As competition between democratic presidential candidates intensifies, students and residents in the Ithaca area are organizing themselves in support of Dennis Kucinich, the Ohio congressman billed as the ‘progressive choice’ for the Oval Office.
Ithacans for Kucinich, which has been campaigning on the candidate’s behalf since last summer and counts about 75 members, has more recently been joined by the Cornell group Students for Kucinich.
Kucinich, generally regarded as one of the most left-leaning of the democratic nominees, has maintained a staunch opposition to the war in Iraq and supports an immediate removal of troops stationed there. He also favors guaranteed universal health care, a repeal of the PATRIOT Act and withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization.
“It’s a good change; it’s a change that America needs,” said Mark Olynciw ’07, member of Students for Kucinich. “He’s an intellectual, he knows his views because they’re his own. They’re his personal opinions, they’re not determined by opinion polls.”
Although known for policy stances that are firmly left of center, Kucinich has the potential to appeal to a broad array of voters, according to his supporters.
“Kucinich is not a third party candidate,” said David Kraskow, spokesperson for Ithacans for Kucinich. “He could not be elected to Congress if he only represented the fraction of his constituency that calls itself ‘progressive,’ so I know he has the potential [for] a broader appeal.”
Kraskow’s organization has been working to publicize the Kucinich campaign through letter-writing, tabling at events such as the Progressive Festival and the Don Berrigan Peace Weekend and distributing bumper stickers and t-shirts.
Last Saturday, the group organized transportation for about 20 Ithacans to Washington D.C. in order to take part in a march against the continued presence of soldiers in Iraq.
“It was billed as a march ‘to end the U.S. occupation of Iraq,’ but it really brought together people who wanted to show their opposition to a whole range of activities of the Bush regime,” said march participant Joanna Green, who estimated that the rally drew several thousand. “The PATRIOT Act, the ill-conceived war on terrorism … the tax cuts, the budget deficit … and so on. There was a very strong Kucinich presence in D.C.”
Ithacans for Kucinich also organized a local benefit concert on Oct. 19, drawing around 80 participants and raising $1,000 for Kucinich’s campaign in ticket and t-shirt sales. Performers included cellist Hank Roberts, Patti Witten, Will Fudeman, Susan Lytle and A Fine Kettle of Fish. The concert was held in the upstairs gallery space of Autumn Leaves Bookstore, on the Ithaca Commons.
“The event was both fantastic as a fundraiser and a fun time,” Kraskow said.
Students for Kucinich member Josh Herbst grad compared Kucinich to another outspoken democrat, former Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.). “Everybody likes to say that Kucinich has no chance and that we’re wasting our time by supporting him. However, that’s the same thing they said about Paul Wellstone,” Herbst said. “Both were liberal democrats that were short in stature and given no chance to win. Both [were] dynamic speakers that shouted a lot and were very reminiscent of the old, angry labor progressives of the early 20th century.”
While Kucinich’s presidential bid has raised only $1.6 million during the previous quarter, a number which pales in comparison to the financial muscle behind some of the more prominent candidates, supporters believe that Kucinich’s strength lies in his ability to wage a low-cost, grassroots campaign.
“He’s built up allies all over the country,” Olynciw said. “They’re all working passionately — by word of mouth, by the internet.”
Kraskow said that even if Kucinich fails to reach the White House, the efforts made on his behalf will spur change on a smaller scale. “The Kucinich campaign galvanizes locals all over the country; these people turn around and work to elect progressives locally where candidates have a much higher success rate than their colleagues have at the national level.”
The two groups say that they may meet and work with each other in the future. Ithacans for Kucinich is currently planning to hold a second benefit concert in February as well as organizing a signature drive to get Kucinich’s name on the New York ballot.
Archived article by Jeff Sickelco