I first got involved in American politics back in 1994, when I volunteered to campaign for now former Governor of Maryland, Paris Glendening when he was vying for that seat for the first time. Glendening was my college professor at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) where I had the privilege to be his Teaching Assistant, a position I held before being selected to study leadership at the James MacGregor Burns Academy of Leadership at the same university led and named after the renowned and now late historian and political scientist Dr. James MacGregor Burns.
Campaigning for Glendening was quite an interesting experience and on the campaign trail I got to meet and interact with many Who is Who in Maryland politics, including the Kennedy family. I would later work for the venerable and now late US Senator Edward M. Kennedy himself as an Intern, having been selected for the gig through the UMCP Capitol Hill Honors Program.
I should also note I was studying Government and Politics at UMCP when I first met Glendening. I recall walking into his class for the first time and, I think being the oldest student in the class by visualization (I was a returning student, having taken significant time off studies to venture into all manner of things, including business) but be that as it may, the good professor took interest in my journey and it was then he asked me to be his teaching assistant and I gladly agreed.
Glendening started serving his first term in January 1995 and, having just embarked on my law school studies at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey Law School, I was of the belief at the time I would start my legal career working for the governor, if he got reelected, as I expected he would.
Governor Glendening was re-elected but my career plans changed just before graduation from law school as I went on to start my own private practice, mostly handling immigration law matters that I concluded would be more fulfilling helping fellow immigrants with their legal immigration needs.
My next campaign experience in the United States was in 2000, when I volunteered to work for the Al Gore campaign. For those of you too young to know, Al Gore was Vice-President for Bill Clinton, who was president of the United States from 1993 to 2001.
Al Gore maintains he won the presidency in 2000 but was denied serving by Republican judges in the US Supreme Court, who appointed George W. Bush as president, following disputed election results from the state of Florida, which the Supreme Court stopped recounting of the votes and decided that Bush had won the state, and therefore the presidency (due to the electoral college system in the US, who became president that year depended on who won the state of Florida).
Many of us recall where we were when the Supreme Court made the announcement; it was as if the world had come to an end!
But it did not; we lived and moved on to fight another day.
For me, fighting another day was a few years later when I was approached by a good friend and was asked to join a committee in Washington, DC to help elect someone by the name Barrak Obama, then vying for the US Senate from the state of Illinois.
I didn’t know who Obama was; in fact, as it would turn out, nobody knew who he was so when I would call or ask fellow Kenyans, or Africans for that matter to contribute to his campaign, few believed when I would tell them Obama has his roots in Kenya. I, for one, came to learn much later that my oldest brother helped his father in securing a job with the Kenya government as an economist.
I would later meet and come to know then state Senator Barrack Obama very well, with our efforts having paid off as he was successful in being elected as US senator in 2004.
I’ll have more to say about this later but for now let me just say when Obama announced his quest for the presidency on February 10, 2007, I was least enthusiastic because I didn’t think he was ready for “Prime Time,” having only been elected as US senator and served less than a full term; my thinking was, he at least should serve a full term before aiming higher.
Senator Edward M Kennedy, one of my political mentors from the days I worked for him as a Congressional Intern, and a good segment of the Democratic Party machinery had other ideas: they wanted Obama to vie, and they were determined to see him elected as the first black US president.
I nonetheless remained convinced this was a bad mistake, besides, Hillary Clinton, who I favored was someone who impressed me from the day I met her and Tipper Gore (Al Gore’s wife) during one of the functions I attended at the Capitol as a Congressional Intern. You can say I was star-struck from that moment and, in my view, she was far much more prepared to be president than Obama was.
Indeed, so much so was I convinced this was the case, I volunteered to campaign for Hillary during the early primaries for the Democratic Party nomination.
However, sooner than later, the writing was on the wall Obama was the man to beat and was unbeatable all the way and when I saw the writing in bold letters, I switched from supporting Hillary, to supporting and volunteering to have Obama nominated.
Although my plans were to continue volunteering to help Obama to both get nominated and to get him elected as president in the general elections, I decided to go home (Kenya) in the fall of 2007 to help get a good friend, Raila Odinga, get elected president there. This was an experience I will say more later, suffice to say it changed my life, in part because of the sacrifices I mad that ended up affecting my professional career and more.
I can say for now when the country (Kenya) was engulfed in post-election violence, I decided to return to the US in the first week of January 2008 where myself and a several Kenyans of goodwill heavily lobbied in Washington for a peaceful resolution of the crisis back home and, the efforts paid off as we succeeded in having the Government of National Unity in Kenya, bringing together Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, as president and prime minister, respectfully.
The highlight from the period for me, besides damage caused to my law practice, was the letter below I wrote to then US President George W Bush and the letter was hand delivered to him via his then VP Dick Cheney, through then Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, who received it from his eye doctor and a mutual friend who suggested that I write the letter and he’ll see to it that the president gets it:
My friend, Dr. B confirmed for me the letter was hand delivered to the president as described above, and it was soon after that we saw a shift in the US position about the situation in Kenya.
Again, I have more to say about this in my full memoir, this is just a fyi as the subject is what’s ahead, not where we have come from; there will be time for the latter later.
From the night of 2016 elections in the US, when I realized Trump was going to win the presidency against all odds, I practically tuned out of American politics. Of course, no matter how much you tune out and ignore, it’s impossible not to get the whiff of madness we are all experiencing as a country in the hands of this once in several lifetimes presidency—and all for the worse and worst reasons.
So much so was I tuned out of American politics, I did not care to even follow the Democratic Party primaries—the only thing I said is the party better not be foolish enough to nominate someone who Trump will floor with ease.
That remained to be the case all through the primaries until toward the end when my daughter Salima made a good case as only she can, why I should not keep away from American politics as I was. With that, I obliged and resumed following American politics and now getting ready to once again volunteer for the winning Joe Biden/Woman team.
To this end, I am happy to be part of the Service Outreach Unity Leadership (S.O.U.L.) of the Nation, a major initiative by the Joe Biden campaign to engage ethnic and heritage communities across the nation as we embark to make America great again.
I appeal to all those of you in the United States to find ways to be part of this significant journey and this can be as simple as making a financial contribution of as little as $5, which you can do so here.
For Kenya, coronavirus has temporarily put things on hold but, make no mistake, BBI is still humming in the background and will soon resume in full gear as we bring it to the logical conclusion, and that is, making sure its core provisions on governance become law, followed by establishing a line-up to sweep elections come 2022.