Minneapolis: Somalis making their mark in local politics
Posted by Ann Corcoran on October 21, 2012
This is a Minneapolis Star Tribune story from earlier this month that might be a companion piece to my previous post about the American Muslim vote in 2012.
Sadik Warfa was a wide-eyed teenager from a crowded refugee camp when he came to the United States in 1993, part of a first wave of Somalis fleeing a homeland ravaged by warring clans.
As a group, the refugees lacked money and education. Many barely spoke English. But they had strong clan loyalties, a knack for entrepreneurship and drive.
Now those same Somalis are becoming a political force in Minnesota. They are registering to vote, volunteering for campaigns, running for office and even forming a basic building block in U.S. politics — their own political action committee. Warfa, after graduating from college and opening an accounting business, ran for office in the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2010.
The growing political activism of Minnesota’s roughly 70,000 Somalis — the largest single population of Somalis in the United States — is causing Minnesota DFLers and Republicans to take notice.
Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim Congressman, now the go-to guy for the refugee resettlement contractors reportedly said:
Like other immigrant groups in America, Somalis started at the bottom. But their refugee status may have accelerated their political involvement, said U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress.
“If they came here as an educated class, as doctors and engineers, then you probably would see deferred political engagement because they’d be more about making sure their businesses grew,” Ellison said. “But because they come here with few tools, they use the tools they have, which is a vote.”
And, lest we forget, former Republican Senator Norm Coleman stroked his Somali constituency:
…. Coleman followed suit, enlisting well-known activist Mahamoud Wardere to head his efforts. Wardere had made his own run for Minneapolis mayor* a year earlier.
That Senate election, Samatar said, “was the first key moment or trigger, if you will, for the community to feel that they could actually vote for someone that they cared about.”
Wellstone died 13 days before that election and Coleman won. But even after becoming senator, Coleman nurtured his connections with Somalis, hiring Wardere for his staff.
The insights Wardere gained on that job reinforced how important it was for Somali immigrants to engage in politics. “If you are not at the table, you are missing everything,” he said. “Just being at the table is power.”
Longtime readers may remember that in 2008 the Somali community was furious that the US State Department had suspended family reunification from Somalia after discovering the program was riddled with fraud. Coleman went to bat for the Somalis with the State Department, here.
Top Posts! See our top posts in the right hand side bar. Why so many Somalis in Minneapolis? (January 2011) is among the top posts almost every day.
* I wonder if in 2007 Wardere was listening to a Maryland Imam who said (bragging to a Saudi audience) that by the year 2015 there would be 30 Muslim mayors elected to office in the US. Obviously they aren’t going to come close, but I doubt they have given up their wish. As I said at the time, imagine if a Jew, a Catholic, or a Mormon said they were working on getting “their people” in control of US cities, the media would go berserk, but no one said boo! about Yahya Hendi’s comment.
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