For Madin Dula, this election is different. The thought of casting her vote makes her smile. This is her third U.S. presidential election, but the first one in which she can vote.
Ten years ago, life was very different for Madin Dula, an Oromo refugee from Ethiopia. Following a civil war in her country, Dula fled to Kenya with her family, settling in a refugee camp.
Dula says she had always been politically active, even when she lived in a refugee camp at the Kenyan coastal town of Mombasa. She is now a social worker, and uses her experience living as a refugee to work with immigrants in Minnesota as they face the challenges of settling in a new country.
Though she was engaged politically in the refugee camp, Dula felt that her voice was barely audible. Now, an American citizen, Dula would like to have her voice heard, her issues listened to. Like many Americans, central to her concerns is the economy, healthcare, and access to education.
Dula decided not to vote in the primaries. She did not feel that there was big policy difference between Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Dula is an advocate for unrepresented people: women, and people of color in general.
“I knew that one of them would win,” she says, “and I did not want to be the one to kick either Clinton or Obama out.”
On Governor Sarah Palin, and her appeal to women voters, Dula was adamant that Palin is not progressive.
“I am a Muslim woman”, she says, “in many ways I am considered conservative. But there are many things I would rather people make their own choice, because when it comes to God, that relationship is personal.”
Dula is disappointed that Islam has become synonymous with terrorism in the rhetoric of the campaign, and with the racial undertones that the race to the White House has taken. She also knows her facts: that Senator Obama is not a Muslim.
“Foreigners think highly of America, that is why many people seek refuge in this country. I am shocked at the ignorance displayed by many people in their attack of Obama. He is half-black, half-white American, raised by his white Christian grandparents. How much more American can he get?
“It is very sad that they are disowning their own child [Obama], and are identifying him with a people and a culture [Islam] that he doesn’t know.”
Dula says that she understands that a politician cannot change the lives of people overnight. She is concerned, however, that with the current economic crisis it seems like common sense to allow the Democrats to work out solutions “for the problems that the Republicans have allowed to happen.”
Dula is honored to have citizenship of a country that she describes as the most diverse, and one that ought to demonstrate democracy to the rest of the world. “I am proud to be an American, and I will vote for Barack Obama.”