ST. PAUL, Minn. – Days after a Plymouth, Minn. man was arrested by federal authorities for setting fire to two Minneapolis mosques, the Somali American Coalition hosted the first of its kind “Somali Day at the Capitol” on Tuesday.
“The community has come to the realization that by working together, we can effectively tackle a wide range of challenges such as education, housing, the opioid crisis, security, and issues concerning Uber and Lyft drivers,” said Ms. Fartun Weli, the executive director of Isuroon, a non-profit that was part of the coalition that organized the day.
Following November’s election, the number of Somali legislators in the Minnesota Legislature almost doubled after two new members were elected, adding to both chambers by bringing the total number to five – three in the House and two in the Senate. The two additions last year include Samakab Hussein who became St. Paul’s first Somali elected to the Legislature and Sen. Zaynab Mohamed of Minneapolis who is the youngest person ever elected to the state Senate.
A Muslim call to prayer preceded the historic day’s proceedings to set the stage and as Gov. Walz took to the podium to address them, he acknowledged the strength of the Somali community.
“The influence of this community is across Minnesota,” Gov. Walz said describing their presence as a proud moment for the state. ” We are proud because of the contributions you make to business, to arts, to education to the economy in all corners of Minnesota.”
Members and supporters of the Somali Museum of Minnesota carried placards with the museum’s logo and the slogan “SUPPORT EQUAL OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL.”
The top issues the Somali leaders at this inaugural lobby day highlighted fell in four categories, and included calling for greater protections for Uber and Lyft drivers, increasing resources for the community to deal with the opioid crisis and additional funding for the Somali Museum of Minnesota.
All the priorities highlighted had supporters in the crowd with supporting placards and slogans.
Eid Ali, president of the Minnesota Uber and Lyft Drivers Association, emphasized the need for worker protections, citing unfair treatment and compensation for people of color. Farhia Gabeyre, a board member of the Somali American Coalition, also addressed the issue, stating, “It’s time for fair wages, affordable benefits, and other worker protection rights for our drivers.” MULDA has been lobbying the Legislature and anticipates proposals this year.
Ms. Nimco Ahmed, president of the Somali American Coalition, speaking with Mshale after the event, expressed gratitude to all the participants, hailing the day as a success for unveiling the community’s legislative priorities.
“It provided an opportunity for dialogue and engagement between community members and elected officials,” Ms. Ahmed said. “Overall, I am pleased that it was a success.”