Midterm elections across the United States are stirring tremendous voter interest, as Americans consider such tough issues as the war in Iraq, immigration reform, and stem cell research. In the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, the African Resource Center is leading an innovative project to transport the elderly and thousands of newly registered immigrants to the polls to participate in the democratic process. Center Director, Ethiopian-born Abdulaziz Kamus, is leading the effort, recruiting a growing fleet of African immigrant taxi drivers to help get out the vote. VOA English to Africa reporter Howard Lesser caught up with Kamus yesterday in northern Virginia across the Potomac River from Washington, where he was energizing teams of volunteer drivers to provide service to the polls for the elderly and for newly registered immigrants, who lack familiarity with how Americans vote.
“I’ve been working with the taxi drivers for the past year, and initially, we started this idea four years ago in Washington, D.C.. We had only three taxi drivers. But now, last September 12, when we had the primaries, we had about 150 taxi drivers And this time, we have about 100 taxi drivers in Washington, D.C. and Maryland. And we do have taxi drivers in Virginia. We are not specifically saying that we are serving Africans and senior citizens. We are serving all who don’t have access to transportation,” he said.”
The African Resource Center opened its doors in downtown Washington last July as an advocacy establishment for African immigrants and refugees in the Washington area. Abdulaziz says thirty thousand of the seventy thousand refugees taken in by the United States are Africans, and they need help finding adequate clothing, shelter, food, jobs, and health care. In addition, he says the African Resource Center tries to help educate new arrivals about how to participate in the democratic process.
“That’s the whole purpose of engaging taxi drivers and educating our community: to get out and to vote and to support even those who are not citizens yet to learn the process. Democracy is not only a piece of paper. You have to participate. You have to do it. And those becoming citizens come the next election, they will go and vote, as well as volunteer for the campaign,” he said.
With one of the largest concentrations of Ethiopian expatriates in the United States, the Washington area employs many Ethiopian taxi drivers. Each has agreed to donate an hour of road time on November 7, Election Day, to shuttle prospective voters to their polling places. Abdulaziz says there is no agenda to get the untested voters to back a specific candidate or issue.
“We are bipartisans. Within our taxi drivers, there are Republicans, there are Democrats. We are not discriminating against anybody. But our major task in this campaign is we want to help everybody to participate in the democratic process. This is the first time the African refugees and immigrants are willing to provide services. They will continue serving their new country and we are very proud to be Americans,” he said.
Let us know what you think of this report and other stories on our website. Send your views to AFRICA@VOANEWS.COM, and include your phone number. Or, call us here in Washington, DC at (202) 205-9942. After you hear the VOA identification, press 30 to leave a message. We want to hear what you have to say!