A woman from another country recently wrote to me after reading one of my essays and said that all Americans were ignorant narcissistic war mongers. I disagreed with her. Then I watched the 9/11 commission hearings and interviews with the commissioners, and I was repulsed by what I heard. Republicans and Democrats were asking, "Why didn't we retaliate sooner? Why didn't we kill sooner?" instead of, "Why did this happen? What can we do to promote peace?"
As the war in Iraq escalates, no one in power is talking about peace. At the same time, the Bush Administration is systematically eroding women's reproductive rights with barely a peep of protest from the American populace. No one seems to notice that the current administration is dismantling laws that protect us and the environmental -- at least no one in the mainstream media. I started wondering if my letter writer was right? Are we a country of ignorant narcissistic war mongers?
Dennis J. Kucinich, one of the two remaining Democratic presidential candidates, talks about peace, the environment, and women's rights every day, even though the mainstream press doesn't cover him. When I heard he was coming to the Columbia River Gorge where I lived, I offered to help organize the event. I wanted to help create a venue where my neighbors could hear someone in politics speak about the issues we cared about.
Kucinich asked to meet peace activists before the event, so I spent Sunday evening calling local activists and inviting them to a potluck. Monday evening around 5:00 p.m. I went to a private home in Hood River, Oregon where I heartened to see most of the people I had called the night before stream into the house, carrying plates, bowls, pots filled with a variety of vegan dishes.
Not long after we arrived, Dennis Kucinich strode into the room. I happened to be standing in the middle of this room, alone, so he shook my hand first. In person, Dennis Kucinich has presence -- something which is not apparent on television. When he firmly shook my hand, he looked into my eyes. He did this with everyone. When he talked with us, he was there with us; he wasn't sliding away or looking for someone more important. I told him we had plenty of delicious food for him. Earlier in the day someone from the campaign office had asked me to pick up a dozen Clif bars for him. (Chocolate was all right but no raisins.) I told Kucinich we "even have some Clif bars for you." He smiled and said, "Then I guess I'm all set. Let's go."
A group of forty of us, children and adults, began eating together. When someone in the media actually talks about Dennis J. Kucinich, they nearly always mention that he is a vegan. "Vegan Democratic presidential candidate Congressman Dennis J. Kucinich..." Every other person in the Pacific Northwest is vegetarian, vegan, lactose-intolerant, allergic to grains, off carbs, or something. Everyone does their own thing, eating wise, so we don't understand why the media keeps pointing to Kucinich's dietary preferences. Why not then also say, "Carnivore President George Bush..."? In any case, I got a kick out of breaking bread with Dennis J. Kucinich, even though neither of us actually ate bread.
While we finished eating, Kucinich talked with us about the reasons he was still running. He spoke passionately, without notes. He warned that the war in Iraq could get bloodier. He said, "We don't want to exchange a Republican war for a Democratic war."
After dinner, all of us gathered with 200 hundred plus more people in the Grand Ballroom of a local hotel. Kucinich stepped onto the stage and told us he knew he was not going to get the nomination. "I can count," he said. "And I can figure..." A lot of attention was focused on Oregon right now, he said; if he could get delegates, he could influence the national Democratic platform. He said no one in D.C. was talking about peace. We're back to "bring 'em on," he said. "We all know where that leads." So far the war in Iraq had cost $200 billion, he said, and over 600 U.S. soldiers and 10,000 Iraqis were dead.
It was time, Kucinich said, for the abolition of all nuclear weapons, including those in this country. It was "time for the United States to join the rest of the world." He talked about creating a Department of Peace--the very notion of a Peace Department made most politicians extremely uncomfortable. Like many of us, he couldn't believe the direction our country was taking. Our destiny as a nation should be to achieve peace and sustainability. We needed a "reconciliation with nature." We needed to create a world "where peace is inevitable, where the human heart dwarfs war." He quoted Tennyson: "Tis not too late to seek a newer world."
If government was not responsive to the people and people stopped being involved, Kucinich said, then Lincoln's prayer for a "government of the people, by the people and for the people" becomes meaningless.
"We are the people we are waiting for," he said.
We roared our approval. I wondered if all this enthusiasm and energy would go anywhere: was anyone in power going to listen to Kucinich? To us? Could any of us actually make a difference?
Were the people in this room out of step with the rest of the nation? Or was the rest of the nation out of step with us? Or were the media outlets just not talking to or about people like us? They certainly had not covered the peace movement adequately, and the world seemed to believe the U.S. was filled with people who only wanted war. Were they right?
I looked around the room. I knew many of the people here. There was Paul; he was organizing a march for women's reproductive rights on April 25. Theresa helped organize this event tonight, plus she was on the steering committee of the peace group. Linda set up counter recruitment tables at her son's high school whenever the military showed up. Elena was a member of the public library board and struggled to protect patrons' intellectual freedoms. Another Paul was a liberal congressman who introduced Kucinich tonight. Barbara and another Linda tried to get the county to stop using pesticides. Scot was working with other community members to create a local currency. Ubaldo was helping start up a local multicultural radio station.
All over the country, groups of people just like us were working for peace, the environment, women's rights, and children's health and safety, too. I knew that, even if I never heard it on the nightly news. I needed to remember that fact and this night whenever I started to believe it was useless to keep trying.
"We are the people we are waiting for," Kucinich said.
I hoped he was right.
Kim Antieau is a writer and a peace and environmental activist. Her latest novel, 'Coyote Cowgirl', is now out in trade paperback. Her weblog is at: http://www.furiousspinner.com Her website is at: http://www.kimantieau.com