Ethiopian-American Communities Must Be More Visible
Where Were You Last Election Day?
Deportation Set for All Persons of Ethiopian Extraction
How would you react if you were greeted one morning with the words above, either as the top story on the TV morning news, or as headlines on the front-page of all the newspapers? Despite the fact that as a nation Americans are proud of their immigrant heritage, those words could be made into law by the U.S. Congress (the Senate and the House of Representatives), or the President could issue an executive order that would have nearly the same effect as a law. Although highly unlikely, it has happened in the past.
During World War II Japanese-Americans Faced Internment
After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, President Roosevelt issued an executive order that all people – even citizens – of Japanese extraction were to be rounded up and sent to concentration camps far from the Pacific Coast. The order was prompted by fear that among this population of nearly 120,000 people some Japanese sympathizers could be found. About two-thirds of that population was natural-born American citizens. The President used special “war-time powers” to make the internment official despite the fact that it was clearly unconstitutional.
The United States of America Is Not a Democracy
The U.S. is a republic based on the rule of law (the Constitution). Immigrants or members of any particular minority should be glad of that fact. Although American government does hold to the democratic principle of one individual with one vote, the rule of law prevents any tyranny of the majority. As the Constitution now stands, the majority does not always rule. No law can say which religion is best, no law can rule which life-style is best, no law can determine which political party is best, no law may say which skin color is best.
You Are the Government
In America the people determine how the government should operate according to the individuals that they vote into office, or expel from office. People are more or less allowed to do as they please as long as they don’t hurt others or go against the public welfare. However, in this lively political country, there are many battles regarding what is good and what is bad. As a voting citizen, you will often be called upon to help government decide what is best for your city, your state, and your nation. Use that vote thoughtfully, because you as a citizen are determining your government.
Ethiopian-Americans Careless with Their Voting Powers
The number of Ethiopian-American voters participating in the recent presidential election was disappointing. Poor turnout of voters is a sacrifice of much grass-roots power and could easily be remedied, since many Ethiopian-Americans fall into one of these groups:
- Those eligible for naturalization but haven’t claimed citizenship.
- Those who choose to become naturalized but never register to vote.
- Those who are naturalized and then choose not to exercise their right to vote.
Potential voters who fall into any of these groups usually explain away not voting with the flimsiest of excuses.
Ethiopian-American Communities Must Be More Visible
Ethiopian-Americans should find local candidates with the same political goals and support them as volunteers. This would ensure them taking notice of our fast-growing population and will make them more likely to consider their Ethiopian-American communities when setting policy. These leaders would be more likely to make appointments from among our community. They would mentor our voters on the sometimes-messy business of American politics.
This mentoring could pave the way for the development of our own political candidates. We are reaching second and third generations of Ethiopian-Americans in this country and it is important for our community to be active and visible on the local, state, and national political scenes.
Grass Roots Organizing is the Best Place to Start
American political figures often use the phrase: “All politics is [sic] local.” Local or community organizations are venues where the political power of American citizens starts. One important way to begin using political power is with the local boards of education. At these fundamental organizations citizens have a lot of clout in many ways. They can:
- Help develop local education policies.
- Become advocates for universal education of high quality.
- Help determine the most efficient uses of public education funds.
- Become leaders on issues of citizenship.
- Mobilize to increase voter registration and attendance at the polls.
- Invite elected officials of the city, county, state, and federal levels to attend events in the local Ethiopian-American communities.
Political Power Is Not Realized with Grip-and-Grin Photos
Being aware of the political clout of Ethiopian-Americans, and exercising it, is not just about getting a grip-and-grin photo with an elected official to hang on an office wall. Ethiopian-Americans need to get involved in main stream politics and Ethiopian-Americans need to run for office. Both Republican and Democrats candidates need to see that our vote is something worth earning. But we have to prove we vote.
The Ethiopian-American communities benefited to a degree that Obama was re-elected. Romney’s lack of sympathy for any immigrant community could have easily resulted in some rather draconian measures taken on any immigrant group in the U.S. By voting for candidates who are supportive of our communities, we can forestall any horrific actions such as that which befell the Japanese-American communities during World War II. So, where were you last election day?
May God bless the United States of America!
The Ethiopian American Council (EAC)
The Ethiopian American Council is a grassroots policy advocacy organization.