These are some of the comments on the petition I found disturbing:
When I arrived at City Hall for the meeting, the parking lot was full and the room was packed, requiring an adjoining space to be opened up to accommodate the overflow. I've never seen the parking lot this full, even on Election Day. While I looked for a seat, a Chinese couple moved their chairs and invited me to squeeze in next to them. They spoke Mandarin to each other and their friends around them.
The meeting started with the Pledge of Allegiance. As I stood and looked around the room, I saw that the attendees were quite culturally diverse. It reminded me of a mini-version of San Francisco's Masonic Auditorium where I participated in an oath ceremony to become a naturalized U.S. citizen years ago.
After we sat down, I heard a thwacking sound next to me. The man who scooted his chair over to make room for me was loudly slapping stickers onto his chest and forehead. They were white stickers that said "NO!!!" in red and blue. Behind me, other people were passing around sheets of stickers, peeling and affixing them to their clothes.
After a brief overview of audience comment procedures from the city's law director, one by one, residents took turns stepping up to the podium to share their thoughts about a plan for an Islamic Center in a residential area of single-family homes.
The first to speak was a member of the Solon Rotary Club expressing support for the center and attesting to the character and commitment to community service of one of the center's board members, Masroor Malik.
The next speaker was a woman who felt that the city did not inform residents about the proposed plan. Many of the residents opposing the center were immigrants, speaking with heavy accents. They expressed frustration that the city did not notify them about the proposal. They anticipated heavy traffic. They were worried about declining property values. A few were concerned about clearing trees and wanted to preserve wetland and green space.
Some of those opposed to the center emphasized that they were not opposed to having a mosque in the city; they just didn't want it in their back yard - literally. Many of them said they appreciated diversity but just did not want a "monstrosity" in their neighborhood. A few of the residents practically shouted into the microphone, expressing deep anger that was surprising and a bit scary.
Some of those who spoke in support of the center included area church pastors. One resident likened the situation to one his family faced when looking to build a Mormon church.
"For those who are uncomfortable with this, for whatever the reason might be," he said, "just think about the opposition - what that might be doing to divide our community more than it needs to be. We're all citizens of this town, this area, and we should be supporting each other as well as we can."
A few members of the Islamic Center's board spoke too, including Malik.
"It's somewhat disheartening that some people don't know about the project," he said, explaining that the board has been working with the city for a long time on the proposal. He offered to explain the project to anyone who had any questions about it. Other members of the center spoke too, inviting residents to meet with them to learn more.
After the audience comments, city officials stated that while some residents felt that the city did not properly inform them of the proposed plan, all policies and procedures were followed. A traffic study was completed also.
Finally, the mayor offered closing remarks, recalling that when he moved to the city 25 years ago, he was part of the first Jewish congregation here. After first meeting in the rabbi's house and then renting space for many years, the congregation built a synagogue in a residential area of the city. Members of area churches came over to welcome them.
"One thing that struck me was the outpouring of love and warmth that we found in this Solon community. The first people who came to welcome us were the Christian congregations - all the churches," he said. He expressed hope that the Muslim community would soon be able to say the same thing some day and feel welcomed too.
It was fascinating to hear so many opinions tonight expressed by so many voices. It was remarkable to see so many people at the city council meeting, and I wonder if we will see more civic activism regarding other issues.
For this particular issue, I understand the concerns the residents expressed about not being notified. But democracy requires an educated citizenry and we have to make sure we are informed and involved.
I am in favor of having an Islamic center in our city. I have only been in a mosque once, for a funeral service, and although I was an outsider, I felt welcomed. In every house of worship I have ever entered, regardless of religion, language or culture, I have found a place of peace and beauty, where people come together in faith and harmony. We need more places like that.