Freedom of expression and the power to summon your government, the two most important principles of democracy is played out at the Republican National Convention (RNC) in St Paul, Minnesota. Among an estimated 15,000 protesters that took to the streets of St Paul on Monday, September 1 was about 300 Somalis who were protesting against “the U.S. sanctioned Ethiopian occupation of Somalia.”
Many of them are American citizens but very recent immigrants who don’t speak English fluently. Regardless, they seemed to know and want to practice their rights under the constitution of the United State of America.
Carrying the American flag along with the Somali flag, Somalis chanted and marched all through the marked route for the RNC rally. Other American’s joined the Somali contingent to show solidarity and understanding, more importantly to encourage them to participate democracy. Scott Peterson of Columbus, Ohio who drove miles to participate the rally said “this is the real democracy … Somalis understood it well”. Later, as Somali protesters were reaching close to the Xcel Center, the convention site, a counterdemonstrator sarcastically said “thanks for exercising your First Amendment rights. I fought for them”. In response, one of coalition marshals started chanting in “tell me what democracy looks like, this is what democracy looks like”. Gandi Mohamed, Somali-American veteran also responded by saying “we demand peace, justice and equality for all.”
Somali Cause, an umbrella organization for eight North American political organizations headquartered in Washington, DC, was among the organizing groups. Aside from the flags and signs that read Ethiopia out of Somalia and U.S. stop supporting warlords & dictators, Somali protesters were carrying a huge banner with the Somali Cause logo and a statement that read “End the U.S. sanctioned Ethiopian occupation and atrocities, Somali people need peace, not war.”
Speaking to the thousands of protesters, Mohamed Hassan, Somali Cause vice chair and member of the organizing coalition, told the crowd that “first U.S. government signed contracts with the warlords for intelligence or to kill individuals that are either identified by the warlords as enemies of the U.S. or U.S. has some intelligence on them … later when Somalis revolted against the warlords and dispelled them from the country, U.S. has asked Ethiopia to reinstate them by force”. At the end, Mr. Hassan pleaded with the protesters and asked them to either call or write to their elected officials and demand an end to the Ethiopian occupation.
This is happening at a very crucial time when Sen. Norm Coleman, Rep. Keith Ellison, and other candidates are seeking the votes of the Somali Community here in Minnesota. Somalis are credited in electing to the U.S. Congress the first Muslim American, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota. Additionally, they were the first to question and challenge their government, U.S. government, about its involvement of their native country by organizing huge demonstrations and forums last winner. Highly organized or not, Somalis in Minnesota made history and are leading other Somali communities in other parts of world.