Politics with Soul
Ohio Congressman Kucinich Lights Up Presidential Race
By Meryl Ann Butler
OK, I admit it. I haven’t been very politically active lately. (By “lately,” I mean since walking in the memorial march when Martin Luther King, Jr. died.) I’ve been busy. Raising kids. And husbands. Pursuing a career. But mostly, I’ve simply found politics depressing. And after the last presidential election I thought I was in the twilight zone of a third-world nation.
But in February 2003, there was a shift, a light at the end of the tunnel. That was when Dennis Kucinich began his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president.
I had first heard about Dennis in June 2002 when my daughter Angelica, 24, called me from Dubrovnik, Croatia, where she was attending a peace conference.
“Mom!” she said excitedly, “I just met this totally cool Congressman. I was the representative sent by the youth division to have dinner with him. He is a Democrat from Ohio, and he gave this awesome speech at the conference! He’s into peace and stuff, you know, Mom, like back in the 60’s . . . you’d love it . . .”
That’s how I first heard about Dennis J. Kucinich.
A year later I sat front row, center, in Taft High School auditorium, Woodland Hills, my first opportunity to see Kucinich up close and personal. Like the architect of an ideal nation, he painted an image of an amazing America that seemed to spring exuberantly from the original dreams of our founding fathers and mothers.
He promised to work to unite Americans in a vision of plenty and wholeness for all, and to build a safe and supportive environment. “We all want safety and security,” he said, “it is a fundamental human need...and we all understand that the bombing of Iraq didn’t make America more safe... We could argue that it made America less safe.” And he vowed to “take this country on a new path, a path towards peace.”
As Congressman he is already leading the nation in that direction. Kucinich sponsored Bill HR 1673, currently in the House of Representatives. It would establish a U.S. Department of Peace at the cabinet level, and institute nonviolence as an organizing principle of American society, providing domestic and international peace-building policy options. It makes sense. If you have a department devoted to war, you are more likely to get war. So, if we want peace, expect peace, why not create a Department of Peace?
Kucinich is Co-Chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, the largest caucus in the House of Representatives. Before the Iraq war, his passionate speeches resulted in persuading two thirds of the House Democrats to vote against the Iraq war resolution.
Kucinich eloquently invites the archetypal feminine back into an out-of-balance, patriarchal nation. This isn’t male-bashing, just a healthy response to a pendulum that has gotten stuck.
The masculine, or “left-brain,” gifts of logic, competition, science, and order are essential to the evolution of society. It’s simply that they are out of proportion if there isn’t an equivalent focus on the feminine or “right-brain” contributions of nurturing, dreaming and creativity. When the patriarchal component exceeds the recommended weight limit, the results can be extreme competition and war.
And peace comes not so much as an end in itself, but as a byproduct of balancing these elements. Kucinich invites Uncle Sam to dance the waltz of wholeness with Lady Liberty, the ambassador of the eternal feminine, and Jung’s anima.
“There is a sculpture carved inside the pediment atop the marble columns at the entrance to the United States House of Representatives,” Kucinich says. “ It depicts a woman, arm outstretched, protecting a child who is blissfully sitting atop a stack of books. Entitled ‘Peace Protecting Genius,’ this patroness of peace protects the child from harm not with nuclear arms, but with nurturing arms, with arms of maternal love. That sculpture will be emblematic of my administration.”
And Kucinich vows that his first priority will be to address the Weapons of Mass Destruction that run rampant in our own homeland. Poverty. Unemployment. Inadequate health care. A toxic environment. Poor education. Racism. Sexism. The insidious weapons that can destroy a society from the inside out.
Fixing broken stuff at home is never as glamorous as waging war. But Dennis promises to “move forward with the intention of binding the wounds of this nation.” And he has a plan.
Kucinich suggests that monies could be diverted from the billion-dollar-a-day Pentagon budget without sacrificing an iota of national security by simply budgeting smarter. (Remember those $15,000 screwdrivers that were uncovered in a Pentagon audit?) According to the San Francisco Chronicle,1 trillion dollars of the Pentagon’s budget currently cannot be accounted for.
Kucinich advocates redirecting some of these runaway resources toward enhancing educational opportunities for the nation’s children, creating a universal health care program, preserving social security, providing jobs, cultivating environmental renewal and developing clean energy sources.
Kucinich calls on us to “remake America by reconnecting with a higher purpose to bring peace within and without, to come into harmony with nature, to confirm and to secure the basic rights of our brothers and sisters,” and cautions us that the United States is in danger of losing its very soul. “The question isn’t whether or not America has the military power for victory,” he said prior to the war in Iraq, “the question is whether we destroy something essential in this nation, by asserting that America has the right to wage pre-emptive war anytime we please.”
He hits the mark when he says, “the question arises as to the legitimacy of this government itself. Any government that would lead a nation into war under false pretenses is not a legitimate government.”
So, while other politicians admired the “Emperor’s new clothes,” Dennis pointed out the naked truth, passionately voicing his concerns about waging war over alleged WMD’s, and demanding accountability. And public opinion polls since the war indicate that more and more, this country is agreeing with him.
Kucinich notes that our own national anthem reminds us that to remain the “land of the free” may require exercising our bravery and courage to speak out “because we care enough to challenge our government in a moment of crisis, to set our government back on the right path.” Real patriotism is not blind approval of our country’s every action. He says, “There’s nothing unpatriotic about asserting human values and defending democratic principles. A lot of Americans are telling me this is the highest form of patriotism.”
Standing 5' 7" in thick-soled shoes, what Kucinich lacks in altitude he makes up for in attitude, and in the stature of the soul. Kucinich’s breed is akin to that of a Ghandi. The kind of men whose strength and power comes from the unwavering knowledge in the core of their beings that they stand for what is moral and good. It is this kind of conviction that has earned Kucinich the public endorsement of Ghandi’s grandson, Arun Ghandi, founder of The M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence.
An energetic American patchwork stitched from diverse pieces of cloth, Kucinich is a card-carrying union member and son of a truck driving teamster who quotes Shakespeare and Churchill, supports family farmers and labor, gay rights and a woman’s right to choose. He is an amateur ventriloquist who delights kids. The eldest of seven children, his family lived in 21 places by the time he turned 17, including “a couple of cars.” Like many who have overcome challenges in life, he sports a well-developed sense of humor in addition to deep compassion and keen intelligence.
Kucinich’s political career began when he ran for Cleveland City council in 1967 at the age of 20. He lost, but won a seat when he ran again in 1969.
In 1977, at 31, Kucinich was elected mayor of Cleveland, the nation’s youngest mayor of a major city. He won the election based on campaign promises to save the city-owned power company, Muny Light, from private hands. So, in response to an attempted, Enron-like takeover of Muny, Kucinich “just said no.”
The banks’ holdings were interwoven with the private utility that wanted to seize Muny and create a monopoly. So in retaliation of Kucinich’s protection of the public interest, the banks made an unprecedented move and drove the city into default. A youthful profile in courage, Kucinich held fast to his campaign promise. His detractors dubbed him “Dennis the Menace.” He lost his bid for re-election, and his political career tumbled down into a black hole for 15 years.
Few things are more discouraging than being tarred and feathered by the very people for whom you have given up everything to protect and Kucinich went through a dark night of the soul. But vindication finally came in 1993 when then-Cleveland Mayor Michael White recognized Kucinich for a job well done, one that ultimately saved Cleveland residents hundreds of millions of dollars. The utility had thrived and named a new building after Ku-cinich. The nightmare was transformed into a shining star on the Kucinich resume.
“Dennis the Menace” had become a hero. The comic book character hadn’t ever been evil, he was just an eager kid with a heart of gold. He was really only a “menace” to Mr. Wilson, the Grouchy Old Patriarch (read GOP) and his joyless, conservative, stick-in-the-mud attitudes. Maybe the analogy hadn’t been so far off, after all.
Three years after his vindication, Kucinich introduced his light bulb logo and the campaign slogan, “Because He Was Right,” and won an election against a Republican incumbent for the Ohio Senate. Later, Dennis defeated a conservative Republican incumbent for U.S. Congress, with the slogan “Light up Congress with Kucinich.” In five consecutive winning elections since his reentry into politics, his campaign symbol has been a light bulb. And Kucinich has gotten practiced at defeating entrenched Republicans.
Then, in February 2002, Rep. Kucinich sat in Los Angeles, passionately composing a four-page Prayer for America, which would shortly catapult him squarely into the public eye. He read it that same evening to a cheering group of over a thousand members of the Americans for Democratic Action at USC.
He opened by offering “these brief remarks today as a prayer for our country, with love for our country . . . with a belief that the light of freedom cannot be extinguished as long as it is within us.” He spoke of the “intercon-nectedness” of the planet, “not only on the material level of economics, trade, communication and transportation, but through human consciousness.” He emphasized “the understanding that freedom stirs the human heart and fear stills it,” calling for citizens to “defend our country not only from the threats without but from the threats within.”
The speech sped through cyberspace, and citizens responded to his heartfelt vision. Over 10,000 e-mails tumbled in, most urging Kucinich to run for president. The independent internet site draftkucinich.com was born. Speaking invitations poured into the Congressman’s office. Cyberspace had leveled the playing field between the well-heeled politicians and the well-visioned. A year after his Prayer for America speech, Kucinich threw his hat into the presidential race.
Kucinich was not only a latecomer to the race for the Democratic nomination, he also brought up the rear in net assets. Senators John Kerry, John Edwards and Bob Graham, and former Vermont governor Howard Dean, listed net assets ranging from a low of $4 million to a high of $626 million, according to the LA Times2. Lieberman, Gephardt and Moseley Brown all weighed in at healthy six figures. (Sharpton had received an extension to file.) Kucinich’s net worth was listed as $32,000.
One questioner at the Taft High School event asked Kucinich, as delicately as she could, how his net worth could possibly be so low. He paused, smiling, and replied that while he had respect for the material world, his primary pursuits had been involved with providing service to others.
But Kucinich has had the fastest growing campaign. Having only raised $170,000 by mid-May, contributions reached $1 million by the end of June. His second million was reached only a couple of weeks later, outrunning other grassroots campaigns of the past, including those of Jesse Jackson in 1988 and Jerry Brown in 1992.
Kucinich’s “net worth” may be more than what is reflected on the financial ledger. He consistently drew the largest crowds of any of the Democratic candidates last Spring, as large as 1,000 in New Mexico, an early caucus-voting state. He has an ability to attract the attention of a wide variety of supporters, including the nearly three million who voted for Nader in 2000. His thoughtful positions, passionate speeches and persuasive confidence have attracted a growing list of high-profile support, as well.
Kucinich has been endorsed by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), Tom Hayden and Pete Seeger, and authors Marianne Williamson and Jean Shinoda Bolen. Ed Asner and Elliott Gould both support him and have provided Kucinich with glowing introductions at campaign events. Willie Nelson is planning a series of concerts to benefit the Kucinich campaign.
Ice cream mavens Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield support Dennis, an endorsement all the more sweet since they hail from Howard Dean’s home state of Vermont. Studs Terkel wrote the foreword for Dennis’ book, A Prayer for America, due out in October.
James Cromwell, the animal rights activist who played Farmer Hoggett in Babe contributed to the campaign, as did Dennis’ longtime friend Shirley MacLaine. Mimi Kennedy (“Dharma and Greg”) recently hosted a fund-raiser at her home where over 200 rapt listeners heard Kucinich’s dreams for this nation.
Ben Affleck, Warren Beatty, Ed Begley Jr., Jeff Bridges, Larry Hagman, Casey Kasem, Edward Norton and Eric Roberts are listed as contributors on Kucinich’s Federal Election commission report. So are Norman Lear and Jerry Springer, country music icon Bonnie Raitt and folk singer Peter Yarrow. More celebrities seem to be jumping on board daily.
And Kucinich was the surprise hit of the first cyberspace primary in history. It was organized by MoveOn.org, an internet group spawned by the events of Sept. 11th, and “working to bring ordinary people back into politics.” Their reported membership exceeds 1.5 million people, more than the entire populations of a dozen states in the U.S.
Over 317,000 voters participated in the MoveOn primary on June 24-25, 2003. That number is greater than the New Hampshire primary and the Iowa caucus combined.
Given Kucinich’s late start in the race, limited resources, and conspicuous lack of media attention, he was expected to bring up a place in the rear. But in a remarkable turnabout, and testimony to the power of the internet, Kucinich finished second with 76,000 votes, 24% of the total. Howard Dean won with 44%. John Kerry captured only 16% of the votes. None of the other six candidates made it to the double digits.
And just at the moment when people are discovering Dennis’ vision, and wondering if this dark horse candidate could possibly win, a reminder of the greater truth suddenly emerges in a movie that offers an inspiring, archetypal story of another long-shot. Seabiscuit is the true story of a runty, gimpy-kneed horse who was derided by the experts and then stole the public’s heart on his race to victory, inspiring a troubled nation during the Great Depression. The release of the movie was deliciously serendipitous timing for the Kucinich campaign. And if that wasn’t enough, the larger, favored horse that Seabiscuit beats, is aptly named War Admiral.
The magic x-factor that gives the longshot the cutting edge is the heart connection. As we follow our own bliss and spread compassion to others somehow an extra measure of energy is generated. As Kucinich speaks his heartful message to cheering crowds, I wonder — is it only coincidence that the human heart is situated, not in the exact center of the chest, but just to the left?
Kucinich notes that he ran as an underdog when he first ran for the Cleveland city council, for the mayor of Cleveland and for Congress, was outspent by his opponents and got elected anyway each time. “I’m used to winning elections that people say are un-winnable,” he grins.
Consider this: in the last presidential election, Bush acquired the presidency with, at most, only 23% of the vote3 while Americans stayed away from the polls in droves. But what if these same disappointed, disaffected citizens finally felt that they had a choice? A shooting star to hitch their wagons to? A candidate who will roll up his sleeves and work right alongside them to turn their hopes into reality?
Seeing the dream of what this nation could be through Dennis’ heartfelt vision, suddenly I feel a sense of excitement. Perhaps Kucinich is the prince whose rhetoric is the long-awaited kiss that can awaken America’s sleeping Soul.
For more information, see www.kucinich.us
Meryl Ann Butler is a professional artist, writer and labyrinth builder who has recently relocated to the Los Angeles area from Virginia Beach, VA. See www.creativespirit.net/MabArt
1 San Francisco Chronicle. May 18, 2003. Military Waste Under Fire $1
Trillion Missing — Bush Plans Targets Pentagon Auditing by Tom Abate.
2 LA Times. June 14 2003.
3 Stupid White Men, Michael Moore, pg 15. Of a possible 200 million voters, 154 million, (or 77%), did not vote for Bush
1. Universal Health Care with a Single Payer Plan
The United States is the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide national health care. Kucinich promises to establish streamlined national health care insurance, a publicly-financed Medicare for all. He cites the conclusion of the General Accounting Office of Congress that states, “If the U.S. were to shift to a system of universal coverage and a single payer, as in Canada, the savings in administrative costs would be more than enough to offset the costs.”
2. Preserving Social Security
3. Withdrawal from NAFTA and WTO
4. Repeal of the “Patriot Act”
5. Right-to-Choose and Civil Rights
6. Balance Between Workers and Corporations
7. Guaranteed Quality Education, Pre-K through College
8. A Renewed Commitment to Peace and Diplomacy
9. Restored Rural Communities and Family Farms
10. Environmental Renewal and Clean Energy
|How to Find Out More
Use a search engine to search for “Kucinich” to get to www.kucinich.us .
(This will increase the hit count on the search engine for this site, which shows your interest.) When you get to www.kucinich.us , you can sign up to receive campaign updates. These e-mails from the Kucinich campaign alert you to news about campaign progress, the latest endorsements, personal notes from Dennis and actions you can take.
Check Kucinich groups at groups.yahoo.com/. A recent search revealed over 100 groups, with new ones springing up daily. Most groups have a special focus such as geographical area, age groups (there were at least two for young people), and special interest (such as Department of Peace, or issues concerning weapons in space.)
Join and attend MeetUps. Go to kucinich2004.meetup.com to sign up or find out how to start one in your area. Check MoveOn.org for their next poll. In their June 24 “early primary,” Dennis won 76,000 votes, 2nd place, and 24% of the total vote.
Go to us.denniskucinich.-us/phpBB2/index.php to register, introduce yourself, and join the conversations. Check the “Calls for Help” forum and volunteer to help where you can. Besides being a great place to learn about other Kucinich Volunteers and see some projects the campaign needs help with, there are some good resources listed on the boards.
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