Evanston residents renew push for cease-fire resolution

About a dozen Evanston residents came out Monday night to renew their demand that the City Council consider a resolution calling for a cease-fire in the war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas.

Residents have pushed for the city to take a stance on the conflict since late last year but the city removed the resolution from consideration by city committees in November, claiming the issue is outside the city’s purview.

The tone of the meeting was exemplified by an Evanston resident named Maha (who did not give a last name when asked), who spoke in favor of the resolution during public comment, but also demanded Evanston Mayor Daniel Biss look at her when she is speaking.

“While you are not caring about it and looking all smug, we are beside ourselves with grief,” she said. “Do you not see the same images we see? Are we watching different news?”

Kandi Jamieson, another Evanston resident, attempted to read her statement at the end of the public comment period with Biss speaking over her, pushing forward with agenda items and briefly muting her microphone. An officer entered the room to escort Jamieson out but Biss allowed Jamieson to continue speaking, saying public commenters should follow the basic rules of council.

“Do not let today be a mark on our history that we will be apologizing for for years and years to come,” Jamieson wrote in her prepared comments. “It is now that we need to stand on the side of humanity.”

Other residents who came forward to speak in favor of the resolution donned keffiyehs, a patterned scarf worn in solidarity with the Palestinian people.

“The Evanston City Council has not taken a position on or engaged in the study of the ongoing conflict in Gaza. Councilmembers have expressed a preference to avoid weighing in on issues outside the City’s purview unless doing so unifies the community,” read a statement from the city Wednesday afternoon.

Any time spent on issues that are beyond Evanston’s borders takes time away from issues directly impacting residents, Biss argued.

Council members Devon Reid and Krissie Harris supported this, with Reid saying the focus needs to be put on issues in Evanston. He said he personally supports a cease-fire but believes the Evanston City Council voting on the resolution will have zero influence.

“I’m focused on what I can have an impact on here in this city,” Reid said. “I sometimes wish that … if we had this kind of organization and sustained effort around affordable housing, around a lot of things we all care about that we could see some transformation here in Evanston.”

Proponents of the cease-fire point to local civil rights activist Bennett Johnson’s recent refusal of an honorary street in his name. Johnson released a statement on March 1 saying he doesn’t want to be associated with a city that refuses to pass a cease-fire resolution.

“I remember when Jewish people were not allowed to live in Evanston,” Johnson wrote. “I cannot associate my name with the government of the city of Evanston that does not stand for justice for all people.”

Johnson told Pioneer Press the city has done wrong by ignoring the calls for a cease-fire and he doesn’t understand its motives.

The cease-fire resolution was withdrawn by the Equity and Empowerment Commission at its Nov. 30 meeting, with Commissioner Jane Grover explaining the city’s legal department claimed the issue is outside the city’s purview.

Lesley Williams, a leader in the pro-resolution group Evanston Ceasefire, argues the city has never been opposed to taking a stance on federal issues before. City administration has continued support for national reparations and has historically supported civil rights and equitable education efforts.

“It just really exposes that hypocrisy that a city which makes such extravagant claims about espousing liberal values is not willing to take a stance on one of the major moral issues of the 21st century,” she said.

Evanston Ceasefire argues council doesn’t have to take on the resolution as it is now but should at least discuss the issue. Reid pitched creating a process or outlet for activist energy that doesn’t result in disruption of city meetings.

Resident Greg Miller filed an ethics complaint against the commission, alleging it should only task itself with issues within city limits. An update on the complaint was not available by print deadline.

Some in opposition of the cease-fire resolution have argued it emboldens hate groups, including an incident during the Feb. 22 special City Council meeting where members of the white supremacist group the Goyim Defense League engaged in anti-semitic rhetoric.

Similar calls for a cease-fire resolution have been made in Naperville. But Mayor Scott Wehrli announced the city will not be adopting a resolution. He echoed comments made by Evanston officials saying the resolution is outside city scope.

Other cities across the country are taking on the issue with Columbus City Council in Ohio passed a cease-fire resolution Monday night, according to reports from The Columbus Dispatch.

Johnson — who in his lifetime worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., helped facilitate the election of Chicago’s first Black mayor Harold Washington and co-founded Path Press, one of the first Black owned publishing companies — said his concerns lie more in the federal government’s response.

“I don’t know what the answer will be about what the official government of Evanston did,” Williams said. “But people will know what Bennet did. People will know how Bennett stood.”