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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“You can’t fight city hall” (proverb) (8/21)
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Entry from August 21, 2019
“You can’t fight city hall” (proverb)

"Go fight city hall” or “You can’t fight city hall” means to take on the powerful—usually, a thankless and a futile task. “City hall” means the city government, an often-corrupt entity. The “city hall” expression is often used for the state and federal government as well.

“Go fight City Hall!” was printed in The American Hebrew (New York, NY) on September 18, 1914. “The ‘Go Fight City Hall’ spirit” was printed in the Brooklyn (NY) Citizen on December 16, 1928. “You can’t fight City Hall” was printed in the Brooklyn (NY) Daily Times on April 5, 1930.

“So go fight City Hall” was in the play Awake and Sing! (1935) by Clifford Odets (1906-1963). The phrase was popularized by the book title Go Fight City Hall (1949, but also copyrighted 1946) by Ethel Rosenberg.


Wiktionary: you can’t fight city hall
Proverb
you can’t fight city hall

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

18 September 1914, The American Hebrew (New York, NY), “A Corner in Art” by Louis Lipsky, pg. 561, col. 2:
“‘You don’t understand the principles of trade unionism. We must protect the artists. If we accepted the first man who came along we would have more members than places. That’s why we got rule. Go fight City Hall!’

“I wasn’t going to waste time fighting City Hall, so I left for Philadelphia, where they had no union.”

10 May 1918, The American Hebrew (New York, NY), “The Melting Pot”—Sketches, Impressions and Comment, pg. 8, col. 1: 
Itzie: It doesn’t take so much brains. Go fight City Hall, if you don’t like it.

16 December 1928, Brooklyn (NY) Citizen, “Queens Xmas Present To Be Tax Cut—in 1929” by David Albert Wallach, pg. 1, col. 4:
The “Go Fight City Hall” spirit may mean a savings of $8,000,000 to the taxpayers of Queens.

5 April 1930, Brooklyn (NY) Daily Times, “Jimmy Wood’s Sportopics,” pg. 10, col. 1:
But these gentlemen are hampered by politics. And as the fellow said, “You can’t fight City Hall.”

17 January 1931, Beaumont (TX) Journal, “Baer Facts” by Arthur “Bugs” Baer, pg. 4, col. 4:
The oldest hunk of grammar in existence is that you can’t fight city hall.

30 April 1934, Daily Worker (New York, NY), “Heckscher Dental Clinic Insults,” pg. 4, col. 6:
“Who do you think you are? You are not paying us for this work. Don’t forget you are getting charity. Go fight City Hall.”

Google Books
Waiting for Lefty and Other Plays
By Clifford Odets
New York, NY: Grove
1979 (Originally written in 1935.—ed.)
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.)

22 December 1938, Asbury Park Evening Press-The Evening News (Asbury Park, NJ), “Letters from Press Reraders,” pg. 8, col. 6:
EDITOR, PRESS—The “Can’t Fight CIty Hall” attitude of the citizens of Asbury Park, which has long prevailed under Mayor Hetrick, is rapidly vanishing, the main reason being that the citizens and taxpayers are takign the trouble to investigate just what conditions really exist at City Hall.
(...)
DANNY TRAVERSO
Asbury Park

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
1946
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 (NY) Herald Tribune, This Week magazine, pg. 30:
“GO SUE CITY HALL”

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
1955
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 • Wednesday, August 21, 2019 • Permalink


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