An immigrant’s memoir of a life devoted to political activism and a call to others to take seriously the responsibility that democracy demands of its citizens.
Author Alam was born in Bangladesh in the crucible of political upheaval, later serving in the Freedom Fighters as a courier and working toward achieving independence from Pakistan. Those experiences helped ignite a lifelong passion for local politics and small-scale activism. In his first book, he documents decades of commitment to the representation of immigrants in the United States pushing others to move beyond cultural alienation in the direction of collective power. Alam moved to the United States in 1984 and quickly immersed himself in grass-roots political activities, joining the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, winning a seat on the local school board and eventually becoming recognized by the New York City Council for his efforts to overcome voter apathy (he was made a Voter Assistance Commissioner). Alam remained relentlessly motivated, running for state Senate and winning a seat as a Democratic Party delegate. Along the way, he gleaned some valuable lessons, particularly about the obstacles to progress posed by entrenched corruption and byzantine bureaucracy. Nonetheless, he always seems impressively undaunted: “For myself, I had several reasons for becoming a school board member: First, I had an altruistic outlook. I came to America believing that I should give back to my community and to our children. Secondly, I saw that position as a way of seeing the children improving because of our board’s actions. That was very promising. Thirdly, it was a possible steppingstone for me, too, as to any possible political positions I might choose to run for later on. Fourthly, I had three daughters in public school, so I had an immediate and direct interest in education.” The book includes newspaper clippings that mention the author and ends with a litany of his accomplishments, major and minor, signifying the central weakness of the book: its tirelessly self-congratulatory nature. But Alam’s belief in the power of the individual to incite political change is still infectiously endearing.
A timely call to political participation on the part of immigrants, with useful advice for how to make it count.