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Ethiopians for Obama: A new political voice in Denver

A logo from the Ethiopians for Obama website.

This fall, Tsilat Petros will vote in her first American presidential election. She’s 29 and has lived in the United States since she was a young girl but only became a citizen three years ago. Now she’s one of dozens of Ethiopian immigrants in Denver who have been motivated to enter the political scene to support Barack Obama.

"When he first started campaigning he was really inspiring," she says. "He stood out to me."

Petros is a local member of Ethiopians for Obama, a group that bears mentioning even in an election season flooded with new political voices. They spent the last several months holding voter registration drives at local churches, restaurants and even taxi stands, urging immigrants who have never heard of hanging chads to participate in the politics of their adopted country. So far, the group has about thirty active members in Denver and has registered more than 400 new Ethiopian voters in Arapahoe County alone, according to organizer Neb Asfaw.

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"We are contributing to swinging the state blue," Asfaw says.

This collection of Ethiopian business people, engineers, students, cab drivers and IT technicians are trying to create a political movement that will last beyond November. They hope to emulate the voting power of other minority groups and become a united force that elected leaders take seriously. "Not just for this election, but in the long run... we want the community to have a voice," Asfaw says.

Now that the voter registration deadline has passed, the group is focusing on educating people about mail-in ballots, and how to understand the lengthy list of amendements up for consideration this year. You can catch up with them this Saturday at an event called Africans United for Change, at 10190 East Montview Boulevard in Aurora. The festivities begin at 6 p.m. and will feature traditional music, food, and of course, lots of speakers urging you to vote. -- Lisa Rab

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