On a typical weeknight, the four flat-screen TVs inside the Capitol Café in Minneapolis buzz with European soccer matches, basketball games and reality shows.
But that wasn’t the case on Tuesday night. The coffee shop was packed with scores of Somali-Americans who braved the bone-chilling cold to watch President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union address.
Those at the gathering included local political figures, educators and activists who came to learn about the president’s legislative agenda and national priorities — especially immigration and Muslim issues, which have recently dominated the headlines.
During his speech, the president painted a hopeful picture of the country’s future as he highlighted the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the recovering economy and his strategies to dismantle al-Qaeda leaders.
Minneapolis Council Member Abdi Warsame was among the nearly 50 people at Capitol Café. “His speech was very inspirational and he spoke to the American people,” Warsame noted. “Barack Obama is very popular in our community. He’s an inspirational figure.”
Ilhan Omar, candidate for upcoming Minneapolis House District 60B, added that such political gatherings have become a tradition for the Somali community since Obama took office in 2008.
“There are a lot of things that should resonate with new Americans,” Omar said of the speech. “Yes, we’re struggling with income inequality. We have one of the highest unemployment rates. We also have one of the highest poverty rates in Minnesota. So those kinds of things should resonate with our community, should give them the hope to continue and for them to sort of pay attention.”
Abdikadir Hassan, an organizer in Minneapolis, promoted the event on social media and even drove some to the café. “It’s important because we want the people to get involved and know the issues that they care [about],” he said.
Meanwhile, two Minnesota Muslims were invited to attend the State of the Union address in Washington, D.C., after Reps. Keith Ellison and Debbie Wasserman Schultz encouraged their counterparts to invite a constituent as their guest to the address.
Ellison invited his son, Elijah Ellison, who’s in the Army, and Sen. Al Franken invited Abdirahman Kahin, a Somali-American businessman. This move comes at a time of increasing anti-Muslim remarks from Republican presidential candidates, including Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
During his speech, the president warned against such rhetoric: “When politicians insult Muslims, whether abroad or fellow citizens, when a mosque is vandalized, or a kid is called names, that doesn’t make us safer. That’s not … telling it like it is; it’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world.”
Scot Isqoox, owner of Capitol Café, noted that his business will be open for more political events that reflect the name of the coffee shop.
“This year, we hosted the presidential debates,” Isqoox said. “Tonight we had a huge turnout. This kind of gathering is good for the community — and for our business.”
Ibrahim Hirsi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @IHirsi