Candidate Kucinich fires up island crowd

Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich speaks to a packed house at the Bainbridge High School auditorium Saturday.  - JESSE BEALS photo
Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich speaks to a packed house at the Bainbridge High School auditorium Saturday.
— image credit: JESSE BEALS photo

Saying he wants to “break the shackles of fear” that have gripped the country since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich offered a vision of a nation reconnected to the world and restored to fundamental optimism.

Speaking to a crowd of more than 300 in the Bainbridge High School auditorium Saturday evening, the fourth-term Ohio congressman placed himself in the vanguard of a movement to embrace a positive national identity – one that would reverse what he sees as a tide of escalating military aggression, expanding corporate power and shrinking civil liberties.

“It’s time to challenge the assertion that we need to be controlled by government to be free” Kucinich told the packed house.

The candidate’s last-minute appearance on the island – one of several stops in the Seattle area last weekend – drew an audience from across the liberal end of the political spectrum, most of them still making up their minds about the various Democratic candidates.

Before the speech, Bainbridge resident Marianne Cohen said that her primary concern was ousting the Republicans in 2004.

“I am committed to getting Bush out – for me, that’s the total issue,” she said.

Bob Burkholder, staffing a voter registration table prior to the event, said that he was leaning toward former Vermont governor Howard Dean.

“I’m here because I was inspired by Kucinich’s speech against the war, which prompted me to write one of the first anti-war letters published in the Review,” he said. “My problem is, I don’t think he is electable.”

Kucinich’s widely circulated “Prayer for America” speech, delivered in February of last year, also attracted the attention of Terri Stanley, who praised the former Cleveland mayor’s reputation for plain-speaking.

“I wouldn’t mind some honesty and some intensity (in the president),” Stanley said.

That intensity was evident in Kucinich’s 25-minute address Saturday. Dressed in shirt sleeves and speaking without notes, the congressman energized the crowd with alternating invocations of “what it means to be America” and the country’s current benighted leadership.

“It’s time to end the fraud being passed off as government,” Kucinich said – one of several indictments of the Bush administration that drew cheers from the audience.

Kucinich was vehement in his opposition to the Patriot Act that expands law enforcement powers in the wake of the World Trade Center bombings.

“How many people here have found themselves asking, ‘Can this really be happening in America?’” he queried; a sea of hands shot up.

The congressman was equally critical of administration’s war in Iraq, which he called a “deliberate misinterpretation of 9-11.”

“If we don’t insist on accountability for this administration’s misrepresentations...friends, they’ll do it again,” he said.

Kucinich, who co-chairs the House’s Progressive Caucus, didn’t delve into his most controversial positions, such as U.S. withdrawal from the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization.

References to his proposed Department of Peace – an entity that “seeks to make non-violence an organizing principle in our society” – did draw some murmurs of approval from the audience.

In the question-and-answer session, several speakers commented on Kucinich’s desire to reinvest politics with the “spiritual principles” of democracy, equality and freedom.

“You are exactly what we talk about when we gather in our coffee shops,” Kat Gjovik, an organizing member of Kitsap Citizens For Kucinich, told the congressman.

Bainbridge author David Korten, a KCFK member and a friend of the congressman, believes that it is the breadth of Kucinich’s vision that sets him apart from others in the Democratic field.

“Dennis’ appeal lies in the whole picture – that he’s working from a vision that goes beyond individual issues, a large vision of what we want America to be,” he said.

While those who came in as Kucinich supporters seemed to leave the event confirmed in their convictions, others, like Cohen and Burkholder, were inspired but unconvinced by Kucinich’s ability to beat the incumbent Bush.

“I’d love to see someone like Kucinich elected,” Cohen said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think we’re ready for him, like we weren’t ready for McGovern.

“What he’s trying to do is change the minds and hearts of the nation, and that’s a slow process – you don’t do that in 10 months,” Burkholder said. “But I think he’s extremely important to the Democratic party as a standard bearer.”

While Korten acknowledged that “the question of electability is a serious issue,” he cautioned against defeatism.

“If we assume that someone that truly reflects our values is not electable, it’s a self-fulfilling prophesy,” he said.

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