On Wednesday, just days after the Department of Justice reportedly began to investigate discrimination in schools related to affirmative action, Congresswoman Barbara Lee hosted a town hall in Oakland geared toward African American issues under the Trump administration.
The event, titled “What do you have to lose?”— as a satirical reflection of the question President Donald Trump asked minority voters during his candidacy — was hosted at Castlemont High School. The event looked into how this administration has affected African American citizens and the Oakland community. According to Congresswoman Lee’s office, more than 500 people attended.
Over the course of the meeting, Lee and three other panelists — former mayor of New Orleans and current President of the National Urban League Marc Morial, State Assemblyman Tony Thurmond and BART director Lateefah Simon — answered community questions and spoke about what East Bay residents could do to resist against policies they deemed discriminatory. PolicyLink founder and CEO Angela Glover Blackwell moderated the conversation.
“Their questions were very thoughtful and I’m very confident that we’re going to beat back this Trump agenda,” Lee said after the meeting. “Just look at my constituents and how active they are.”
The meeting focused on how to galvanize people to vote, involve themselves in the politics of their region and work together with other minority groups.
“We have got to fight at the state and local level,” Morial said during the meeting. “We’ve got to wake up and start now and let people know that voting and activism go hand in hand.”
Questions from citizens, which were written on cards and given to attendants, touched on issues of housing and gentrification, problems within the criminal justice system and access to healthcare and education.
“The housing situation in Oakland is getting ridiculous — the health of the community is at stake. The folks are making their own affordable housing,” said community member Mobil Cox, referring to Oakland’s homelessness problem.
The town hall, however, which lasted a little more than an hour, was criticized by attendees for its brevity.
“It was a good event — it’s always good to see local officials at least trying to be responsive to the community — but it was way too short,” said community member Mike Hutchinson.
On two occasions during the town hall, a woman in the audience interrupted panelists by standing and yelling “Barbara Lee doesn’t speak for me!” When given a microphone to explain her grievances, she expressed dismay that the congresswoman had “prioritized illegals over Black people.” Her statements were met with “boos” and cheers in support of Lee.
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who also spoke at the meeting, proclaimed that “Whatever that hateful, disconnected Trump administration is doing, Oakland is doing the opposite.”