“You can’t fight city hall,” the saying goes, but it’s done all the time. In real life, and certainly in television. So if there’s something your local government is doing, and you’re not crazy about it, fortunately, we have your handy how-to fight city hall guide right here.
So whenever you need to write your congressperson or mayor, you may want to try the following.
Organize a Protest.
I haven’t the foggiest idea how to organize a protest, though I imagine it’s easier than ever with social media. But it’s even easier if you already belong to an organization and have people you can turn to right away.
In The Brady Bunch’s episode, “Double Parked,” which focuses on saving Woodland Park from becoming a courthouse (so the Bradys are literally fighting a city hall), Carol belongs to a women’s club and goes to that and gives such a good speech, she volunteers to become a head of the park saving committee.
In a 1989 Family Ties episode, “The Wrecker’s Ball,” Elyse isn't fighting city hall so much as a mini-mall developer. Still, it's the same basic idea and plot. Elyse tries to organize a protest to save the Cavanaugh building – it’s the first building she designed as an architect-- but here’s a helpful hint. If you’re going to do that, get more people than your spouse, your three kids and the daughter’s boyfriend. It might go a little better.
Meet with City Hall
Hey, it’s worth a try. Maybe you don’t have to fight. Maybe if you talk to somebody in the local government, you’ll change their minds about destroying a park or building a freeway or engaging in whatever other activity is irking you.
On TV, though, meeting with city hall doesn’t seem to work too well, and one can imagine it not going well in real life either. Still, it makes sense to try.
After organizing her park saving committee, Carol meets with some politicians at city hall, and unfortunately, things go nowhere.
“They served us weak coffee and stale doughnuts and then threw us to the lions,” Carol says, not really explaining what she means, but I think we can assume that lions weren’t actually involved. She apparently meant that the politicians informed Carol and the park saving committee members that the courthouse would be built.
Carol, however, to her credit, is more energized than ever to do something to save the park.
Elyse meets with the owner of the building who plans on destroying the Cavanaugh Building and putting up one of his many mini-walls. That, too, doesn’t go well. How would you like it, Elyse wants to know, if somebody tore down your first mini-mall?
“Already did,” the developer says. He tore his own mini-mall down and replaced it with another one.
In “Samantha Fights City Hall,” Samantha attempts a similar path tries to schedule a meeting with her local councilman after finding out that their public park is going to be razed and replaced with a shopping center. To Samantha’s credit, she doesn’t turn use her magic to make the councilman’s calendar suddenly open up. Like Carol and Elyse, she decides to organize a protest.
“Why, there must be a hundred mothers,” Samantha says, “who feel just as angry as I do about losing that park. They just need a leader. Someone who'll fight to the last blade of grass... to the last grain of sand in the sandbox.”
“It's just Willow Street Park, not Dunkirk,” Darrin says. That said, he admires Samantha for taking a stand. “You’re a witch in a million,” he says.
Get the Community Involved
This is very important. After all, who is the community but the voters? If a majority of the voters are on your side, city hall is bound to listen. As Carol and the kids make signs and print out bumper stickers, they do a very good job of enlisting people to their cause.
Greg somehow manages to get a local printer – I assume that’s who “Mr. Clifton” is – to print bumper stickers that read, “Save Our Parks.”
Yes, plural instead of one park, and it’s a pretty generic message rather than something specific like, “Save Woodland Park,” but still, if you can get the local small business owners to get on your side, that’s really something.
Another way to get your community involved in fighting city hall is, of course, to ask people to sign a petition. Alice and Bobby and Cindy go door-to-door, asking people to do just that. At one middle aged man’s house, the guy sneers at Bobby and Cindy, suggesting that the two are on some path to degradation.
“You radicals sure start young," the middle aged guy says. (The middle aged guy is played by Jackie Coogan, a former child star and journeyman actor, a real legend with credits a mile long, and it's a nice little role, but in the credits, he's listed as "man.")
Alice then steps in and flirts with the man, managing to get his vote.
On a side note: I have to say, it’s interesting watching this scene now, rather than in the 1970s or 1980s. Back in the 1970s when I would have watched it, I was Bobby’s age; now, I’m about the age of this middle-aged jerk who won’t sign a petition so two kids can continue playing in a park. (That said, I don't know if I did see this scene; I've read that it was cut when it was being syndicated in reruns.)
Anyway, on one hand, Alice did lead this guy into some creepy behavior by flirting with him, and when he notices she has no ring on her finger, she says, “They just call me, ‘Alice Available.’”
So you can't really blame the guy for falling for Alice's charms and asking, “Say, uh, what are you doing tonight, cutie?”
Alice says, “Well, I just thought I’d play it by ear.”
And then instead of suggesting they go to a restaurant or see a movie, he says, “What do you say we get together and find some real romantic spot, like… my place. Get it?”
Yeah, we get it. The guy comes off like a sleazebag, and a sleazebag who doesn't like kids petitioning to save their park. Alice continues to lead him on (at this point, I’m back on Alice’s side) until she gets him to sign the petition and then she drops the zinger that she and her boyfriend (Sam the butcher, obviously) will be showing up in the evening. And then the plot goes back into G-rated territory.
Hold a press conference
The Bradys hold one at city hall. We don’t really see much, other than a few shots of protesters waving American flags, and so I’ve got no holding a press conference tips from the show to offer. But it is a good idea. If you really want a groundswell of support, you have to get your message out there.
Don’t Give Up
This is important. City hall has a lot of resources, and you don’t have many, at some point, you may want to give up the fight. That happens to the Bradys when Mike’s job is threatened by his boss. You see (as everyone knows if they’re a fan of The Brady Bunch), Mike has been hired to design the new courthouse. His boss, Mr. Phillips, is none too pleased that Mike’s family is organized a protest against the courthouse.
Mr. Phillips makes it clear that Mike's job might be in danger if the protests continue.
When Carol and the kids find out that Mike’s job is in danger, they tell him that they’ve decided Woodland Park isn’t worth fighting for.
That surprises Mike.
“That doesn't sound like the Joan of Arc of Woodland Park that I know,” he says to Carol. And you gotta love this line, when he realizes that something is up with his family, that they don’t really want to give up the fight against city hall.
“It doesn't take a Jack Frost to recognize a snow job,” Mike says.
So when it comes out that Carol and the kids don’t want their fight to hurt Mike’s career, he tells them to keep fighting for what they believe in, and he’ll keep doing his thing.
“You want to fight city hall, or do you want to fight me?” Mike asks.
Honestly, it’s a really endearing, inspiring moment.
In “Samantha Fights City Hall,” there’s a similar story that plays out. Two different scriptwriters wrote the episodes, but you do get the feeling that in the 1960s and 1970s, everybody was cribbing off of everybody’s plotlines. It turns out that Darrin’s client, Harlan Mossler, owns the supermarket that is supposed to replace the park.
Picket and Protest
At some point, you have to do more than organize and actually show up to city hall and make your voices heard.
The Bradys do that, and they’re really committed. Jan and Peter mention being on “picket duty” from 4 to 5 p.m.
Find an Angle
You can fight city hall, sometimes. But it takes creativity. If you want to fight city hall and win, here’s how some TV characters did it, or tried to do it.
Find a solution that city hall likes better. Mike Brady, architect extraordinaire, determines that the city dump is a better location for the new courthouse instead of Woodland Park. Problem solved.
Elyse designs a mini-mall that would go inside the Cavanaugh building, which sounds like a perfectly reasonable and smart idea – and probably cheaper than destroying a building and putting in a new mini-mall. But the developer doesn’t go for it.
Find a happy ending that you can live with. Elyse loses the fight to save the Cavanaugh building, but she comes to terms with it, and the Keaton kids rescue a brick from the Cavanaugh building, one that Elyse had inscribed a dedication to her family on. Elyse is thrilled with the brick.
“All those birthdays I’ve been wasting money buying her perfume,” Alex cracks.
It may not be much, but you know, sometimes you can’t fight city hall (or a mini-mall developer).
Make city hall understand that what they want to do really isn’t in their best interest. In The Addams Family, Gomez Adams comes up with a seriously ingenious idea. The city plans on throwing out the Addams family from their home since the freeway has to go somewhere. Well, Gomez buys a plot of land next to the city commissioner’s home. If you’re familiar with the weirdness of The Addams Family, you can imagine the reaction of the city commissioner, Arthur J. Henson.
Especially when Gomez reveals that he’s going to build his new home next door to the Hensons. The commissioner, horrified by the idea of living next to the Addams family, quickly changes the path of the freeway. The Addams family can continue living where they live.
Find a historical angle. In the third season of Wings, in the episode, “This Old House,” Joe and Brian learn that their childhood home is going to be destroyed, after a storm pummels it. Joe and Brian do what they can to save it, and when they determine they can't stop the construction crew, they decide to take out some anger at their parents – they had not the best childhood – and tear parts of the home down.
Unfortunately, after they’ve made a real mess of the place, Faye, Joe and Brian’s only airline employee, comes in and wonders what in the heck is happening.
“Oh, we’re just getting a head start on the demolition,” Joe says.
“Oh, well. We've got a problem. The historical society voted to preserve this house,” Faye says.
It turns out that Herman Melville once rented a room in the home, making it historically significant.
Remember, City Hall is Full of Good People, Too
It's true. They may be doing something stupid, like destroying a park, but they're doing their jobs, and from their point of view, they're doing what they think is right. If that seems like crazy talk, think about Leslie Knope, the indefatigable public servant in Parks and Recreation. If you can find somebody like Ms. Knope to side with you in your fight against city hall, you probably can't lose.
Your local government can definitely be utilized to make your community better than ever. Of course, ahem, not everybody in local government feels that way. As Ron Swanson, Ms. Knope's friend and colleague, asks a high school student in an episode, "What brings you to the festering putrid stink hole on the armpit of freedom?”
Leslie explains: “That’s what he calls City Hall.”
Where you can watch these shows (at the time of this writing) to get tips on how to fight city hall: The Brady Bunch can be found on the cable channel, MeTV, as well as on Hulu.com. Bewitched can be found on the cable channel Antenna TV, and various episodes, though not necessarily the entire series, are on streaming channels like TubiTV.com and the Roku Channel. Family Ties is on ParamountPlus.com and on the aforementioned Antenna TV. The Addams Family can be seen on MeTV.com and probably elsewhere (this is not necessarily an exhaustive list). Parks and Recreation is on PeacockTV.com. Oh, and, yes, Wings is on Hulu.com. Phew, hopefully I got 'em all.