A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from July 11, 2004
Go Fight City Hall
"Go fight city hall" or "You can't fight city hall" means to take on the powerful -- usually, a thankless and a futile task. "So go fight City Hall" was in the play Awake and Sing! (1935) by Clifford Odets (1906-1963). "As the fellow says, you can't fight city hall" was cited in print in 1940. The phrase was popularized by the book Go Fight City Hall (1949, but also copyrighted 1946) by Ethel Rosenberg.

Wiktionary: you can't fight city hall
you can't fight city hall

(chiefly US) Nothing can be done to change the situation, because it is a governmental decision.

Google Books
Waiting for Lefty and Other Plays
By Clifford Odets
New York, NY: Grove
Pg. 58:
BESSIE: It's right — she wants a millionaire with a mansion on Riverside Drive. So go fight City Hall. Cake?
(From Awake and Sing!, first produced in 1935. -- ed.)

Brooklyn Newsstand
12 June 1940, Brooklyn (NY) Daily Eagle, "Sportopics" by Jimmy Wood, pg. 15, col. 1:
As the fellow says, you can't fight city hall. You can't offset the power of the guy who owns the powerhouse.

That Man Is Here Again:
The Adventures of a Hollywood Agent

By Arthur Kober
New York, NY: Random House
Pg. 106:
What'm I supposed to do now? Go fight City Hall?

19 September 1947, Syracuse (NY) Post-Standard, pg. 1:
Dave Boone Says:
Food prices are still topic number one and the city of New York is going to issue a daily menu based on the best food bargains. Well, it will stop a lot of domestic squabbling if the old man starts blaming city hall instead of the wife when the dinner ain't what it should be. I never thought there was a mayor that courageous anywhere!

"Aw, go fight city hall," can be the New York mom's answer to any squawks about the grub from now on.

OCLC WorldCat record
Go fight City Hall
Author: Ethel Rosenberg
Publisher: New York : Simon & Schuster, 1949.
Edition/Format: Book : Fiction : English

19 February 1950, New York Herald Tribune, This Week magazine, pg. 30:

27 March 1950, Ken (Brooklyn College student newspaper), pg. 3, col. 4:
Go Fight City Hall_
Stop knocking your head against a stone wall because you can't win! That's the meaning (of? -- ed.) the title "Go Fight City Hall."

The Joker Is Wild:
The Story of Joe E. Lewis
by Art Cohn
New York: Random House
Pg. 177: (Song "Poor Little February" by Lester Lee, Danny Shapiro, and Jerry Seelen; a New York Post clipping on 19 May 1941 mentions this "new" song -- ed.)
"Poor little Feb, go fight city hall!"

17 January 1965, New York Herald Tribune, pg. 26, col. 1:
Fighting City Hall -- In Court
By Francis Sugrue
Sue the City!
Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Sunday, July 11, 2004 • Permalink