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Why I’m Optimistic About Oakland’s New Mayor, Sheng Thao

Updated: Jan 05, 2023 10:46
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Despite all the people that treat living in Oakland like it’s a personality trait, Oakland has a lot of problems. It always has. It weirds me when people say they “love the town,” or when they get mad if you criticize Oakland. When they say they love Oakland, I often wonder what they mean. 

Is it simply because they like a taco truck or because they watched Dangerous Minds with Michelle Pteiffer? Do they love the inequality or the trafficked women that are forced to walk up and down International? How about the historically redlined neighborhoods that disproportionately suffer from high rates of gun violence? Is it the potholes that are roughly the size of swimming pools? Maybe it’s the history of police brutality that won them over. How many police departments can say they beat up 2Pac? Not many, but Oakland can. What a legacy! 

A lot of these problems persist in Oakland, not only because of widespread poverty, but because the people that often gravitate to politics in Oakland haven’t fully experienced Oakland’s problems. They’re usually fucking rich. They live in places like Rockridge, Montclair or the Oakland Hills. They may have heard gunshots or driven by a homeless encampment and said “that’s sad” as they drive by, but very few have experienced any of it. 

If the stories I’ve read are true, Sheng Thao has.

Despite all of this, she’s the Mayor of Oakland

I think empathy is more valuable than sympathy. Empathy comes from experience. If you experience hardship and you find a way out of it, your advice and insights are more valuable than someone who just doesn’t like seeing people suffer from a purely outsider perspective. 

Now, that’s not to say humble beginnings always make good politicians. San Francisco’s London Breed grew up poor in the Fillmore District, and she still sucks. 

According to reports, Sheng has been through it. She’s originally from Stockton, which essentially has all of Oakland’s problems without any of its wealth. She survived domestic violence while pregnant, survived homelessness, and she comes from a family of immigrants. So, I’m sure that at certain points in her life, she probably felt like an outsider, which likely compounded all of the other shit she was dealing with. 

Yet, despite all of this, she’s the Mayor of Oakland. She’s clearly tough and reasonably intelligent. 

She’s also history. She’s the first Hmong to be elected as Mayor of a major American city. You could argue that Asian Americans are this country’s most overlooked minority. Their problems are often swept under the rug, and Hmongs are among the most overlooked within that group due to their small population and history of not having an official country of their own. The Hmong population hovers around 5 million globally and is spread between China, Vietnam, Thailand and other southeast Asian countries.

If anyone can relate to what it’s like dealing with the burdens of life in a city like Oakland, it’s probably someone like her. 

I understand I could be wrong. She might be awful, but I think people should give her a chance. I’m rarely optimistic about politicians in the Bay Area, but I think she might do some good. 

But what the fuck do I know? I make memes.

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Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff - Bay Area Memelord

Abraham Woodliff is a San Francisco-based writer, editor and digital content creator known for Bay Area Memes, a local meme page that has amassed nearly 200k followers. His work has appeared in SFGATE, The Bold Italic and of course, BrokeAssStuart.com. His book of short stories, personal essays and poetry entitled Don't Drown on Dry Ground is available now!

1 Comment

  1. Cadence
    January 5, 2023 at 12:57 pm — Reply

    Hardship becomes an asset once it’s overcome. Offal lambs could certainly use someone with a unique vision to pull it out from the years of dysfunction.

    Why do some people like Oakland? I find less yuppy BS, and more down to earth families that lived there a long time.

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