Braille Monitor                                               January 2014

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Resolutions and the Way Policies are Made in the National Federation of the Blind

by Gary Wunder

In the August-September issue Sharon Maneki, the chairman of the Resolutions Committee, wrote an article discussing the policy statements the convention had adopted in July of 2013. Following that article are copies of each resolution as passed. Not long after this issue reached Monitor readers, I began receiving suggestions about how we should talk about the importance of resolutions, how and why they should be drafted, and what happens to them once they are passed. This is a tall order, but let's at least start to answer these questions.

A resolution is divided into two parts.

In the first part a case is made that certain events have taken place that require action. The events are described in short statements that begin with the word WHEREAS, and they may speak to some wrong that must be righted or to some good deed that should be acknowledged. These statements should clearly set forth the reason a resolution is being written, without being so detailed that they make the reader wish the resolution had never happened.

The second part of a resolution explains what will or should be done based on the argument laid out in the first section. Resolves are used to say what the NFB will do or what we will try to persuade others to do. Again this may be to condemn and deplore actions we find objectionable or to applaud actions we find meritorious. These, too, should be brief and to the point: long enough that they are not ambiguous and concise enough that they avoid repeating what has already been said. At the end of this article, when you’ve been convinced how important resolutions are and that you may want to write one yourself, we'll drop in a few guidelines prepared by Barbara Pierce, using her many years of experience in editing the final version of our policy statements.

Who writes resolutions?

The simple answer is that resolutions are written by anyone who believes that the National Federation of the Blind should take a position on something and who wishes us to make this position public. Resolutions may come from members of our Advocacy and Policy Department, from our national board of directors, from divisions or committees of the Federation, or from members who feel passionately enough about an issue to take up their device of choice and write. Resolutions are submitted to the chairman of the Resolutions Committee or to the president of the National Federation of the Blind at least two weeks before the meeting of the Resolutions Committee. They are reviewed to determine, as best we can, that they are factually and grammatically correct and are then presented to the Resolutions Committee on what is sometimes called Registration or Resolutions Day. If they are passed by the Resolutions Committee, they are then considered on the afternoon of the second day of the convention and, if approved, become official Federation policy.

Like every system devised by man, this one has its problems. People who do not attend the meeting of the committee hear the resolutions for the first time that afternoon and are then asked to vote in favor of or in opposition to something they have had little time to consider. We have limited time for questions and discussion, and sometimes the volume of resolutions has meant we have had to read the resolve clause and have omitted the part of the resolution explaining the need for it.

At the most recent meeting of the board of directors, a decision was made to post resolutions passed by the committee on our website, clearly labeling them as resolutions being considered by the convention. In this way those with devices capable of reading information from the web can see what is being proposed for consideration by the membership, can decide how they think and feel about the resolutions, can get to the right people to ask their questions, and can be in a better position to vote when the resolutions are considered.

So what happens to resolutions once they are passed by the convention?

To start with, all of them appear on our website and are available to those wanting to know if the Federation has a position on a given topic. They are published in the August-September issue of the Braille Monitor, along with an article explaining who introduced them and why they were introduced and describing similar resolutions passed in the current or previous years. As for implementation, some resolutions are sent to divisions of the Federation for action and follow-up. Others are sent by the president or his designee to the businesses and agencies they affect. Most are assigned to the director of policy and advocacy for action.

Do the resolutions passed really make a difference?

The answer is most assuredly yes. Our resolution on quiet cars culminated in legislation, and that legislation will someday soon be incorporated into binding regulations that will make travel safer for the blind and all pedestrians and cyclists. Our resolution about the continuing inaccessibility of the Kindle resulted in a protest at the headquarters of Amazon in December of 2012 and subsequent improvements in the software Amazon produces. Our resolution on the payment of subminimum wages caused the introduction of H.R. 831 by Congressman Gregg Harper of Mississippi and the publicity we have received on the NBC television network and other media outlets.

Now that you know why we draft, discuss, and pass resolutions and what happens to them once they become Federation policy, here are some guidelines to use in creating them:

Guidelines for Resolution Writing

Writing resolutions is a specialized skill. The resolution is one very long sentence directing the organization to take a stand or engage in some action. It can also commend or take exception to actions of other entities. It cannot provide direct instructions to any group other than the NFB or its president and board of directors. However, it does call upon those entities to make changes. The actions or other recommendations are contained in the RESOLVED clauses at the close of the resolution. The argument for taking the action is laid out in a series of WHEREASes. Ideally each argument, and only one argument, should be placed in a single WHEREAS. These should be arranged in the most logical order.

The most efficient way to write a resolution is to make a simple outline or list of premises which you will turn into the WHEREAS clauses and a similar simple list of phrases for the RESOLVED clauses. In fact, you should begin by determining what your RESOLVED clauses are, that is, how many there should be and what their basic thrust is. You will know how many by the number of entities we need to address or the number of problems we need to fix. After you decide specifically how you want the problem fixed, determine the smallest number of concepts you need to explain to a person unfamiliar with the problem that there is a problem. The best resolutions can be picked up by a person unfamiliar with the issue and hold that person's attention (in other words, they are as short as possible) while still actually explaining the problem and the solution or solutions. This method, deciding the ending first and then crafting the arguments to reach it, will result in the simplest and clearest resolution. Then, when you actually write the formal resolution, you can focus on the writing and the style, having already done the planning part.

Here are the punctuation and layout rules for writing resolutions:

  1. Each argument begins with the word WHEREAS, indented and all caps. BE IT RESOLVED and BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, which introduce the RESOLVED sections, are also indented and written in all caps. Note that WHEREAS is followed by a comma, but the two versions of BE IT RESOLVED are not.
  2. Each WHEREAS before the final one ends with a semicolon and the word "and." This is true of the word "RESOLVED" as well.
  3. The final WHEREAS ends with a colon, the words "Now, therefore," and a hard return. Please note that “Now” is capitalized.
  4. The final RESOLVED ends with a period. This reflects the fact that the entire resolution is a single sentence. Sometimes one is taxed to refrain from writing sentences within WHEREASes, but inserting a complete sentence is not playing the game fairly.
  5. A blank line separates the elements of the resolution.
  6. In the beginning of the first RESOLVED, surround the year and the state with commas. The formula looks like this: “BE IT RESOLVED that the National Federation of the Blind in Convention assembled this eighth day of July, 2000, in the city of Atlanta, Georgia,” Note also that the c in city is not capitalized.

Remember that the resolves are couched in the subjunctive mood, which is rarely used in English. This means that the third person singular verbs look like plurals when they are actually singular: the organization urge, the NFB condemn and deplore, etc.

The rather strained form of the resolution makes it sound unnatural and formal. Do not attempt to add to this effect by indulging in jargon and verbosity. Even though resolutions are frequently long, brevity is a virtue. Each argument should be made concisely but clearly. Jargon never helps this process. Substituting "utilize" for the short, vigorous word "use" and always referring to people as "persons" or "individuals" are good examples of counterproductive inflation of the pomposity quotient. On the other hand, because resolutions are formal statements of a policy position, you should avoid slang or informal words like "exams" instead of "examinations" or "quotes" for "quotations." Verb forms like "hunker down" or "get going" are also a bit too casual for use in resolutions.

You will remember that the NFB is on record as opposing people-first language, except as it happens for some reason to sound euphonious. Despite this fact, we are increasingly saddled with awkward people-first language in our resolutions that serves no function but to lengthen the argument, sound pompous, and contradict our own policy. Remember that there is nothing wrong with the terms "blind people" or "blindness field." Yet increasingly our resolutions are cluttered with "persons who are blind" or “individuals with blindness or visual impairment."

Capitalization should be consistent. Do not capitalize words for emphasis. Quotation marks should not be used for this purpose either. "Federal" is not capitalized unless it is part of an actual title or is the first word of a sentence. Since WHEREASes begin with capital letters, federal is almost never capitalized in resolutions. "Congress," on the other hand, is, as are "House of Representatives" and "Senate." Names of departments and organizations are capitalized, but terms like "departments of education" or "vocational rehabilitation agencies" are generic and should not be.

Resolutions often pile up nouns as adjectives. When this happens, the terms should be hyphenated: access-program producers.

Bill numbers are written H.R. 0000 or S. 0000.

There you have Barbara Pierce’s sage advice about the content and format of resolutions. So now you know why we have resolutions, the process we go through to consider and pass them, what happens once they are passed, and the way you can author one. When resolutions are being considered in 2014, make sure you are a part of the process, and be sure to meet the deadlines.

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