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Bernie Sanders Turns Out the Somali Vote in Ohio

Wednesday March 16, 2016
By Wilson Dizard

If Hillary Clinton wants Mahdi Taakilo’s vote, maybe she should call.

On Saturday, Bernie Sanders called Taakilo personally, while former the Secretary of State did what many politicians do, and got one of her staffers to ring up Taakilo and tell him Clinton was the only choice.

“I don’t think Hillary Clinton can beat Trump,” Taakilo, 39, a Somali American community organizer and journalist in Columbus, Ohio told The Daily Beast. More than that: “She takes everybody for granted.”

Brian Meyers, 51, a Sanders volunteer who lives in Circleville, Ohio south of Columbus, said that the campaign is trying to get anybody and everybody to the polls, with about a dozen other Bernie boosters using their own cars to transport voters. The Somali community reached out to the Sanders campaign, asking for transportation help, Meyers said.

"From what I understand, they like his immigration policy," Meyers said, and have found it hard to vote in the past. Although Somali Americans who were born in the U.S. speak English fluently, their parents, who came here as adults, come up against a language barrier that can be intimidating. 

“One Somali woman told me they'd like to go to the polls with an American. I told her ‘Well we're all Americans.’ And she said ‘Yeah, but you know what I mean.’”

Taakilo, who came to Ohio fleeing warfare in Somalia in the 1990s, isn’t the only one who feels the Bern among 38,000 Somali Americans who live in central Ohio. There is a large cohort of second generation Somalis, either born here or naturalized citizens, some of whom are voting for the first time. For Somalis, almost all of whom are Muslims, Donald Trump’s rise is terrifying with his talk of banning Muslims and saying, "Islam is at war with us."

Trump’s shameless condemnation of Muslims is driving them to go to the polls, but the issues of the day—free college education and health care—are getting them to pull the lever for Sanders.

They, like youth nationwide, are in Sanders camp. One of them is Jamal Ali, a 24-year-old Somali-American student at the Ohio State University, where he majors in International Studies with a focus in Intelligence and Security. Ali is part of the Somali Youth Community, a non-partisan group that organizes volunteer activities for young Somalis in Columbus.

“Sanders is my guy,” Jamal Ali, a 24-year-old Somali-American student at Ohio State University said. “Even though he’s a socialist, that doesn’t actually deter me from voting for him or endorsing him or spreading the word for him.”

Somali Americans, and Arab Americans in Michigan, are first and second generation immigrants who put a high value on obtaining an education. It’s a pressure for both parents and kids. Ali said that Sanders promise of free public education appeals to him and his friends. He believes this represents a broad base of support for Sanders across his community. Ali says few are wild about Hillary.

“Bernie appeals to students, and all my friends are in undergrad or graduate school,” Ali said.

Ali also likes how Sanders has been part of the civil rights movement for most of his life, getting arrested at protests in the '60s and consistently speaking out against racism.

Robert McCaw government affairs director at the Council on American Islamic Relations said Muslim American youth are broadly in support of Sanders.

“I know a lot of active lot proactive Muslim activists that are in the Sanders camp. It wouldn’t surprise me if the muslim youth vote turned out in high numbers and ended up voting for Sanders. He’s been doing a lot to court Muslim voters,” McCaw said.

Ali doesn’t think that Trump will win, whether or not Sanders gets the nomination. As far as civic duty, Ali says he plans to apply for a position in government as well, perhaps in the intelligence community.

“I want to do my part to help the country that took me in as a child—and protect it,” he said.    



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