OAKLAND, Calif. (KTVU) - Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf delivered the annual State of the City address on Thursday at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California.
The 50-minute speech even addressed the hundreds of city workers, many with the SEIU Local 1021 labor union, who were protesting what they called unsafe working conditions. They walked off the job in a one-day strike.
Schaaf addressed housing crisis, illegal dumping, and homelessness and even outlined some long and short term plans. One of those involves enlisting the help of property owners.
A formerly homeless woman was the recipient of housing bequeathed by an Oakland homeowner. Mayor Schaaf gave the woman a hug.
It’s the first time she gave such a speech outside of the walls of City Hall and the first time, at least in anyone’s institutional memory, that a mayor has talked about Oakland’s annual state of affairs at a Muslim venue.
“I’m very excited to make a statement that Oakland is a sanctuary city in every sense of the word,” Schaaf told KTVU in a recent interview. “I’m so grateful that the Muslim community is inviting us in to their house. We are one family.”
The symbolism of the gesture is not lost on Payman Amiri, board chairman of the center, which is a nonprofit, community-based center on Madison Street that “cultivates an exchange of ideas about Islam through art, culture, and education programs.”
This year I invite Oaklanders to gather for the 2017 State of the City on Nov 2 at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California.— Libby Schaaf (@LibbySchaaf) October 4, 2017
“We have always been welcome here,” Amiri said. “Even post 9/11. Churches and synagogues joined our congregational prayer. And when the travel ban came, we got a lot of welcoming notes and flowers from our neighbors. We feel we live in a city that’s very inclusive. It is an honor. “
Schaaf said it was after President Donald Trump first enacted the travel ban against those from Muslim-majority countries that she first started reaching out to mosques and Muslim leaders in earnest to let them know that Oakland does not tolerate “bigotry and hate.” She said she made several connections and friendships back then and started thinking about how she “local government could make this particular community feel protected.” She and Amiri met, and in the last several months, she said she’s been to several events at the Islamic center.
Logistically, she said, the center is beautiful and holds even more people than City Hall. As for naysayers, Schaaf said, “I have not heard a single complaint.”
Other politicians and civic leaders have used their stature to reach out to Muslims – a minority group that’s often targeted by hateful acts. The Southern Poverty Law Center has showed a great increase in anti-Muslim groups since 2010.
Last summer, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel hosted the Iftar, or the end of the Ramadan fast, at the Chicago Cultural, promising that would pursue inclusion of all ethnic groups including Arabs and non-Arabs.
In 2004, then-San Jose police chief Rob Davis, a Mormon, won widespread acclaim when he participated in Ramadan, Islam's holy month of fasting. At the time, he said he joined the fast to show solidarity with Muslims and form a deeper understanding of the community.
Schaaf, too, wants to stand strong with the Muslims in her city.
“There is so much national strife right now, and so much bigotry and racism,” Schaaf said. “It’s against everything Oakland stands for. Mostly, I love the symbolism of this. This is where the state of Oakland is: Standing up against hatred and being part of a very diverse family that we love. “
Registration for the Nov. 2 event is required. Please RSVP here.