Page 25


FEATURE Dennis Takes the Live Music Capital What’s so funny ’bout Peace, Love and Dennis Kucinich? BY JAKE BERNSTEIN AI\(/’ e need to help people think with their hearts,” Ohio Congressman Dennis Kucinich tells the collection of 20 or so reporters, union leaders, volunteers, and the generally curious. It’s about 10:45 a.m. on the first Saturday in January. Kucinich had arrived the previous afternoon for two days of Austin events. On Friday, he delivered his signed application to register for the March 9 Texas ballot as a Democratic presidential candidate. Saturday would be a full-bodied affair, beginning with the morning’s meeting with the AFL-CIO and ending with an all-star fundraising concert billed as “Willie Nelson and Friends.” Kucinich’s wide eyes and earnestness help inject a little life into the fluorescently bright meeting hall at the downtown Austin AFL-CIO building. The lighting does little to soften features that make the diminutive candidate look like a character out of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Still, Kucinich hits all the right notes in the progressive songbook. “There is a scam going on right now in this country,” he says. Wealth is being distributed upward. Wall Street looks like “a casino house.” We need public works projects to increase employment and rebuild America. The flow of jobs exiting the country has to be stopped by reasserting national soy ereignty over trade. He promises when elected to end the nation’s relationship with the World Trade Organization and to pull the country out of NAFTA. There should be universal health care and a focus on developing renewable energy sources. Kucinich is the candidate who will stand up for average workers against the power of global corporations. “There are no strings, no key in back;’ he says. “People will have a president who is independent.” But the candidate reserves most of his talk for Iraq. “The longer we are there, the deeper we will get;’ he warns. Despite polls that indicate Americans are more concerned about the economy than foreign policy, Kucinich believes Iraq will be the defining issue in the election. As the selfproclaimed peace candidatehe organized opposition to the war in Congress and vows to create a cabinet level Department of Peacethe 57-year-old vegan insists he is best positioned to offer leadership on the subject. \(Does it take a of Iraq on a lust for oil and pledges that in the first 90 days of his presidency, he will remove U.S. troops and replace them with U.N. peacekeepers. In order to gain the trust of spurned foreign allies, the U.S. will open up the contracting process and renounce efforts to privatize the desert nation. Kucinich offers his own background to explain his empathy for working people. The son of a truck driver and the oldest of 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 1/30/04