How to Fight City Hall, or Your Village or Town

You might need to learn how to fight city hall at some point in the life of your community organization. We hope not, as good relations with your municipal government are an advantage to your group many more times than not.

If you found your way to this page as an individual, Step 1 is to find yourself an organization. Start one if you have to. Don't try to do it by yourself.

If you exhaust personal face-to-face meetings, petitions, letters to the editor, speaking at council meetings, and so forth, and you decide you need to stand up and fight about an issue that is important to you, here are the steps.

As a note of caution, take into account the cultural context. Some people around the world reading this may think that we are going teach you literally how to fight city hall, but I assure you we are speaking figuratively. But in New York City, for instance, the habit is contentious meetings in some contexts, so if that is the culture, you may have adapt these hints.

1. Use your most well-respected supporter as your only or first spokesperson. Keep the discourse civil, rational, and respectful, but state your opinions, and especially facts and evidence, assertively. Explain your case using photographs or video, logs of activity observed, eyewitness accounts, and plenty of examples. Teach all your supporters the facts as best you can.

2. By all means, bring a large crowd of emotional supporters to the meeting. While emotional, inflammatory, and accusatory statements or questions aren't how to fight city hall, you can bet that the most emotional people will exhibit the most expressive facial and body language too. Their postures will tell the story. Don't use them as your speakers though, if you can help it.

The exception to using the rational folks, well-respected people, and good speakers as your representatives in a public hearing or comment period is when you have a rare eyewitness account that has surprise value. This is especially effective if the person is a sympathetic figure, and the damage to him or her was significant.

3. Understanding how to fight city hall for money is especially important and a fairly unique circumstance. Many cities have been forced to make major cuts in services or eliminate grants altogether, and often neighborhood organizations are casualties.

If you need your funding reinstated, a small step toward learning about how to fundraise for yourself would be a good gesture.

In this case, being assertive in a way that acknowledges and even empathizes with the difficulties officials are facing is how to fight city hall.

In all cases, do your homework. Know exactly the city hall process and procedures you will face, and instruct your supporters to be mannerly--whatever that might mean in your community. Know the facts, laws, and numbers about your issue.

For additional tips and a different slant, you might want to look at our page on opposing a rezoning.

You might need to play slightly dirty outside the meetings, taking advantage of the situation if you are friends with the mayor's wife, for example. (Wherever you are on the planet, however, we hope you don't make bribery a part of your fight. That practice needs to stop.)

If the stakes are high enough and the government wrong enough, sometimes you must be a little manipulative inside the meetings as well. But usually that's not how you win at local government relations.

Of Interest:

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