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Two Young Political Activitists - 2002-04-18

English Feature #7-34242 Broadcast November 6, 2000

The weeks and months preceding Election Day - which, of course, is tomorrow - have been full of all kinds of political activity by supporters of the various candidates and parties vying for public office. Today on New American Voices two young immigrants talk about their involvement in the political process.

Toyin Doherty was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and came to the United States six years ago, when her mother received permanent residency status as a winner of the diversity visa lottery. Today Miss Doherty is a student majoring in English and political science at Howard University in Washington, D.C. She is also a member of College Democrats - an organization of young Democrats on campus that, she says, was quite active in the pre-election campaign.

"Yes, we were, we were very active. You know, we tried to organize a voter registration drive. And I'm very glad that my school - Howard University Student Association - also had a voter registration drive up until the last day of registration for the election."

The College Democrats organized field trips to politicians' campaign offices and participated in inter-collegiate debates on the issues of the campaign. They also invited vice president Al Gore to come and speak to Howard students.

"It was beautiful! The auditorium of fifteen hundred was packed, and we still had students outside who wanted to come in. I mean, it was just the best. All the students were enthused, everybody was happy to have him, and he was really happy to be a part of the Howard family on that day."

Howard University is one of the oldest and largest historically black universities in the United States. Its student body is 86 percent African-American. It has thirteen hundred foreign students - who, of course, will not be voting in this election. Toyin Doherty herself will not be voting tomorrow, since she will not be eligible to apply for citizenship until January. She believes that her political activism is at least partly due to her immigrant status.

"I always had just a zest for learning about politics. It's a weird interest in politics,I can't really pinpoint the experience, but at the same time being an immigrant also influenced me, yes, in participating in politics, because I believe you can't migrate to another country nonchalantly, or display an attitude of indifference where you are, you have to be active."

While Toyin Doherty is an enthusiastic Democrat, twenty-three year old Tomas Simon is a firmly committed Republican. He was born in Budapest, in communist Hungary, and came to this country as a refugee in the mid-eighties. Now he is a student at the California Polytechnic, majoring in political science. However, this semester he has taken a leave of absence to work on the campaign staff of a Republican candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives from Northern Virginia. He says it has been a busy and exciting time.

"In the last week or so everyone in the office is doing a lot of grass roots. So right now I'm out basically meeting voters, handing out literature, doing literature drops. We basically walk door-to-door, from house to house, sometimes we knock on the door and meet the voter, sometimes we leave something on the doorstep, other times we go into parking lots and put little brochures on car windows, we'll stand in front of grocery stores and give literature out to the people, and we also go to metro stops and hand out literature there."

Like Toyin Doherty, Tomas Simon believes that being an immigrant has influenced his political activity.

"I guess I can relate to a lot of immigrants that are coming to this country, and I've spoken to many of them, cause I've registered so many voters and I've talked to so many people during campaigns, literally thousands and thousands of people. And when you can actually give them a personal experience - my parents and I are classic examples of what you can do if you really work hard. Every time I meet someone I like to tell the story of how we came out here with sixty-four dollars in our pocket. Didn't get any help from the government, no welfare, no nothing, and we really made it. Both my parents own businesses now."

Tomas Simon and Toyin Doherty belong to different political parties and may hold different views on many issues. But they agree about what they like most about the American political system.

(T.S.) "Basically your right to speak out, your right to vote, your right to - well, I guess the Bill of Rights, all in general. And I just like the fact that I can participate, that I can let my voice be heard, that I can make a difference."

(T.D.) "I appreciate the fact that everyone has to right to express themselves. I love when I see people either down-talk or, you know, uplift the government in their politics. In many countries you go to jail for that, for speaking about the government, but you can actually express youself the way you want to. I really love that."

Next week - America's littlest immigrants, the children from other countries who have been adopted by American families.