The new voter: A young Arab-American feels duty-bound to vote
Syrian-born Omar Kurdi of Irvine, Calif., became a US citizen at age 15. A student activist, he gives much weight to the candidates’ foreign-policy stances, especially in Iraq and the Middle East.
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All the work for the student activist groups has also cut into time for academics, Omar allows. “But it was worth it,” he says, “because these groups helped shape my college experience and made me more active in politics.”Skip to next paragraph
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Omar, Yasser, and others have started an informal club of like-minded activists who intend to keep exchanging information about issues they care about.
“I just think a citizen has to do more than just vote,” says Omar. “One has to continue to struggle to create the fundamental change that’s needed. Most Americans just cast their ballot and then forget about it.”
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Although Omar always knew he wanted to vote, he didn’t get around to doing anything about it until a paid signature-gatherer for a ballot initiative approached him at a supermarket in May 2007. He was supposed to get confirmation by mail that he’d been registered, but it never came. So one day Omar stopped into the local Department of Motor Vehicles office, where voter-motor needs are met, and filled out the necessary forms.
Like most students his age, Omar is following the presidential election in part through Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart of “The Daily Show” and Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report.” “These guys are comedians but you still get a lot of legitimate news,” says Omar. “I don’t know what they’re going to do without [George W.] Bush for laughs.”
But he’s also a self-described news junkie, getting his daily news from CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Al Jazeera, and the Internet. He blames the media in large part for what he sees as Americans’ “ignorance” and lack of sophistication about world issues.
“American politics seems obsessed by minor details that don’t have anything to do with anything but dominate the discussion,” he says. “Like whether or not [Barack] Obama wears a [flag] lapel pin.”
Omar doesn’t see a meaningful difference between Senator Obama and Sen. John McCain, especially on foreign policy. “There’s certainly not substantial disagreement over foreign policy or the war in Iraq. The differences between McCain and Obama seem more tactical,” he says. “The fact that it was an illegal war leading to a bloody occupation seems to get swept under the carpet.”
The historic 2008 political season has seen a surge of new voters. This occasional series profiles Americans who registered or cast a ballot for the first time this year.