Alameda Friends and Families for a Ceasefire (AFFC), a group that started through the Buena Vista United Methodist Church, held a peaceful vigil on the steps of City Hall on Sunday, November 26. More than 100 people attended the event, which was organized to gather in solidarity, mourn, and call for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza.
The event featured various speakers, music, a craft station, and an altar adorned with kids’ shoes to commemorate the 6,000 children killed in Gaza. Speakers included AFFC members Amina Hakim and Anna Baltzer, Alameda County Democratic Central Committee member Austin Tam, Islamic Center of Alameda religious leader Imam Ariff Shaik, and Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb.
Also speaking at the vigil was Mayor Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft.
“I need to make it clear at the very outset that while it is true that I am the Mayor of the City of Alameda, tonight I am not speaking in my official capacity because I don’t have the authority of the City,” Mayor Ashcraft said. “The Council hasn’t voted to take a position on this important issue. However, as some of you know, I’m an Arab American. I spent a year of college at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. While I was there, I taught English at a refugee camp on the outskirts of Beirut. I’ve traveled extensively in the Middle East, in Palestine. I’ve been to Gaza. Tonight, I stand before you as a resident of this city, as a citizen of the world. For me, and I think for many of you, this is about humanity, about being able to see another’s suffering and understanding how we can contribute to alleviating it.”
Mayor Ashcraft voiced her support of a permanent ceasefire and her hope for more. “This endless cycle of violence brings only futility and horror,” she said. “While I want a ceasefire as much as everyone here, I want more than that. I want beyond that. I am hopeful that this current truce can be a foundation for future negotiations.”
The Mayor urged those in attendance to reach out to their elected representatives, “especially the White House.” She urged people to visit whitehouse.gov, to email, and to call the White House switchboard. “Tell President Biden we need to support not only a permanent ceasefire, but an independent Palestinian state,” she said. “We need to move beyond the horror.”
She also encouraged Alamedans to reach out to their friends and family in different congressional districts and encourage them to contact their congressional representatives.
“We have two U.S. senators from the state of California. Contact them,” Mayor Ashcraft added. “We’ve got some folks who are running for the U.S. Senate in California. Contact them. Eventually, our elected leaders in Washington will understand that they are out of step with the people. The people are speaking out, you are speaking out. You are exercising your humanity. Insist our elected leaders do the same.”
Laura Thomas, a housing activist in Alameda and member of AFFC, told the Alameda Post that the two-week-old group’s intention for the evening was to “build the community for Palestine solidarity work here in Alameda and call for a ceasefire in Gaza and the West Bank.”
Thomas emphasized that the group’s purpose is not to be divisive, but to unite people who want the war to stop. “We want to bring all Alamedans out to be able to support the issue of Palestinian justice and a ceasefire because a lot of people who are Muslim are afraid,” she said. “And we want people to feel solidarity—people who are Jewish, people who are supportive of Israel, we just want war to stop. We want the massacre of civilians to stop.”
Last Tuesday, over a dozen AFFC members attended the City Council meeting to ask the City to pass a resolution demanding an immediate, permanent ceasefire.
“We know that is a heavy lift for various reasons,” said Thomas. “But we would like to pressure local politicians. We wouldn’t stop with the City, but the City is a good place to start. We want people to pressure local politicians.” For AFFC, that means showing up to more City Council meetings and speaking out during the public comment portion of the evening. “Maybe we’ll get agendized at some point,” she said.
As for what Thomas hopes will happen if City Council does pass a resolution, she said, “I don’t know that we’ve gotten that far. I think that’s what we’re trying to figure out. We will continue to organize. What can we do?”
As the sunset faded to black, candles lit up the patio in front of City Hall. Three musicians sang and played a simple song, inviting the crowd to sing along: “Free Palestine, free Palestine, free Palestine/ Stop the occupation/ Ceasefire, ceasefire, ceasefire/ Stop the occupation.”