Should local governments get involved in global issues?

During a recent commute from home to work, I tuned into LAist, and heard a question that prompted me to bring it up, more than once, with several people. It is this: Should local governments get involved or weigh in, on global issues?

This was prompted by the City of Pasadena’s resolution of Ceasefire in Gaza. If you are wondering what happened to the resolution, it passed, unanimously.

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The Pasadena Star reported that “After hours of at-times contentious public comment from hundreds of residents at the Pasadena Convention Center, the council approved a declaration that urges federal leaders to seek bilateral de-escalation and a ceasefire, ensure timely delivery of aid to Gaza, work to release all hostages, and pursue peace in the Middle East.”  This is a clear call from the local government, representing its citizens to the federal government.

The question is: Is it merely symbolic or does it carry any power? Can it be divisive, as some of my students pointed out, during a Public Administration Theory class.

Yes, it can certainly be divisive, especially given the support for Israel in the US – both politically and through various lobbies and interest groups. Many issues in our country are divisive and that is the nature of living in a democratic society. To shy away from debate, discussion and disagreement is not how things are done, in a free society.

However, maintaining calm and peace is not democratic processes are all about. It is ok to cause a bit of disturbance, “good trouble” an expression used by the late Rep. John Lewis and upset the apple cart, if it is for a cause that is just and one that puts our reputation as a country on the line. The US as the primary arms supplier to the assault on Gaza is directly involved in a very intractable conflict, which Mary Lawlor, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, wrote about recently. You can read her OpEd in the Guardian here.

There is no dearth of good scholarship or reporting on this issue, the facts are established. What we seem to be disagreeing about is their relevance and our insistence on what we do with the facts.

The question we should really ask is: When we are providing financial support to Israel, to the tune of billions of dollars, the arms being used by Israel are being made in our backyards, then why cannot we vote on this issue?  It is imperative that at the local level, governments, individuals and groups make their voices heard.

To not denounce this killing, wanton destruction of life, property and hope among a people is not just irresponsible, but also puts into question our very ethical standing, as a country. What do we stand for? As Mary Lawlor in her OpEd pointed out, “The international human rights architecture is creaking under the weight of the hypocrisy of countries who profess support for a rules-based order yet continue to provide weapons to Israel that kill more innocent Palestinians. Above all, this is a war on human rights.” And of course, there is the question of international law. And American law. Our government seems to be breaking its own laws, willy-nilly.

There are several precedents in local politics impacting national and international issues. Think of the following: LGBTQ rights, End of Apartheid in South Africa and Climate Change.

Each of these issues started off as purely local observations – either at the state or national level (in the case of South Africa). But became international, by dint of activism and work by dedicated activists, scholars, journalists and those who care about these issues.

Our very premise of being the “land of opportunities,” and one that treats everyone fairly is in question with the ongoing conflicts in the world, nothing more urgent than the one in Gaza.

Consider that the student protests in the US over apartheid ( a conservative and deeply racist government that we supported for decades), led to sanctions on South African regime and the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the head of state, after being in prison for about 27 years.

There seems to be some more momentum of late, with the City of Pasadena passing the resolution and Governor Newsom calling for a ceasefire, in his letter, on March 21.

How this plays out, no one knows. Given how international institutions have been made almost irrelevant by the forceful narratives and brutish assault on international laws, one cannot predict if Israel will be held to account for its war crimes, and how quickly.

What we can know for sure, is that local voices matter and they are beginning to matter. For that reason, local municipalities and cities should pass such resolutions calling for peace.

For without peace, there can be no life or prosperity or happiness . And we should wish that for everyone in the world, not just our little corner of the world.

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