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Somali-Minnesotans proudly vote to elect the next U.S. president


Wednesday, November 5, 2008
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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].”

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About Mohamed Hassan

Mr Hassan is a recipient of the 2006 Hennepin County Government Management, Administration and Policy (MAP) Fellowship and the 2007-2008 Hubert H. Humphrey Policy Fellowship. He has a B.S. from Metropolitan State University and M.A. from Saint Mary's University of Minnesota.

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