Obama Team Hires Ethiopian-American Congressional Staffer – Tadias Magazine

July 30th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

New York (Tadias) – The presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama has hired Selam Mulugeta, an Ethiopian American who formerly served as a Congressional Staffer and Special Assistant to Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), founder and Chair of the Congressional Ethiopia and Ethiopian American Caucus. (more…)

New York (Tadias) – The presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama has hired Selam Mulugeta, an Ethiopian American who formerly served as a Congressional Staffer and Special Assistant to Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), founder and Chair of the Congressional Ethiopia and Ethiopian American Caucus.

“I will be a Field Organizer in the Northern Virginia region”, Mulugeta told Tadias Magazine. She joined the Obama for America campaign in Virginia.

“This means that I would be doing community organizing at the grassroots level to increase the number of registered voters, and most importantly, to increase voter turn-out in November.”

Members of the Democratic support group Ethiopians for Obama (E4O), which is active in Virgina, often say that the November election may be decided by a few thousand votes, and the robust Ethiopian American presence in the state may end up being a deciding factor.

Mulugeta agrees.

“In states like Virginia, Ethiopians are in a unique position to swing the vote. If all of us who are eligible to vote do so, then we could potentially win the state. The responsibility is tremendous, but doable. We can accomplish this by investing more time in the campaign and fully extending the reach of our influence”, Mulugeta says.

“I am a member of the steering committee for E40. I have always supported the organization, even from its days as a loose discussion group formed in someone’s living room. I am so proud of the work that has already been done, and even while I was on the Hill I was quite adamant about engaging its leaders. My role in E4O will be to empower Ethiopians to realize that they can support the Obama campaign by volunteering.”

Asked about the high level of excitement within the African immigrant community particularly about the prospect of electing the first African American President, Mulugeta says the candidate’s background is attractive to Africans in general.

“African immigrants can identify with Barack Obama because he himself is a second generation African American. More than that, he identifies with his own African heritage in a way that we all can be proud of”, she said. “He was able to achieve a level of success that our parents or first generations dream of for their children.”

Mulugeta points out that Obama, because of his African background, will be in a strong position to advocate for better governance in the African continent.

“We also believe that his shared appreciation for Africa makes him the ideal President” she said. “He will not be afraid to engage and confront the challenges of achieving political stability and economic independence throughout the African continent, while preserving the dignity of its people. It is all the more reason that Diaspora Africans in this country should remain visibly involved in the campaign.”

The gregarious and young former Congressional staffer landed her gig on Capitol Hill fresh out of college and says she was attracted to the job by her former boss’s dedication to advocate on behalf of his Ethiopian American constituents in San Jose, California.

“I interned for Congressman Honda during the summer after college graduation. I had the opportunity to work on building the Caucus because of the open-mindedness and dedication of the Congressman to the Ethiopians in his District. There was a clear need to create a voice for Ethiopian Americans in the legislative process, and I was hired to exercise that potential. The Congressman wanted to create an institution that could maximize that potential, so there was a clear need for someone to develop this institution on a full time basis”, she said.

“The Caucus is an organization of Member of Congress who all believe that the Ethiopian American agenda is a priority, or that Ethiopia is a strategic ally in Africa. Members of this Caucus usually have a strong relationship with the Ethiopian community in their districts, or believe that Ethiopia can play a leading role in achieving peace and economic stability on the continent.”

Asked to name what she considers as the significant achievement of the Caucus, Mulugeta says: “The most significant achievements are passing language in Appropriations Bills on Ethiopia, and organizing a huge effort to recognize the Ethiopian Millennium. On Appropriation, Congressman Honda was able to pass language to encourage the Administration to fund development programs in Ethiopia that are led by Ethiopian Americans. He consistently advocates for the support of Ethiopian American NGOs because he believes that they should play a role in guiding US development policy toward Ethiopia. On the Millennium, the Caucus was able to seize the moment by organizing a festival on the Hill and passing legislation that would draw attention to the development concerns of Ethiopia. The Caucus hosted a festival with live cultural performances, art exhibit, and food from the best Ethiopian restaurants in Washington DC. It generated a crowd of over 500 people among whom were Members of Congress, USAID and State Department staff, NGO directors, grassroots leaders, diplomats, etc. It was a joyous occasion that drew a lot of attention, so the Caucus was able to promote its development priorities most effectively. Rep. Honda introduced a Resolution honoring the Millennium that passed a few months later. This was significant because it was truly the work of several Ethiopian American organizations – the Caucus made a concerted effort to seek the input of community leaders across the country, and it was the first project that proved how strong the community can be when leaders cooperate with one another.”

And her personal role in this achievement?

“I was the lead staff on the Appropriations related to Ethiopia in my office. I also proposed and implemented the planning for the Millennium event on the Hill. And with the guidance and mentoring of Ted Dagne (CRS, Africa Policy Director), I helped to draft the Resolution. I thought that it would be much more meaningful to have the endorsement of several community organizations before seeking co-sponsorship.

Equipped with Capitol Hill experience and youthful zeal, Mulugeta has embarked onto her next challenge. “Most Ethiopians are registered to vote, but their responsibility to electing the new President does not end there…they will have to join the movement by registering their family members, their children, their friends at church or mosque. Our strength is in volunteering,” she reminds us. Mulugeta has joined the ranks of thousands of like-minded and optimistic young professionals who have answered Senator Barack Obama’s call for change.

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