If Congressman Dennis Kucinich becomes simply Dennis Kucinich sans the “Congressman” his value to the peace movement need not diminish.
I admit it’s been nice having someone in Congress who would say and do what he would. There have been and remain other relatively strong voices for peace, but none as strong as Kucinich’s. His resolutions have forced the debates. His bills have changed the conversation. His questioning of witnesses has afflicted the comfortable while seeking to comfort the afflicted. Perhaps Congressman Norman Solomon will pick up the baton. Time will tell.
But when I worked for Dennis Kucinich on his 2004 presidential campaign, I spent a lot of time talking with him, and his strength was not primarily his official title. Some elected officials draw on the strengths of their staff members and have fairly little to say on their own. Kucinich was not only willing to take creative and daring positions that stuck his neck out, but it was he who came up with them. He knew more about the issues he worked on than any of his staff on the hill or on the campaign trail. He thought more deeply. He cut more quickly to the core of a problem. He brainstormed more rapidly and more radically. The peace movement cannot afford to lose Kucinich’s contributions just because Congress does.
Delegating authority was never Kucinich’s strong suit; he did amazingly well nonetheless by drawing on his own abilities. He worked extremely well with people, formed coalitions well, bridged divisions well, and overcame remarkable hurdles. Those who complain that he failed to bring the rest of Congress along with him and was sometimes out ahead on his own will now get a chance to see whether a Congress without even that one voice is really an improvement. Those who complained that Kucinich made compromises and caved in on healthcare will now get to see what good it does us to lose even a rhetorical voice for peace and social justice in the halls of our legislature. Those who alleged that Kucinich’s function was to make the Democratic party seem better than it really was will now get the chance to witness all the Democrats-right-or-wrong partisans remaining right where they were even with Kucinich conveniently out of the way.
But the peace movement has a chance here that ought not to be missed. I have not discussed this with Kucinich and have no idea what he’s planning. But when a corporate hack retires from Congress he or she is eagerly courted by the think tanks of the corporate lobbies. When a peace activist is forced out of Congress (an extreme rarity since there are almost no peace activists in there to be forced out) despite the overwhelming support of the people of Cleveland, Ohio, what should the response from the national and international peace movement be? We need Kucinich’s voice to remain loud or even to grow more full-throated outside of the confines of our nation’s capital of corruption.
We don’t need a leader to follow. We are better off with many leaders than one. We don’t need a messiah. But we need every talented and dedicated laborer for peace that can be found, and there are few that meet that description better than Kucinich does. If you’re planning a peace conference, I recommend trying to get him there. If you’re trying to figure out how to bring outside public pressure to bear on an opaque and antidemocratic system, it might not hurt to draw on the insights of someone who’s been inside the rotten festering heart of the empire and lived to tell the tale. It doesn’t happen often that someone decent gets elected or unelected. We ought to consider what opportunities such events present us with.