First-time voter Abdi Iftin, a Somali refugee, shares why he’s excited to vote in the 2020 election, and reminds us why it’s important to vote.
Abdi Iftin grew up in Mogadishu during the Somali Civil War. When radical Islamists took control of the area in 2006, he put his own life at risk to document what was happening in war-torn Somalia by sending secret dispatches to NPR. Eventually, the situation became too dangerous. In 2011, at 23, Iftin had to leave his family and flee to Kenya for safety. There, he entered and won the green card lottery (the US Diversity Immigrant Visa Program).
Now, Iftin, who has been living in Maine since 2014, is the author of a memoir, Call Me American, and an advocate for other refugees. We asked him how he feels about voting in his first election.
“My vote is important”
I [became] a US citizen in January 2020. My vote is important and counts in the following ways: America is at a crucial moment. The issues of race, immigration, children in cages, a border wall, and the travel ban have dominated the news in the last few years. Each time I read an article related to each of these [issues], I felt butterflies in my stomach. I felt scared and worried. I can't live in that nightmare in this country.
I am a former refugee, a recent immigrant, a Muslim, and a Somali, and these issues not only matter to me, but they affect me more than the ordinary American. I have to vote to save America from losing its exceptional image in the face of the world and its place as the dream spot for many refugee children.
I can’t wait to exercise this fundamental right. I can’t wait to fully participate in this democracy.
Today I took my naturalization oath of allegiance shoulder to shoulder with 46 new Americans. After today, we gained citizenship, but we lost nothing. Under one flag we are united. America is the land of immigrants and we are happy to be on board. pic.twitter.com/PBARqS8nNE— Abdi Nor Iftin (@Abdi_Iftin) January 18, 2020
Getting out the vote
The best way I can encourage the community to get out and vote is to discuss issues that matter to us. I have organized my community, even during the COVID-19 era. We have discussed pressing issues, such as the travel ban. Many Somalis have been separated from their families by this ban.
It is important to bring up these issues at local mosques, churches, and at events. I have knocked [on] doors recently encouraging people to vote. I asked community leaders, organizers, and community navigators to spend at least a couple hours a day talking to members of our community who may need a reminder as to why it is important to vote.
I personally explain the process of voting to those who think it could be hard. I talk about the process of absentee voting and in-person voting and how easy it can be. I have received many head nods and handshakes after I explained, which shows that people need a reminder as well as encouragement.