Mia Cortés Castro, Contributing Photographer

As pro-Palestine activists continue to protest in New Haven’s streets for an end to Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, a parallel effort is underway behind the scenes, aiming to persuade local elected officials to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire.

An informal coalition of New Haven groups and Yale students has taken shape to lobby the Board of Alders to officially denounce the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Since drafting and proposing the resolution in November, activists have called and met with alders — including Board President Tyisha Walker-Myers, who has yet to assign the item to a committee for consideration but said she plans to do so.

Chloe Miller LAW ’25, an organizer of the effort, said that its goal is to “elevate the voices of everyday New Haveners who we believe largely support this position.”

Proponents of the resolution hope it would send a signal to elected officials in Washington, especially members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation, who have not joined calls for a ceasefire. But others, including some Jewish New Haveners, say the resolution falls outside the Board of Alders’ proper role and threatens to worsen local tensions over a divisive issue.

Pro-ceasefire organizers have also focused attention on Mayor Justin Elicker, whose approval is required to enact legislative measures unless at least 20 of the 30 alders override a veto. Elicker’s only press release about the war, issued on Oct. 12, drew criticism from pro-Palestine activists.

In a statement to the News on Thursday, Elicker did not say whether he would support the proposed resolution. He reaffirmed his support for Israel’s right to self-defense against Hamas and stressed the need to protect Palestinian civilians.

“This war, like all wars, is tragic — and, like all Americans, I want to see a lasting end to this conflict and just peace,” Elicker wrote.

The board’s legislative inaction on the resolution for over two months has led to growing frustration among activists who consider the proposal urgent, especially given the continued U.S. aid to the Israeli military. Israel has killed over 26,000 Palestinians in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attacks, in which Hamas killed 1,200 people in Israel and took about 250 hostages.

“The Board of Alders does have the power to speed up the process if they wish to, and that clearly has not been done in this case,” said Francesca Maria SPH ’20, a co-chair of the New Haven branch of the Democratic Socialists of America.

In interviews with the News, Walker-Myers and Alder Richard Furlow, the board’s majority leader, each voiced sadness about the loss of innocent life in the conflict but also hesitation about endorsing a controversial position on a war far away from the city they serve.

Alders will likely continue to discuss the resolution with activists and may seek changes to its text. Walker-Myers said she has still not decided which committee should handle the resolution and hear public testimony, and she declined to offer a timeline for her decision. New terms for alders began on New Year’s Day, and updated committee assignments were released on Jan. 24.

“I don’t like when somebody characterizes the board taking their time with a very sensitive, delicate issue as them not caring about what’s going on,” Walker-Myers said.

No alder has come out publicly in favor of the resolution or against it, but a document circulated by pro-ceasefire organizers suggested that the board contained a mix of opinions, a rarity for an all-Democratic body that passes nearly all measures unanimously.

The News spoke with 11 alders, pro-Palestine activists and opponents of the resolution to reconstruct two months of activism efforts, previously unreported meetings and deep disagreements that remain largely out of sight.

A coalition forms

In late November, a group of activists came together to draft a ceasefire resolution, inspired by similar efforts in other American cities and drawing on relationships from weeks of pro-Palestine demonstrations in New Haven.

Miller sent the proposed text to a Board of Alders staff member on Nov. 28.

The 650-word resolution, titled “New Haven Palestine Resolution,” calls for “an immediate and permanent ceasefire” and “the release of all hostages including Palestinians arbitrarily detained by Israel,” as well as efforts to combat “anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab racism, anti-semitism, and Islamophobia.”

Members of the New Haven Peace Commission, appointed by the mayor and Board of Alders, had previously discussed proposing their own ceasefire resolution, according to Yusuf Gursey ’75, a member of the body. But after seeing the existing proposal, they unanimously agreed to endorse it.

Twenty-two other organizations, ranging from Unidad Latina en Acción to New Haven Healthcare Workers for Palestine, have signed on as well, according to a list provided by Miller. A group chat for the coalition on the encrypted messaging app Signal has over 80 members, and regular strategy meetings on Zoom have attracted between 20 and 40 participants. The coalition operates without an official hierarchy.

Miller arranged a meeting with Walker-Myers and Furlow for Wednesday, Dec. 27. Miller could not attend, but several other coalition members joined the two top alders at City Hall.

Maria, the DSA organizer, who participated in the meeting, told the News that the two alders questioned whether New Haven residents cared about the ceasefire effort and whether the organizers were equally committed to local issues. “The response was largely dismissive,” she said.

Furlow said he canceled another meeting and postponed a doctor’s appointment to hear the activists’ perspective for two hours. But their attitude — “this is not an ask, it’s a demand,” as he put it — took him aback.

When asked for comment on Maria’s account, Walker-Myers said that she was “sorry [Maria] felt that way” but stood by the approach of posing probing questions, even if it at times created an awkward dynamic.

The two alders held another meeting with activists three weeks later, on Jan. 17. This time, Miller was present, along with a member of Jewish Voice for Peace New Haven and a lawyer involved in the pro-ceasefire coalition. The second meeting left Walker-Myers and Furlow with a different impression than the first.

“When I looked in Chloe’s face, I saw the anguish. And I was moved, really moved,” Furlow said.

The group made no plan for concrete steps besides further discussions, Miller said.

Besides the two meetings, members of the pro-ceasefire coalition have called alders, repeatedly sent them templated emails and sought to cultivate grassroots interest through door-to-door canvassing in the city. Maria said she recently collected about 40 signatures supporting the resolution in Walker-Myers’ Ward 23, which contains the West River neighborhood.

However, the coalition’s efforts represent only a part of the New Haven population. Furlow, who represents Ward 27 in western New Haven, said most of the constituents who have written to him individually do not support the resolution, at least not in its current form.

Residents at odds

Although there is no organizational structure to oppose the resolution that mirrors the pro-ceasefire coalition, groups such as the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven and its affiliates have raised objections with alders.

Rabbi Joshua Pernick, the Federation’s director of Jewish life and community relations, said he has spoken with alders about the resolution, in keeping with his typical work of engaging with elected officials and the broader community.

“Talking about the resolution, a divisive resolution like that one really has one purpose, and that’s inflaming tensions and trying to damage relationships at a local level,” Pernick said. He added that public testimony about ceasefire resolutions at other city council meetings had devolved into “cesspools of antisemitic conspiracy theories.”

Jay Sokolow ’78, a Westville resident and member of the Federation’s board of directors, said he emailed every alder to voice his opposition to the resolution and has received sympathetic responses from several. He sees the proposal as misguided and irrelevant to the board’s proper work.

The Board of Alders has occasionally taken stances on world affairs, including in a 2022 resolution expressing solidarity with Ukraine and one later that year calling for President Joe Biden to end the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Activists pushing for the ceasefire resolution also cite New Haven’s status as United Nations Peace Messenger City.

But after the 2022 vote about Cuba, the board decided to avoid foreign-policy resolutions going forward, according to Walker-Myers.

“Enough of the alders didn’t feel like they were well-versed enough in that,” she said.

Now, the Gaza resolution leaves alders in a bind: Any statement regarding the subject is sure to offend — if not anger — some constituents, while a failure to pass one will do the same.

Besides sending a political message, Maria said the ceasefire resolution would demonstrate that local officials care about Palestinian, Arab and Muslim New Haveners — after what Maria called a “one-sided” pro-Israel message from local politicians to date.

Pernick fears the resolution would aggravate feelings of vulnerability in the local Jewish community and divisions among New Haveners, although pro-Palestine activists have no plans to let up in their efforts.

“My main priority is to keep New Haven together and respect everybody’s perspective on this,” Walker-Myers said “People’s emotions are flaring, and rightfully so.”

Activists’ next steps

On Monday evening, about a dozen pro-Palestine activists gathered at the Citywide Youth Coalition offices at 928 Chapel St. — also known as the Black and Brown Power Center — to discuss their way forward. The people trickling into the open event matched the diversity of their coalition, from Yale students to the Peace Commission’s 69-year-old Yusuf Gursey.

Sitting in a circle of chairs, the participants began to discuss a key question for the coalition’s strategy: whether to focus on private, diplomatic appeals to officials or to push more aggressively as frustrations mount — or do both.

The exasperation burst into view on Jan. 16, when pro-Palestine protesters led by the organization New Haven Socialist Alternative disrupted the end of a Board of Alders meeting with shouts of “Ceasefire now” and “Stop the stalling.”

Craig Birckhead-Morton ’24, who works with Yalies4Palestine and the ceasefire coalition, said the demonstration had not been sanctioned by the coalition.

Birckhead-Morton told the News that activists are currently trying to win the endorsement of the three UNITE HERE unions for Yale employees, which have strong ties with the Board of Alders and many members involved in pro-Palestine activism. Walker-Myers works as the chief steward for Local 35, Yale’s union of service and maintenance workers.

The unions have put out no statement on the Israel-Hamas war and could not be reached for comment.

Birckhead-Morton said that he had spoken with new Ward 1 Alder Kiana Flores ’25, whose district includes most Yale undergraduate housing, and heard “she’s 100 percent on board, and she’s on the record for that.”

But Flores told the News on Tuesday that she was not ready to take a public stance. She said that she first wants to hear input from constituents and see whether the resolution’s language evolves.

It remains up to Walker-Myers alone to send the ceasefire resolution into the multi-step legislative process. From there, it typically takes weeks for an item to arrive at a final vote by the full board.

In a joint interview with the News, Birckhead-Morton and Miller agreed that the ceasefire resolution was already overdue by the time they proposed it in November.

“We will keep pushing as hard as we can with everybody in the community, bringing as many voices as possible to the table,” Miller said.

Board of Alders committees have begun to hold their first meetings of 2024, which will continue throughout February.

Ethan Wolin covers City Hall and local politics. He is a first year in Silliman College from Washington, D.C.