US Congressman Dennis Kucinich spoke before 800 enthusiastic supporters – and hundreds more standing outside in the streets – Monday, at the Capitol Theater in Olympia. Kucinich was the featured speaker at a Peace Rally sponsored by the Olympia Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Olympia Chapter of Veterans for Peace. Kucinich’s topic, “The True Cost of War,” was well-received.
Kucinich addressed two types of costs; first the financial, and then later the psychological, what he called the cost of “what war does to the soul of a nation.”
The direct and indirect costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are staggering. Kucinich invoked economist Joseph Stiglitz, whose book, “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” outlines the direct expenses of combat operations in the Middle East, but also the macro-economic effects of the war world-wide, such as increased oil prices. Kucinich said that there are even more economic costs to the war, such as the increase of domestic spending for homeland security and the steady rise in military appropriations that are outside of war costs but are a response to a national state of fear and the endless war against terrorism.
“There is no questions about defending ourselves from real threats,” Kucinich said, “but we already spend more in defense than the rest of the world combined.”
In terms of specifics, Kucinich railed most against the war in Iraq, but he also spoke against the war in Afghanistan. These conflicts, along with the Global War on Terrorism, have formed what the congressman called “the endless war.”
“The government lied to the people to take us into the war in Iraq,” Kucinich said to loud applause, and recited a list of deceits in the build-up to going to war, such as the absence of any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq despite the Bush Administration’s insistence, the forging of intelligence documents, and improper reliance on tainted intelligence reports, particularly those of an Iraqi source named “Curveball” that Colin Powell used as primary evidence for war when he spoke before the UN.
In response, Kucinich called for a National Commission of Reconciliation to uncover the truth about the Iraq war.
“Every one in the Bush Administration must be held accountable,” Kucinich said, and added,” America will never escape the stench of that war until Mr. Bush, Mr. Chaney and all the others are brought to justice.”
Continuing, Kucinich declared, “The lies were deliberate. We have to insist on justice.”
Kucinich stated that the nation has to heal from the war, and the best way to begin is to imagine what America was before 9-11.
“9-11 was appropriated for the purpose of creating war,” Kucinich said. “But remember what America was before 9-11, before America wanted to become an empire.”
Kucinich also illustrated how the cost of an endless war diverts the resources needed for improving America, such as suppressing funding to education, health care, financial security for seniors, and rebuilding the country’s infrastructure.
Kucinich also said that financing the endless war threatens our democracy, and offered the Patriotic Act as a glaring example of how civil rights have been trampled and America transformed into a “national security state.”
“The FBI now has the power to ask anyone for any reason, for any papers or documentation about any part of their life – and all without any kind of judicial review,” Kucinich said.
“We have to insist on a return to our democratic ideals,” Kucinich said to loud applause. “What kind of country do we want?”
The congressman then suggested a string of vital social conditions: “No more lies, no more endless war, bring the troops home, take care of things at home – create jobs, health care for all, retirement security, free education for all…and peace.”
Kucinich, a Presidential candidate in 2004 and 2008, then launched into a description of his plan for a cabinet-level Department of Peace.
“Why do we accept the level of violence in the world?” he asked, explaining that the impulse to violence is much greater than just war-making by nations, but includes violent crime, domestic violence, child abuse, gang warfare and bullying in schools.
In a simple but eloquent comment, Kucinich revealed the keystone of his message: “I believe we can educate our children to see other kids as an extension of themselves.”
This statement opened the questions of changing consciousness in society and in ourselves.
“We can’t wait for the government to change and become peace-loving,” he said. “We have to transform ourselves; become the ones we are waiting for.”
The congressman then expanded his remarks to address the prospects – and difficulty – of changing ourselves.
“How peaceful are you? How peaceful are your families?” he asked the audience. “It starts with us. When we change and our pace of change becomes more rapid, the world will begin to change quickly, and then governments will be compelled to catch up with their people.”
In later remarks during the question and answer period, the congressman expanded his thoughts on change when he revealed how he had to become a vegan to heal his Crone’s disease, a serious intestinal disorder.
“Changing what you eat is a very big deal,” he said. “If you can do that, you can do just about anything.”
Also during the Q and A session, Kucinich was asked for his “exit strategy” for getting out of Iraq, where we still have 50,000 soldiers, and Afghanistan.
“Just go,” he said to an audience stunned by his simple response, and then roared in laughter when he offered a delayed, one-word addendum, “Quickly.”
The congressman offered some expanded remarks on the subject. Regarding Iraq he said, “You can’t be in and out at the same time,” and for Afghanistan he declared, “An occupation always creates an insurgency.”
As for the transition to peace, Kucinich announced, “It’s been said before, ‘Beat swords into plowshares.’”
To facilitate the transition to a robust peace-time economy, Kucinich suggested that one of the first steps should be to repeal all trade agreements that allow US jobs to leave the country.
“We have to have real fair trade, with real rules – insist on environmental and health standards for international goods, and require compliance with an international standard on human rights and worker rights.”
In an exchange that caught many in the audience by surprise, Kucinich was asked if he would consider relocating to Washington state.
The congressman responded by explaining that his congressional district in Ohio is subject to disbanding because the recent census indicates that Ohio has lost population, thus requiring the reduction of two congressional districts within the state. Kucinich said that the Republican-controlled Ohio legislature, which will re-draw the congressional districts this year, has intimated his could disappear.
“I’m definitely running for Congress,” Kucinich declared, “ I just don’t know where my district will be…..Coming to Olympia, hmmmm, it’s intriguing,” he said, smiling.
Washington state will be adding one congressional district for the same reasons that Ohio is losing one – population growth.
After Kucinich finished his remarks, one of his former presidential candidacy staff, Eatonville’s Kayle Seville, told the Mountain News that the congressman has strong ties to Washington state, and that he had lived in Graham for a year in the early 1980s, “back when he was with Shirley MacLaine.”
Most audience members appeared pleased to have been at the rally.
“It’s so good that someone tells the truth,” said Carrie Potts, who drove from Kalama to see Kucinich. “I just love him.”
“I love listening to him speak,” said Kayla Seville, the aforementioned Kucinich worker. “He’s saying stuff that no one else is saying.”
“He’s inspiring,” said Kerrie Lynn Nichols, the Artistic Director of the Olympia Peace Choir, which opened the peace rally with a rendition of 1960 anthems, such as ‘(C’mon People, Now,) Let’s Get Together.’ “His message really reflects our values.”
Perhaps the comment most accurately describing the response to Mr. Kucinich’s address was delivered directly to the congressman by the woman fielding his questions and answers, “I just want to thank you, so much. You have really spoken to our hearts.”