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Why the Antiwar Crowd Should Rally Behind Kucinich
What now? The question has hung over the antiwar movement like a thick fog. Activism has continued to grow in exciting directions, of course. But the impending election circus always sucks all the energy from otherwise rational people, who throw themselves into the quadrennial Dance of Death, tripping over each other with a curious zeal for candidates who don't share their interests-and who indeed, on both sides of the grisly political ledger, aim to co-opt or quash the antiwar fervor that is gripping the world. Enter Dennis Kucinich.
Despite the binary stupidity of a myopic press determined to judge it a failure, the incredible organizational and mobilizing power of the antiwar movement led unquestionably to the current stalemate and isolation of the U.S. imperial designs on the Middle East and beyond. Whether or not the war was stopped, it should now be clear that the massive global popular outcry prevented the validation of the war and its aftermath. The inspiring memory of tens of millions organized to take the streets on February 15 was an important milestone after all.
The question on everybody's mind was how to gain political power from all this heat. The heat, of course, is still there, and can be felt in the visceral reaction to Bush and the U.S. agenda from every corner of the globe. Let me make clear that I mean electoral power, change in conventionally elected leadership that has a chance of bringing about some of the changes we marched for.
It is an important distinction, one which may be lost on those who see their own hypno-induced march to the voting booth as their only means of political expression. There is power outside the electoral process, remember: organized labor, countless citizens' networks, the power to mobilize, protest and agitate. There had better be, too: as Chomsky has pointed out, the ruling class votes every fraction of a second with every click of the stock ticker. If we rely solely on elections to bring about change, we haven't got a prayer.
Kucinich may be the right link back to the electoral realm. True, most on the left feel that hope lies outside the party, through reforms bitterly opposed by the political status quo (again, with Kucinich being a striking exception). The Democratic Party, which has dispensed with a host of popular movements in its bloody history, is not the right venue, some argue, for fundamental change. And it should be apparent that only through the adoption of instant runoff voting, proportional representation, publicly financed campaigns, the removal of the skewed Electoral College supermajority and other democratic reforms, can we achieve a reality in which the Democratic Party faces the music. With serious pressure on the left, a reshaped party might be forced to act in coalition with newly emerging parties to promote a popular agenda.
But of course, it's not an either/or proposition. No agitation on any of these fronts should stop--and stop it needn't, given Kucinich's agenda. The failure to achieve such reforms may akin to what Bob Marley (channeling Haile Salasse) thought of the long-awaited defeat of racism: "until that day, the dream of everlasting peace, world citizenship, the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained."
Still, until that day, one of the two Behemoth Parties will control the executive branch at the head of the world's most powerful and dangerous superpower. In other words, the next president is going to be a Democrat. For many on the left, this is a reason to yawn. With a principled candidate like Kucinich in the race, however, it may be the spark that ignites the same passion on the left that Jackson's candidacy did sixteen years ago.
The timing is right, too. The continued occupation of Iraq is an unmitigated disaster, in which the core of the party (that is, the quisling Republicrat wing which has become the party) has decided once again to repeat the mistakes of the past. Vietnam was so much fun the first time, they must reason, why not do it all over again? Lost on this crowd is the inexorable logic of invasion and occupation: all the cards have been dealt, and the Queen of Hearts has already been turned up. Although Gandhi was hardly the first to resist occupation, his simple truth makes looking any further unnecessary. To quote the Mahatma: "The simple truth is that 350 thousand British cannot control 350 million Indians if the 350 million do not choose to be controlled."
Most candidates for president have blinded themselves to these simple timeworn truths, and we now face the seemingly inevitable future of a continued occupation led by a Democratic president who buys the line that we have no choice but to expand on the right wing's imperial lunacy for the sake of "national security." Again, forgive me if I garble a logic I can't follow: why not compound the atrocities we have already chalked up by committing thousands more?
There is, of course, the inevitable race caveat to be addressed. A winning coalition needs to reach beyond white progressives, and this is something that has proved incredibly difficult given the tortured history of race relations in this country. It is not at all a given that any white candidate can motivate the necessary participation to overwhelm the money and power of the right. It is a truism that "the people united will never be defeated." No one really doubts that--the problem has always been uniting the people.
It is a simple rule of majority/minority interaction that majorities take over things they like--this is why Black progressives reaching out to whites has advantages over white progressives reaching the other way. I am firmly convinced that we have no chance of winning without the attempt to build this coalition being at the very top of the agenda. To do that, we need to acknowledge the presence of the other black liberals in the race, and admit the failings of a liberal white candidacy where they exist. Sharpton and Mosely-Braun have impressive progressive credentials, and if one of their candidacies were to catch fire, they should receive the same support.
So why Kucinich? Ironically one of the main reasons for rallying behind Kucinich is eerily similar to the structural case being made for Dean: momentum is building for a true alternative to the right, and an online prairie fire has started around the Kucinich campaign. The grassroots organizing tool Meetup pegs him ahead of everyone but Dean in the online members count, and the campaign is growing so fast that distribution headaches are flaring up, slowing access to much requested campaign materials. He has yet to register in opinion polls, and may not until he surprises pundits in Iowa, New Hampshire and California. There is no earthly reason why the onLine
Left - mirror of the Radio Right - shouldn't do for Kucinich what they have already mistakenly done for Dean.
It's no cakewalk for sure. The stark reality is that the campaign will only be the beginning. President Kucinich will have to govern as he runs, tapping a huge wellspring of street power to actually pursue the goal of dismantling the apparatus of perpetual war. But the scaffolding is already in place, and there have been huge successes in mobilization as I mention above. In one intriguing example,
moveon.org - albeit a moderate organization-raised almost a million dollars in just a few days to help Texas Democrats fight the shameless GOP redistricting plan which aims to steal several more House seats just two years after the census. Imagine millions of activists agitating together for any of the changes in the progressive quiver, with a sympathetic ear in the executive branch.
The most insidious argument against Kucinich - if a bit circular and
disingenuous - is that he "can't win." I demur to go into detail, although a few points made here do touch on the subject. But anyone interested in my lengthy prior arguments on the subject can find them in
The Fire This Time and We Were Just
Talking. And speaking of Just Talking, it's time to move to the next step. The cards may have been dealt, but there's still a few wildcards left in the deck. So close to the 40th anniversary of the 1963 March On Washington, I can't help echoing Dr. King by closing with a line from a different Negro Spiritual: Get on Board, little children. The ark is a-gonna move.
© 2003 Daniel Patrick Welch. Reprint permission granted with credit and link to
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Welch lives and writes in Salem, Massachusetts, USA,
with his wife, Julia Nambalirwa-Lugudde. Together they run The
Greenhouse School. A writer, singer, linguist and activist,
he has appeared on radio [interview available
here] and can be available for further interviews. Past articles, translations are available at
danielpwelch.com. We would appreciate your linking to us.