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Minnesotan Africans Engage in Local Politics


Thursday, October 30, 2008
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This year, African volunteers and political activist are rallying behind Democrat presidential nominee Barack Obama. Other Democrat candidates in Minnesota are also receiving wide support financially and in human resources.

(Read here on Keith Ellison and Al Franken’s recent meeting with Somalis in Minneapolis.)

Nimco Ahmed, a Somali American political activist, is the campaign manager for Jeff Hayden, a DFL candidate running to represent South Minneapolis, in the Minnesota State Legislature. Hayden, an advocate for affordable housing and a community activist, is running against Republican Kirsten Lindberg and Green Party candidate Farheen Hakeem. The seat was previously held by Neva Walker, who was the first African American to serve in the Minnesota Legislature, did not seek re-election.

Hayden’s priorities if elected: environmental sustainability, supporting single payer health care, strengthening public schools, jump-starting economic development and creating affordable housing all issues that are pertinent to immigrants.

Another candidate who has received a lot of support from the African community is marine and Iraq war veteran Ashwin Madia who is running for US Congress in the Minnesota’s 3rd congressional district. A son of Indian immigrants who settled in the US with almost nothing, Madia has inspired many immigrants with his fast rise in politics.

Presidential Race
Africans for Obama
Over the course of the campaign, Mshale has covered the African immigrant community’s support (here and here) of presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama.

“It is important that African immigrants become politically engaged in their adopted country as they are as American as the next American,” saidSiad Ali, the African Immigrant Political Coordinator for the Obama campaign.

Also a Somali-American Ali says that their work as volunteers is two-fold; to educate immigrants on their right to vote, and to let them know that Obama is the candidate who will best meet their needs. Ali organizes town hall meetings with local political campaign leaders and community members.

At one such gathering Obama campaign’s Minnesota Political Director, Dominic Washington said: “Immigrants have proved that they are a force in politics, locally and in the national campaign.”

Washington attributes the excitement of Africans in Minnesota to the same reasons that have drawn the rest of the country to Obama: “Senator Obama is connecting with people who are tired of politics as usual and want real change.”

Ali’s team of volunteers is made up of Africans from different backgrounds so that they can reach out to the different African immigrants. As part of their town hall meetings, they have music and short voter education skits that are spoken in vernacular language in an attempt to reach even those immigrants who barely understand English.

Victor Abalo, a Togolese American, is one of the campaigns African outreach field coordinators. He has held debate parties to engage African immigrants in the political process.Abalo makes himself available for the state, and has even flown to other states when he has identified a need of volunteers.

Sabad Jama is excited about campaigning: whenever she is not working, or taking ESL (English as a Second Language) classes, she is out on the streets door knocking and chatting with other Somalis on the importance of their vote for Obama. Her biggest draw to him? His economic policy.Jama , an immigrant from Somalia works as a janitor in Minneapolis. She looks forward to working in the health care sector as soon as . She sitesObama’s American Opportunity Tax Credit as further incentive to vote for him. Obama has promised to offer college students a $4,000 credit that will make tuition almost free for community and state colleges.

Another volunteer, Muna Noor a political activist who works with SEIU Local 26, a union that represents janitors, security officers and window cleaners, is eager to experience “the positive domino effect on the larger community due to Obama’s presidency.”

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About Julia N. Opoti

A former Mshale editor, Julia Nekessa Opoti is now the producer and host of the radio show: Reflections of New Minnesotans on AM950 .В She alsoВ edits/publishes Kenya Imagine.В 

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