Friday, August 17, 2007

"God Bless Him"

The air conditioner was working hard at Harvey's Coffee Shop Bakery when Congressman Dennis Kucinich and his wife Elizabeth walked in this afternoon to shake two hands and sign one of the Granite State's most common pieces of memorabilia: the menu autographed by every candidate passing through. I stayed inside the building as Kucinich left, and for a moment wondered why he paused for a moment in the entryway once he walked outside.

I turned around to hear the store's owner smile and whisper to herself, "And he even closed the door, God bless him."

Instead of holding a number of events throughout Dover, NH, Kucinich--accompanied by his state manager, one reporter, one college videographer, and a volunteer--simply walked three blocks through town and stopped to talk to anyone who passed by. Two of the first people he noticed were a father and his young son, a boy named Robbie. It just so happened that Robbie had a question for the Congressman: what was he going to do about protecting animals? Mr. Kucinich and his wife crouched down to talk with him, and Dennis explained in simple terms how he would protect cows and other animals.

It doesn't take long to realize why Kucinich finds himself in a special place in the Democratic party. If you consider him solely on his experience, his strong record of voting his conscience, and his progressive measures to provide universal health care and an end to the war, and a consistent position against American militarism, he would appear to be the perfect Democrat. It seems, however, that the Democratic party, as well as the support for those like Kucinich, has moved elsewhere.

Very early on in this campaign, and going back years to his previous runs for president, Kucinich has been labeled as an outsider within his own party, considered more of a joke than a viable candidate. But only scanning the crowd assembled in his new office in Dover reveals a tremendous strength of his that I have seen nowhere else the past few months: in equal numbers as older voters and New Hampshire citizens were a collection of high school students. Instead of standing in the back and keeping quiet, a member of the group asked Congressman Kucinich a unique question--

"What will you do about the 'Invisible Children' crisis in Uganda?"

It took a moment before Kucinich undersood what the girl was talking about, but his wife, having just returned from Uganda (did I forget to mention she's spent her life volunteering in India, Tanzania, and the British Red Cross' refugee unit?), was able to passionately and adeptly answer the question, after which Congressman Kucinich provided a relevant postscript on achieving "strength through peace" in places like Uganda, Afghanistan, Iraq, Peru, and to a collective nod of agreement, New Orleans.

I'm aware that the One Campaign and the "I'm a Health Care Voter" movements in New Hampshire have not formally endorsed candidates for the '08 election, but I had the pleasure of speaking with representatives from both campaigns, and there's no doubt Kucinich stands out and has earned their respect for his commitment on the issues they are trying to shed light on.

I'm not easily won over by a candidate's words, but I allow myself to absorb the atmosphere that surrounds anyone running for president that visits New Hampshire. I've picked up on the energy of a Clinton rally, feelings of liveliness and wariness with John McCain, but the sensation of walking with a candidate down the street instead of following behind fills me with hope and reassurance that there are still individuals in our government who serve the people and don't feel the need to set themselves apart.

Just as Kucinich made sure to close the door at the bakery, I held the door open for him and his wife as they entered the campaign office. If I can't guarantee him my vote, I felt I would show him the respect he so willingly shows others.

(all photos: © 2007 by Luke N. Vargas. All Rights Reserved.)

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