On Saturday, January 5th, two days before being sworn into office, newly elected district two city council member Nikki Fortunato Bas held a lunchtime meeting both for her constituents and those who live outside of her district. More than 125 people attended the event held in the cafeteria of Cleveland Elementary School.
The meeting excited Josie Camacho, former executive director of The Alameda Labor Council, who had never seen an Oakland city council member convene a community meeting before being sworn in. Camacho, who also worked at city hall for ten years, said “In convening this meeting, Bas exemplifies leadership and vision we’ve been lacking for so long.”
While former Mayor Jean Quan and former mayoral candidate Dan Siegel were inspired to attend, the meeting also drew people like Noah Kratznelson, a lifelong Bay Area resident who had never before been involved with local electoral politics but has felt more inspired to engage since the election of Donald Trump.
“This is new to me,” said Kratznelson. “I want to meet my neighbors and get more involved at the local level.”
After some time for socializing, networking, and eating, Bas got the meeting’s attendees attention by beginning a unity clap, a method where a clap begins slowly, gains momentum, and then becomes more unified and loud as more people start clapping. She was inspired to use the clap by Filipino and Mexican workers of The United Farmworker’s Movement who used it to express solidarity across language barriers.
Bas introduced new staff members but did not speak at length about policy. She instead centered most of the event’s time around listening to concerns and ideas of Oakland residents.
“We want to be making decisions with you and not for you,” said Bas while addressing the meeting’s attendees. “We want to get a head start connecting with all of you, hearing about the organizations you’re involved in so we can partner with you.”
Bas and her team organized the events attendees into four groups based around district two neighborhoods, with one additional group for those who lived outside the district. Each group had facilitators who asked their group members a few open ended questions that were audio recorded for Bas to hear later.
Those who attended the meeting spoke about many issues, but the issues addressed most frequently related to homelessness and housing.
In an interview after the meeting Bas spoke of how, during her first hundred days in office, she wants to meet with city staff about issues relating to homelessness while continuing to meet with unsheltered residents and activists. She thinks the city could improve services for encampments of unsheltered people by increasing the frequency of trash pick up, and providing clean water and decent sanitation.
Bas also wants city services to be more effective for non- English who often find them difficult to access.
“Not all of our city services are in the languages that our neighbors speak,” she said.
She plans to work with city staff and residents to help non- English speaking Oakland residents access city services and permits.