopal. It was the year when student and youth supporters from at least 30 campuses in the US and India took action against Dow Chemical or in support of the demands of the Bhopal survivors. As we enter the 20th year of the unfolding Bhopal disaster, we can, with your support, convey to Dow Chemical that the fight for justice in Bhopal is getting stronger and will continue till justice is done. We look forward to your continued support and good wishes, and hope that our joint struggle will pave the way for a just world free of the abuse of corporate power."

Signed/ Rasheeda Bi, Champa Devi Shukla
Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Employees Union
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal