By Heikal I. Kenneded
Friday, February 15, 2008
Despite freezing rain and strong winds, I am very proud of all Somali-American voters in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia who braved the cold and icy weather to cast their ballots on last Tuesday’s Potomac Primary, in order to give their support to the democratic presidential hopeful, Senator Barack Obama. As a result of this unprecedented turnout, Obama swept the three Potomac states and he is now the clear front-runner for the Democratic nomination. Two days prior to the voting date, Obama was greeted by thousands of roaring crowds in town hall meetings and other rallying events in the Washington DC metropolitan. Of course, many Somali-Americans went to these historical rallying events to witness history being made. A history that we all can be proud of and at the same time encourage our children that they have a resounding chance to be great leaders in their country of birth - USA. Barack Obama’s ability to transcend politics as usual is a breath of fresh air on which we all can hinge on our hopes and dreams for a better place in the US and the world in general.
Senator Obama is in a league of his own. He represents a new kind of American politics which not been seen before in American political history since the Kennedy days. He has shown an outstanding ability to inspire people and make everyone believe that we all can live and prosper in a better America. In effect, his presidential campaign has drawn new voters from all walks of life who long time ago gave up on voting because their voices wouldn’t be heard. Despite the initial cynicism in American politics and the numerous attempts of the Clinton machine to trump the growing momentum of the “Obama Movement,” he crushed them and marched forward with unbridled enthusiasm.
The 2008 US election has been an intense one because people really worry about the dangerous direction in which the country is headed and they care to do something about it. Many people are worried about the economy, health care, and the war in Iraq. They are also concerned about not being able to afford a college education for their children. Most importantly, many voters are troubled whether they can restore their leadership and standing in the world. I am convinced that with this resounding vote, with the millions of Americans who voted on last Tuesday and many others to follow, we, Somali-Americans will make sure our votes count, in order to send a clear message that we are part of America and our destiny for better or worse is intertwined with that of most Americans.
In the post-September 11 era, most Somalis living in the US have faced many constraints, including direct racism and sharp increase of Islamophobia directed at them. These hate crimes were partly a direct result from the notorious US Patriot Act. This act which was signed hastily into law by president Bush only one month after the September 11 terrorist acts in the US, after both houses of the Congress and Senate passed it with minimal due course debate. Unfortunately, the Patriot Act contained several provisions that would clearly be a reason to persecute members of the Muslim minority.
The impact of such a reprehensible law has been intimidating and at least discouraging for many families who immigrated into the US after they fled the civil strife back home. Caught in the middle of the storm of not being accepted as part of their new society and much worse, not having a home country to go back to when things heated up, many families “closed for business” and opted out to emigrate for third countries in the Middle-East. Once again, this has resulted in the disintegration of the family unit because most likely the father had to stay behind to make a living to support his family surviving in a faraway land somewhere in Asia. On the other hand, those who remained behind encountered the harsh realities of living under a police state that have shattered their dreams and hopes for a better country to live without fear of persecution and bring up better educated youngsters than the ones they left behind back in Somalia.
The way I see it, the timing is perfect for all “hyphenated” minority Americans (e.g. Somali-Americans) to fully participate the democratic process in their own districts, cities, counties, and states for a better America. It’s also a good opportune for all Somalis living in the US to get organized in terms of empowering themselves for the new dawn of American politics. Like many other minority groups who immigrated into the US, Somali-Americans are at crucial crossroads whether to make their voices heard and recognized for their contribution of the American society, or slip into obscurity and live as an outcast society.
Whatever happens in the end of the Obama “phenomenon”, history will be made and we will be part of it and depending on the contributions we make in participating the process will clearly reflect of the outcome. Senator Obama would be very empathetic to our causes both here in the US and back home because of his interesting background as the son of a Kenyan father and his partly upbringing in Indonesia. Finally, as the first black American president, Obama would be better poised to understand and untangle some of the economic, social, and political problems that we (Somali-Americans) face here under these Western skies than any of his opponents in the race for the White House. And most importantly, our children will have a better model to follow his examples instead of mimicking over-dazed gangster rappers. So, let’s all root for Barack Obama because we have an excellent “horse” in this race.
Heikal I. Kenneded