On January 25, the Somerville City Council took up a resolution from Councilor Ewen-Campen calling on our federal elected officials to push for a ceasefire in Gaza and condemning hate here locally. It was hot, boisterous, and crowded in the City Council Chamber that night, with the room packed to the legal capacity with community members, many of whom had strong feelings about the resolution.
It was an intense scene capping off a grueling week for city councilors and City staff, due in large part to a torrent of passionate and strident emails, phone calls, and texts. I received over 1,800 emails about the resolution, and the vast majority were forceful in tone. Many of the emails were from outside the city after a group organized regionally to encourage members to email us, but a good number of those messages were from constituents.
I had committed to supporting the resolution before even seeing the text. I trusted Councilor Ewen-Campen to craft language that avoided inflaming and aimed for broad support. And when I got my first look at the language on Tuesday afternoon when the meeting agenda went live, I wasn't disappointed.
My support for the resolution meant I was spared some of the most intense lobbying efforts that were focused on the councilors who hadn't committed to a position. One colleague relayed a story about constituents knocking their front door after 9 PM in order to try to sway their decision. The sheer volume of feedback made it virtually impossible to get other work done. The resolution and the debate around it was a constant presence in my brain throughout the week.
The conversations I had with constituents -- including some friends -- around the resolution tended to focus on themes of folks in our community struggling with the dehumanization of violence in the Middle East, concerns about hate here locally, belief that the Somerville City Council shouldn't be weighing in on international issues, and dismay at the divisiveness of taking up this item. A resolution may be purely symbolic, but it was clear this one had a great deal of meaning -- positive and negatively -- a lot of people.
In the end, I focused on what the resolution really was asking for:
- An enduring ceasefire in Gaza to allow for humanitarian aid to reach people and for the release of hostages
- That the Biden administration work toward the goal of a ceasefire diplomatically
- That copies of the resolution be sent to our congressional delegation and the President
- Condemning hate here in Somerville
As I mentioned in my remarks that evening, I particularly focused strongly on that fourth one, as that was the local angle I tend to look for when issues like this come before the council. I've heard horrendous stories from far too many constituents about the hate that their friends and family have experienced in recent months, and calling out this intolerance is absolutely vital.
I went into that night's meeting expecting a tight 6 to 5 vote on the resolution. But I was heartened to see a willingness from colleagues to tweak the language to address concerns brought directly by speakers and conveyed from the public by councilors. I particularly want to thank Councilor Davis for his numerous edits, Councilor McLaughlin for a suggested edit, and Councilor Ewen-Campen for being willing to work with them on amending the language. It spoke volumes that the vote on amending the resolution text passed by an 11 to 0 vote.
I also supported Councilor Strezo's motion to amend the resolution further by calling for the dismantling of Hamas and the Netanyahu government. I appreciated Councilor Davis's warning that city councils probably shouldn't be demanding regime change in foreign countries, but having absolutely no love for either of those governments, I voted in favor of the amendment. However, that motion to amend failed by a narrow 5 to 6 vote.
Ultimately, the resolution was approved 9 to 2, and the room erupted in applause. It was good to see smiles and cheering from many of the folks who had come to City Hall to oppose the resolution that evening. It was even better to talk to some of them during the recess that followed the vote and to hear what it meant to them that their concerns about the language were heard and that we ended up with something that a large portion of the community could get behind.
Attempts in neighboring cities to pass similar resolutions haven't got nearly as well, ending in acrimony and anger. This was a good night for the Somerville City Council and for our city in general, as people came together to embrace peace and condemn hate. It was a celebratory end to a draining week.
Still, I've also since heard from individuals who remain unhappy that the entire exercise occurred in the first place, so it's clear not everyone is pleased with the outcome and that there's still division in the community. I'm hopeful this is the start of a dialogue among people in Somerville, with a goal of better seeing, hearing, and ultimately understanding each other.
Like so many of you, I'll continue following developments in Gaza and Israel. While I don't have much confidence in either government at the moment, talk of a potential ceasefire gives me some degree of hope. As I've said previously, I don't claim to have the answer to a long and complex conflict, but I do know it won't come from terrorism and rocket attacks, nor from bombs and tanks. So pausing the war to talk seems like a good first step toward peace.
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