decided to come back to Cleveland and to re-enter politics when
the city recognized after all those years that, as the headline
read in the Cleveland Plains Dealer, "DENNIS WAS RIGHT"
on the utility issue. The Cleveland City Council honored him for
his courage in refusing to sell the public utility company and he
was elected to the Ohio Senate primarily on the issue of expanding
the city's municipal electrical system. . In 1996, Kucinich was
elected to the United States Congress. In the most recent election,
this man who came back to Cleveland with the same values he had
when he was nearly kicked out of the City, won almost 77% of the
vote. That would be impressive enough considering that he did no
television, radio or print marketing for his campaign, but it becomes
even more telling when you consider that this most progressive of
Democrats comes from a largely Republican, conservative district.
He won the hearts
of Clevelanders by going door-to-door, by focusing on the needs
of the people, and by his patent integrity. Everyone who meets Kucinich,
whether or not they agree with his politics, is immediately impressed
by his honesty and sincerity. He is particularly adept at coalition
building in Congress, precisely because of this palpable integrity.
At a time when,
for fear of being seen as unpatriotic, most politicians are waving
the flag and questioning nothing which comes out of the White House,
Kucinich is courageously and clearly voicing his concerns about
the direction in which the Bush administration wants to take this
country. Once again, he is taking up the cause of "we, the
people"-the oppressed, the minority, the powerless. He's opposed
to Ashcroft's current practice of indefinitely and privately detaining
"suspected terrorists" who get no opportunity for a public
hearing or even for an attorney. He's concerned about the innocent
people who continue to lose their lives in Afghanistan as we bomb
well after al Quaida has disbanded. And he doesn't want the US to
cause the loss of more innocent human lives in Iraq as we prepare
for war with a country that has not in any way been tied to the
terroristic attack of September 11.
recognizes the need to deal with these issues in a systematic way,
with experts who would try to resolve them through peaceful, non-violent
means. Such is the vision of his proposed legislation (HR 2459),
which would create a cabinet-level Department of Peace. With this
department, there would be, at the highest levels of government,
real dialogue about how to respond to terrorism, without taking
more lives and without guaranteeing future acts of terrorism against
the US because we've given the next generation of desperate people
another reason to hate Americans.
is also working on legislation that would ban weapons in space.
In spite of a previous attestation by Congress never to put weapons
into the heavens, plans are being made by the current administration
to do just that. Kucinich speaks openly of the arrogance of the
"Vision 20-20" plan, which would effectively make parts
of space US colonies. In addition to HR 3616, which would prohibit
the US from using the skies as part of our war plans, the Congressman
is also trying to drive support for a new international treaty which
would guarantee that space is always free from the terror of war.
gave a talk in Louisville and almost everyone in attendance was
in agreement with him philosophically. With such an audience, it
would have been easy to have taken cheap shots at Bush and the Republican
party. But instead--recognizing the virtues of practicing compassion
even with those who stand in diametric opposition to your views
and opinions--Kucinich spoke about his optimistic vision of a new
America. After the talk, world-famous cellist and friend of the
Congressman, Michael Fitzpatrick of Millenia Music, played the Star
Spangled Banner on electric cello, a la Hendrix at Woodstock. When
he finished, the crowd erupted in a standing ovation. It was clear
that everyone in the audience felt as if, with Kucinich as guide,
Fitzpatrick had wrested the flag out of the hands of those who see
patriotism and compassion as mutually exclusive terms.
speech was one of many like it that he has given since he started
stirring things up in February of this year with a talk entitled,
Prayer for America." Though not covered by the media, this
talk was quickly picked up on the internet and then widely disseminated
(esp. by VegSource.com). Kucinich received more than 25,000 enthusiastic
emails in response to it, and that unexpected reaction led Studs
Terkel to declare in an article in The
Nation that "Kucinich is the one" who should run for
President. Because the Congressman represents the views and the
work of so many progressive grassroots organizations, Terkel reasoned,
if hundreds of those groups coalesced behind Kucinich's banner,
they could catapult him into the Presidential race.
One of the practical
questions Kucinich will have to ask is how to extrapolate his victory
in Cleveland--which was done by door-to-door campaigning--into a
national election. After all, he might be able to meet (and thereby
convey his undeniable integrity to) at least 51% of Cleveland voters,
but he certainly can't do that across the country. The answer--if
it lies anywhere--rests in Terkel's advice: the grassroots organizations
become Kucinich's voice at the local level and do the campaigning
for him. And with the internet as a tool, communities across the
country could be united with one another in this campaign.
talk in July of this year was a bit of a test of this theory. 17
grassroots organizations sponsored the event, which included a roundtable
discussion with local leaders and a public talk. Because of IRS
regulations, most of these nonprofits couldn't support a candidate
for a political race, but they were enthusiastic about sponsoring
a talk related to "issues" rather than politics. Almost
overnight the unknown name of Kucinich became a household name in
progressive circles in the community. After one gathering, it was
crystal clear to this city that Kucinich is the leading visionary
for a more sane world order.
media has largely ignored Kucinich's work, the first real step in
testing Terkel's theory is to educate people both about the work
which the Congressman has accomplished, and about the vision which
he now articulates for a new America. In addition to his bills to
create a Department of Peace and to ban weapons in space, Kucinich
has worked long and hard for the environment, for workers' rights,
for civil rights, for education, and for affordable housing. A quick
visit to the "Issues" section of his website, www.house.gov/kucinich,
makes it apparent which concerns are of most importance to Kucinich.
And it illustrates the depth of his work in these areas.
a visit to the "Environment" section will reveal his commitment
to personal responsibility as well as his willingness to hold corporations
environmentally accountable. The "Civil Rights" section
shows his passion for equality, not just for people of color and
women, but also for immigrants and gays and lesbians. The "Housing"
section proves that he is a leading advocate for affordable housing
in the country. A quick perusal of his website reveals that he doesn't
just talk a good game in front of a friendly audience. This Congressman
is willing to do the work necessary to challenge the system and
to effect real change.
says that we're living in fear after September 11, and that we have
an obsessive paranoia about terrorism. While he supports reasonable,
prudent measures to combat terrorism, he believes that we're spending
a disproportionate amount of money responding to potential assaults
on our nation. He quickly points out that, while we lost 3000 lives
to terrorism in the attack on September 11, we lost five times that
in domestic violence last year. Increasing the military budget by
$50 B might increase security at home but it will certainly do nothing
to address concerns about poverty, workers' conditions, or the need
for national health care. And as Kucinich sees it, the answer to
a new world order lies in how well we address these concerns. Once
injustices--economic and otherwise--are addressed with sincerity
(and with resources similar to those infusing the military), then
and only then will the causes of violence and terrorism, nationally
and abroad, finally subside.
So just what
would it mean if Kucinich became President? Would the US military
lose its funding and, as the 70s-era bumper sticker read "have
to hold a bake sale while the Girl Scouts got the military's budget"?
Would this peacenik, justice-seeker rob from the rich to give to
the poor? Would farmers be expected to change their practices overnight
in order to grow their food more sustainably, and to eliminate their
factory farms? Would our jails be empty as we tried to preach love
and kindness and forgiveness to all those who need it?
A dreamer, in
order to be successful, has to be a pragmatist at some level. Kucinich
knows very well that compromise is the name of the game in politics.
But when you have the unique ability to coalition build (witness
the bi-partisan support of his bill to create a Department of Peace),
you eventually arrive at the desired result.
Let's look at
what it could really do to the way our country acted if, at the
top of our leadership, we had a President who worked for peace and
sought out justice at every level. For starters, our country could
conduct itself as a responsible world citizen--not only living up
to the Kyoto treaty, for example, but leading the way in curbing
greenhouse emissions, in improving fuel efficiency, in finding alternatives
to our dependence on oil and coal, and in generally reversing the
unsustainable environmental practices in which we engage. And while
the President cannot prohibit state executions of prisoners, having
someone like Kucinich as President would send a message to our children
that the most highly esteemed and powerful person in the country
felt that it was morally repugnant to practice state-sponsored killing
in order to send a message that killing is wrong.
Having as our
President someone who had a proven track record for dealing with
issues with honesty and integrity would mean that we would finally
hear in television and radio addresses the great responsibility
we have as citizens to practice kindness and fairness in our business
practices and in our consumer decisions, rather than hearing from
the White House that the answer to our problems lies in "going
shopping." It would mean that we would not only abide by the
nuclear non-proliferation agreements, but we would engage the world
in a real dialogue about how to ban nuclear weapons from the earth
forever. And it would mean that our citizens could rely upon the
executive branch of the government to make decisions based upon
what's truly in our best interests, rather than on what some corporation
or special interest group deems to be in our best interest.
as President would mean that we could begin a transformation in
the way in which our country behaves, domestically and internationally.
In order for such a radical change to occur, it will have to be
because the people are ready for it. And Kucinich submits that the
people are ready for it. They're longing for it. And he should know.
Having grown up poor and having taken up the causes of the people
in Cleveland for years, Kucinich hasn't forgotten what it's like
to be one of the members of "we, the people."
Having at the
helm of our country someone who talks and walks responsibility and
compassion could create the paradigm shift in consciousness when
the US becomes a real world leader--not with might and power, but
with kindness and empathy, understanding and love. The implications
of this great change in consciousness--a shift away from violence
in every form-- could overwhelm the world. Instead of having peoples
of the world fear and loathe and terrorize us, they would applaud
us; but more importantly, they would follow our lead. And together,
with combined resources and talents, we could eliminate hunger and
homelessness. We could have universal health care. We could have
clean air to breathe, water to drink and soil to till. We could
end terrorism and obliterate war. And we could march hand in hand
into this millennium with an understanding and an appreciation of
one another, and with confidence that nothing could stand in the
way of our commitment to the belief that everyone is rightfully
entitled to a safe, comfortable, and peaceful life.
Borders, Jr. is an attorney in Louisville, Ky. He currently chairs
the board for EarthSave International.