By GebreAb Wakayo
In the United States, the 2010 midterm national and local elections are fast approaching. Politicians, including the President of the United States, are crisscrossing the country to woo unenthusiastic voters for their party’s candidates. In the interim, Minnesota’s Democratic Party heavyweights and activists are finding a new and enthusiastic constituency.
At a well-attended Town hall meeting held on Saturday October 16 2010, three to four hundred members of Oromo community came out for what the organizers see as a potentially lasting alliance and yielding a great political reward for both groups. The much-publicized Get Out the Vote event was the first of its kind for U.S major party to reach out to Oromo Americans as an independent political constituency.
U.S Congressman Keith Ellison, State Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, State Senator Patricia Torres Ray, State Representative Phyllis Khan, and numerous School Board and City Council candidates, attended the meeting. The Democratic Party candidate for Minnesota Governor, former US Senator Mark Dayton’s letter, was read at the meeting in both English and Afaan Oromo. The Minnesota gubernatorial race is one of the hotly contested three way races watched around the country. To underscore the importance of that race, President Obama will be in the Twin Cities on October 23 for a campaign appearance with Mark Dayton. A representative from Organizing for America, a project of the Democratic National Committee, formerly Obama for America, also spoke at the event.
The International Oromo Youth Association (IOYA) in collaboration with Minnesota Democratic Farmers and Labor party (DFL) organized the event. A DFL Coordinated Field Organizer and member of the Oromo community, Anja Kresojevic, played an instrumental role in putting together the event. With the Oromo youth at the helm, both in organizing and moderating the meeting, the meeting unmistakably shows an emerging new voice in Minnesota’s politics much like the Irish, the Jews, the Latinos and the African Americans who continue to influence the U.S political landscape as a powerful voting bloc.
The Oromo people originating from the Horn of Africa make up a thriving immigrant community in Minnesota. Community leaders estimate the number of Oromo immigrants in the Twin Cities metro area in the upwards of thirty thousand. Arguably, more than 85% of immigrants hailing from the Horn of Africa region, who identify Ethiopia as their country of origin, are Oromo.
In Minnesota’s often too close to call elections, both for national and local offices, even small number of turnout from such a large constituency is bound to hold the last straw. Both Oromo Minnesotans and Minnesota politicians appear to realize that fact. Oromo youth leaders and activists were blunt about the importance of their voice and their expectation from elected officials. The organizers lashed out their expectations at the candidates asking them to address issues of Immigration, Education, Healthcare, support for small businesses and jobs.
The group also pressed Congressman Keith Ellison to initiate bills that will sanction the Ethiopian regime who continues to persecute the Oromo people in Ethiopia. Minnesota politicians, at least within the DFL party, seem to understand these dual demands of the Oromo Minnesotans and for their part pledged to work with the community on both issues of local and national concerns.
It is unknown when Oromo people started migrating to the United States. However, an overwhelming number came to places such as Minnesota starting early 1990s following the fall of a wobbly transitional government in Ethiopia. With major parties such as the Oromo Liberation Front out of the political process, defying local and international outcry, a republican administration under Bush senior helped install the current Ethiopian regime. Ethiopia’s dictator, Meles Zenawi, a minority ethnic Tigrean has since been in power. The Oromo and Amhara people who jointly constitute more than 80% of Ethiopia’s 85 million people have been under a heavy-handed repression and persecution by the tyrannical regime.
Today, close to a million Ethiopian immigrants live in the United States. Referred to as “Ethiopian Americans”, this group is composed mainly of Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups. In recent years, they have been making significant strides to make their presence felt. Despite an overwhelming goodwill and support from this group, the Obama Administration is yet to change the Foreign Policy set by previous administrations that favors the minority regime in Ethiopia. Oromo Americans appear determined to flex their political and economic muscles to push for amends to U.S Foreign Policy towards Ethiopia.
Whether this emerging political constituency will build an alliance with the Democratic or Republican Party is still an open question. One thing is clear, with the expected establishment of Oromo American Caucus in Minnesota and the presence of such a large constituency; Oromo Minnesotans have a voice already recognized in Minnesota and beyond.
* Additional editing by Oromsis Adula, video production our partners at OdaaTV and pictures by Big Z, the managing Editor of OPride.com. Check back for pictures and more videos from the event.