The River

Friday, February 13, 2004

Kucinich Campaign Drops in on Georgia, Part II

(Part I here)

I drove on to Eddie’s Attic. I had planned on seeing a movie, but I was somewhat charged up from meeting Dennis, and who wants to remove themselves from their reality for a couple hours when that reality is so stimulating? I had also enjoyed a chance meeting with an old friend at the book store, someone both Leigh and I met when we worked at Oxford Books in the late 80s, so continuing to enjoy this friend’s company was another reason to move on to the next campaign stop.

The small listening room, as they call it (there’s another bar and covered deck for loud and rowdy behavior, a sign advises), was filled near to capacity, which can’t be much more than 200.

Out in the deck area there was a silent auction for raising cash, and I bid $55, and then $65, on an original Star Wars poster, framed. Probably a reproduction, but I didn’t care.

Back in the listening room, a couple of juvenile white guys who had that dark-eyed look of the young druggie were on stage rapping to preprogrammed beats. The message was as repetitive as the music – society, TV, politicians, they suck! Heck, I feel the same way, but they even went so far as to insult Mr. Rogers, and you have to draw the line somewhere. Besides, it’s sort of where we are all coming from, but not where we want to go.

That’s where Dennis Kucinich comes in. Although, not literally. First a wonderful singer songwriter, Sherri Kling, who has a voice like Mary Chapin Carpenter, followed the would-be rap stars. She had a bass player joining her acoustic, and she sang about the yearnings of the human spirit. She quoted a woman who said in a Studs Terkel book, “Working”, that most people have jobs that are too small for their spirit. And she asked, “What would work be like if we could bring our whole heart and soul?” (to which I might answer, do it anyway, realizing, of course, that most advice people give is the advice they most need to hear.)

Sherri was followed by Sonia Tetwell, who, it was said, had played with Patti Smith. The punk attitude was a 180-degree turn from Sherri. I think I could have made the guitar sound as good as she did on her first number. She did her thing for a handful of songs, and it got better, and then she conceded the stage to Elise Witt, a 50ish woman with curly gray hair and fine-boned features. And, it turned out, a heavenly voice. She had no guitar to bang or strum, but it didn’t matter. She sang, and she had the whole room singing with her: “open the window and let the dove fly in” at the appropriate spots in her song, and we sounded damn good. We got quieter on cue. We got louder on cue. We rocked. She thanked us and talked about the powerful experience of singing together.

So finally Kucinich comes in, in what I imagine to be his perpetual gray suit and red tie. This time the speech was on his Department of Peace idea. The response when he came out was very enthusiastic. He began by quoting Shelley in Prometheus Unbound – something about hope creating from its own wreck the thing it desires. He follows that up with a quote from Tennyson: come my friends; it’s not too late to create a better world.

This set the tone and tenor of his remarks. A bit more low key here, talking more quietly the way you do when you say your most important words. He mentioned Martin Luther King Jr. and how it was appropriate to talk peace in MLK’s hometown. His Department of Peace, a cabinet-level agency, would make non-violence an organizing principle in our society. We should be aware of the scourge of domestic violence and the attitudes we bring into the home, he said. This initiative would bring out hope that is everybody’s birthright. “Everybody’s birthright is peace.”

I brought a pen with me at this stop, and I sat on a bar stool and took notes on the back of a flyer at the high counter running along one side of the room. This is about more than me, Dennis said, “You know that. Each of us makes the other possible. This is about a movement. About more than just one presidential election. It’s about each person being empowered to be president of his or her own life.

“Think for a moment about how the nation could be changed …peace, giving, sharing, each seeing in the other person aspects of themselves. There’s an opportunity here for society to grow. Interconnections, interrelationships create the context in which human spirit can be uplifted.”

The Department of Peace, he said, is an idea that comes from watching Congress make a decision about going to war.

This is the science of human relationships (which comes from FDR) -- science, metaphysics, spirituality is what we are talking about, he said.

During the question and answer session, someone asked about the Bush AWOL issue. Dennis answered that making an issue of how the candidate served 30 years ago was the wrong track. The question is what did we learn from 30 years ago, he said, not someone’s service record. We are getting into a war metaphor, who is more of a warrior, who is more patriotic, he argued. “It’s the wrong metaphor for this time and place.” And, too, he noted that if we go in the direction of dehumanizing even this president, we are going down the wrong path. This is what makes war possible. Charity for all, malice for none – these are words to lives by, he said.

Someone else asked about his lack of media coverage. His response was that we give the media so much power, yet we are all mediums. Word of mouth is a powerful medium. E-mail. He didn’t mention blogs, but that’s okay. Even with the campaign receiving less than one percent of the coverage it took third in Maine and Washington.

In closing, he said, “I want to thank you for sharing this experience.”

I reluctantly skipped out on the rest of the evening. One of the campaign organizers said the Apache was small and would probably be crowded due to its popular Tuesday night program. She said those who didn’t attend should check it out at some point, though, because it is where a lot is happening in Atlanta.

I gave my newly re-met friend directions to a gas station, told her it had been fun, but that I needed to get home. It was around 11. Luckily, she too blogs, and she described the rest of the night herself:

Next was an inner city hip hop club. The crowd was mostly black and male, mostly smoking marijuana, and drinking beer, and there was a band on stage, an MC who welcomed Dennis to the stage, and people shouted out, asked who Dennis was, said it was 'wack', crazy, until Dennis mentioned decriminalizing marijuana, then the place 'lit up'! One guy was smoking a small bit of a joint, passed it to a friend, all the while shaking his fist at Dennis, cheering wildly.

The rest of the time I couldn't believe Dennis had the balls to be there. By now his shirt sleeves rolled up, and his previous gentle manner, tailored to the peaceniks at the acoustic club, now loud, bombastic even, rolling out his platform, talking about living in cars as a kid, his family, the importance of having a home, the fact his uncles had been in prison, he was appealing to the 'inner city youth', clearly, and I don't think they heard a word.

Finally, that is what it comes down to: Will Dennis be heard? The man is working as hard as is humanly possible to get his message out, and our society is mostly deaf to it. The report in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution the day after his visit was a couple of paragraphs, maybe 200 words. It was condescending in its mention of Dennis’ third place finishes in Washington and Maine. It ended by reducing his supporters to child-like dreamers by quoting someone as saying “he’s so cute.” (by the way, remember all the debunking of blogs and how they ain’t journalism? Not to beat my own chest, but compare my report, and my friend’s, to the official media. Which is better journalism?)

At Eddie’s Attic, Dennis talked about evolutionary biology, that concept that Georgia school superintendent Kathy Cox would de-emphasize in favor of creationism. “They say there is a break, a leap where man began a dramatic spiral upward,” he said. “I think a similar social evolution is underway.”

Despite the Kathy Coxes, the Bushites, the corporate/neoliberal agenda, the MEDIA, and the constantly manufactured fear and hatred, I think he’s right. Go see the man if you get a chance.

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