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What's Dennis Kucinich really trying to do?


Why was Dennis Kucinich here last weekend, still campaigning for president? Short answer: North Carolina's Democrats vote for delegates to the national convention on Saturday, April 17, and the Ohio congressman would like to win one or two. To do so, he'll need at least 15 percent of the votes.

If this seems unlikely, remember--extremely low turnout expected, so every Kucitizen counts. In recent weeks, Kucinich has finished second in the Alaska and Hawaiii caucuses, boosting him to 30 delegates so far (out of more than 4,000). Well, OK, that isn't it.

Medium answer, he's trying to show progressive voters that there's hope for the Democratic party--no need for Ralph Nader--and push John Kerry a little to the left on issues from Iraq (time to hand it to the U.N. and get out; we're just digging outselves a deeper hole, Kucinich argues, and finally, belatedly, the media is starting to tell the truth about it after having been "embedded" with the military), to health-care reform (Kucinich wants health care reorganized so that nonprofit insurers replace the for-profits and government is the "single-payer" setting standards of practice, establishing budgets and paying the bills).

Kerry is "listening," he says, cautiously. "He has his own way of looking at the world. And I respect that."

Long answer: Kucinich is campaigning for activism, which has nothing to do with one election and everything to do with optimism that over the long, long run, things can change for the better. "Elections come and go, you know?" he said. "Activism is a way of life."

So before he went on stage Sunday afternoon in Carrboro, Kucinich spent the morning at the Eno River Universalist Unitarian Church in Durham, meeting with about three dozen members of the People's Alliance and allied progressive activists from around the state. And the most interesting exchanges weren't about specific issues. They were about keeping hope alive.

As various questioners bemoaned the state of Congress and the Bush Administration on this issue or that, Kucinich urged on them his view that activists, by organizing locally, can change the public's mind--"what Jung called the collective unconscious."

"It's not that politics is a hopeless mess," he said. "Our involvement at the local level can make a difference."

But when Ron Dellums quit, said Teresa El-Amin, a leading Durham activist, he said he just couldn't keep hitting his head against a brick wall. Dellums preceded Kucinich as Congress's most outspoken progressive member. So, El-Amin asked, how do you keep hitting the wall?

Kucinich had been sitting in a big circle to this point, calmly counseling perspective. But now he got up, gesturing to the brick wall behind him. He could keep hitting his head, he said. He could walk away, or try to get around it. But what he does instead is imagine "a different reality than the one that's holding that brick wall up" in the first place.

"I see a different reality and I call it forward," he said.

At this, another woman thanked Kucinich "for your heart and your campaign" and for a moment choked up as she did. "Not once did you have a negative energy about it," she said, regaining her balance. "You were channeling your energy in clear and constructive ways."

That's why Kucinich came.

Someone asked him if he'd like to be on the ticket with Kerry. He just shook his head a little and laughed, not needing to say, hey, we're still in the real world.

What about John Edwards? we asked. "I think he'd help the ticket a lot," Kucinich said. "I like John Edwards. I like him a lot ... and I think he would have been a good president. But John Kerry has the nomination."

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