Elizabeth and Dennis Kucinich at the Ojai Retreat on Sunday
By Nao Braverman
Ojai received its first visit in recent memory from a legitimate presidential candidate Sunday afternoon.
U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), who practices yoga every morning, follows a vegan diet, and has been an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq since its inception, has ideals that are perfectly in line with many in Ojai’s liberal community. And though his radical proposals go against the tide of decisions made by his fellow politicians, more than 100 local residents filed into a room at The Ojai Retreat on Sunday to listen to him speak, with only a week’s notice.
Instead of attacking other politicians, a perenially popular political tactic, Kucinich focuses, instead, on infusing spiritual philosophy into his rhetoric. An uncompromising anti-war candidate, Kucinich believes that peace begins within.
“When we get in tune with our interconnectedness, we become aware of our responsibilities to one another,” he told the audience. Those responsibilities include striving toward peaceful solutions to international conflicts, making amends for war crimes committed to the Iraqi people by offering reparations, and withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq.
Though he does not rely on attacking his competitors, he rarely seems to shy away from standing up to them or to his fellow congressmen. Leader of the opposition to the war in Iraq, he was the first presidential candidate to outspokenly criticize President Bush’s war policies when he first ran as a Democratic candidate in the 2004 elections.
“I don’t feel that I have to have the comfort of the majority when I speak,” said the congressman who stood his ground and voted against the Patriot Act despite its support from his colleagues.
Kucinich, who was elected as Cleveland’s youngest mayor nearly 30 years ago, lost support after deciding not to sell the city’s municipally owned electric system to its private competitor. Banks, financially tied to private electric companies, then refused to extend the city’s credit, plunging Cleveland into default.
Years later he was elected to the Ohio Senate on the strength of Cleveland’s expanded electric system, which now provides low-cost power to almost half of the city’s residents.
“You have to have a street sense in government because they will try to tell you that night is day,” he told the audience. “One thing I will bring to the White House is street sense. I didn’t get tricked into voting for the war in Iraq, I will not be conned.”
While his most of his speech had a spiritual undertone, Kucinich did offer concrete solutions to current issues.
In response to questions from the public about health care Kucinich said that if elected, he would propose universal Medicare that covers everyone, young and old alike. He cited a Harvard University study that showed that if overhead costs were lowered, in conjunction with a slight income tax increase, the program could afford such an expansion.
His wife, Elizabeth, also well-versed in Kucinich’s campaign proposals, joined in and added that universal health care works well in England, her home country, as well in many other parts of the world.
In support of the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty, Kucinich, were he elected, would make an effort to change America’s energy supply from oil-based energy to solar energy, and restructure the Department of Agriculture to promote sustainable agricultural practices.
To improve America’s schools, he said he would cut the bloated Pentagon budget by 15 percent to fund a universal pre-kindergarten to give all young children an early start on reading and art skills. Arts programs need to be expanded in schools, he told members of the audience.
“The arts reconnect us with what it means to be human,” he said. “And I want to make sure we have a way of doing that.”
To improve the economy Kucinich proposes to cancel the North American Free Trade Agreement and generate new jobs through the expanded, better managed health care system. He also proposes the creation of a fourth branch of government, a money branch, so that the country does not have to borrow money to put into circulation and sustain a debt-based system.
But above all his speech, “The Path to Peace for the U.S. and the World,” was focused on promoting cooperation between nations and obliterating nuclear weapons.
In 2001, Kucinich proposed a U.S. Department of Peace, a cabinet-level department of the executive branch which would promote peace domestically and internationally through nonviolent communication education and mediation programs.
David Krieger, president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation in Santa Barbara, chimed in applauding Kucinich for spreading a hopeful message to America’s disillusioned youth, empowering a new generation of peacekeepers.
Kucinich came to Ojai Sunday in response to an invitation from a friend of Ulrich Brugger, executive director of the Ojai Retreat, after the cancellation of a Fox news debate. Sponsored by the Ventura and Santa Barbara Committees to Elect Dennis Kucinich President 2008 and the Ojai Democratic Club, the event was well attended and overbooked.
Kucinich and his wife enjoyed a vegan squash soup and burdock root dish prepared by local cook Maria Elena Nava before the speech and later returned to enjoy refreshments with supporters at the local retreat, Glen Muse.
In the slightly more intimate setting, in the cozy fireside hearth of the retreat, Elizabeth said she was reminded of her second meeting with Kucinich where they sat by the fire, talked for hours and decided to get married.
“Just know that this campaign is really fueled by love,” she said. “And just imagine what it would be like to really have love at the White House.”
Though CNN and Wall Street Journal polls still show Kucinich’s support at a low 3 percent, Kucinich said he has seen many Americans yearning for a true change that only his campaign offers.
Elizabeth and Dennis Kucinich at the Ojai Retreat on Sunday