Like many other Americans who are either traveling abroad or going to be away from their precincts on November 4th, a recently naturalized Somali-American, Mohamed Said Barre, got in line to vote as an absentee.
“After a long wait, I now have a voice, the opportunity … and for sure wouldn’t let it pass” said Mr. Barre. Like many Americans, Somalis-Minnesotans are impressively engaged and making history in Minnesota. In this election, Somalis are involved in all levels, volunteering for campaigns to being election judges.
Surrounding intersections to areas where the majority of Somali community resides in Minneapolis, countless Somalis with campaign signs were yelling out the names of their respective candidates.
At the corner of Cedar & Franklin, Suleka Abdi stood with group of Somali ladies all cheering for Obama and Al Franken. “Vote today, vote for change, vote for Obama and Al” they shouted. When asked why she is campaigning for Sen. Barack Obama, Suleka responded rather quickly “he [Barack] is the best thing that happened to America for a long-time.”
Even though Sen. Obama has not spent a fraction of his life in Africa anywhere, he is viewed by many in Africa as their own.
First time voter, Mohamed Barre who migrated to United States about eight years ago dismisses the notion that he was possibly motivated by the fact that Sen.Obama is originally from his native region of Africa, East Africa.
“I am glad to be part of this historic election … of course, Obama’s adventure encourages all of us to dream big but I only wanted to participate and be heard.” Mr. Barre said.
Conversely, Fadumo Ali (MJ) told the writer that she was single-handedly motivated by the senator’s genealogical connection to her. “He is my brother … he is African-American …I voted for him and hope to attend his inauguration in Washington, DC in January.”
Voting on the ‘Election Day’ may be important, but even more important is knowing about the candidates’ positions on issue of concern. Because it requires a degree of sophistication to research and understand whether candidates are proposing practical solution or not, many Somalis rely on other Somali friends and family members to tell them who to vote for. However, few are taking it seriously and investing time and money.
Gandi Mohamed, Iraq veteran, speaking to the importance of understanding the candidates told the writer that he volunteered, donated money and voted for candidates he felt very strongly about.
“I voted for candidates like Karen Clark whom I know about from grown up in South Minneapolis … she has helped us over the years and is grounded in our community.” he said. “I would recommend that we organize ourselves, educate candidates about our issues and most importantly vote for candidates that are susceptible to our issues.” Mr. Mohamed said.
Apparently, Somali voters and volunteers are not immune from imperfections. As many older Somalis don’t speak or read English, and voting ballets and instructions not translated, many struggle to caste their votes.
At Brain Coyle Community center, an area highly populated by Somalis, most of the election volunteers were Somali-Americans. Some of these volunteers may have violated some election laws. Abdiaziz Warsame (Bihi), community activist and volunteer, told the writer that campaign volunteers were caught on lobbying for their respective candidates on site. If true, fault volunteers could face prosecution and possible jail time.
Ever since the Somali community got involved with Rep. Keith Ellison’s election in 2006, the number of the Somalis who has gotten politically active has increased enormously high. Both parties have recruited volunteers and employed individuals from the community.
Even more, in effort to strength his connection with the Somali community, Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak, Democrat, appointed a Somali man to the Minneapolis Public Library Board in 2005.
“It is now obviously electrifying time for my community … we have not only became politically savvy but has taken an active and serious role and are treated as such.” Gandi Mohamed said.
Over the years, it has become apparent that the Somali community is going to be active and viable and wouldn’t be overlooked or ignored.
Minnesota may be seeing the beginning of a community that is more than willing to fully participate and assimilate into the mainstream society. Like Sharif Farah said, 12 years resident of Minneapolis, who voted to elect American president for the second time, “at any place, be visible or be gone [Somali translation: meel ka muuqo ama ka maqnow].”