MANCHESTER, N.H.–Stepping into the Dennis Kucinich rally at the University of New Hampshire on Sunday night, the first thing to hit you is the stench of male body odor. Not the “man, it’s hot on the dance floor, I think I’ll take my sweater off” kind of odor, but the “I use organic deodorant” kind.
The second thing that hits you is the aroma of marijuana. Not the “Dude, want a toke?” variety, but the “No, officer, we just went outside for some fresh air” kind.
Signs hang from the ceiling along each wall. “Vote Kucinich 4 Healthcare.” Tables full of bumper stickers, T-shirts, buttons, hats, party masks, glitter, hemp products, and campaign literature line the walls (to free up floor space for dancing). “Billionaires for Bush: Small Government, Big Wars” reads one sticker. “Free Hip Hop” reads another. The 1986 David Bowie film Labyrinth plays on the wall above the stage.
Strolling around the room, one finds a mix of deadheads, granolas, stoners, peaceniks, and the occasional UNH student who stopped by to check out the music before quickly leaving. I stopped to ask three students why they came, the music or the candidate? “The music!” said the first one. “The candidate!” said another. The third one slowly stepped back into the darkness to avoid the question.
The building belonged to the taxpayers of New Hampshire, but the party belonged to the out-of-state Kucinich campaign workers. It was easier to find someone from California than from Durham, the little New Hampshire town that is home to UNH, one of the top party schools in the United States.
Dylan Huber, a 31-year-old from Berkeley, drove the Kucinich “Democreation” bus from California to New Hampshire. Dylan, who usually doesn’t vote Democrat, got turned on to Kucinich by a friend.
“I vote Green, or I write somebody in,” he said. “I’m pretty much a nonbeliever.” Asked what that meant, he said, “What’s the word? Disenfranchised. That’s me.”
What is so appealing about Kucinich to make one drive a bus cross-country for him?
“It’s pretty contiguous, his views. Everything he talks about comes out of the idea of sustainability. After hearing Noam Chomsky talk, it’s kind of difficult to follow, even though he’s talking down to a layman like me.”
But Kucinich is more clear, Huber said. He wants to make the world better by ending corruption and selfishness in politics. “What Dennis wants is to remove those kinds of manipulations and actions.”
It took six days to drive the bus to New Hampshire. That included one stop in Des Moines, to campaign for Kucinich, and one in Kucinich’s hometown of Cleveland.
“I don’t even remember what we did in Cleveland,” Huber explains.
At Thursday night’s Democratic-candidate debate, Kucinich supporters from all over the country were outside holding signs. I couldn’t find one who was from New Hampshire.
“We came from Colorado,” said Dara Blumenhein of Boulder. Her companion, Mel Rensier of Boulder, said “Our goal is to raise the issue of youth politics and music.”
Danielle Feris of New York City stood in the snow holding a Kucinich sign for hours.
“I love Dennis because he shows me how we can have a world where I can be free to be who I am, I can feel safe, and everyone in the country can be safe and happy. Um, yeah.”
Emerson Running Sky, also of New York City, said he hitchhiked to New Hampshire just to hold signs for Kucinich. “He will help create a world of peace instead of bombing people into submission,” he said.
“Peace and love, that’s what he represents for me.”
Asked how he would get back to New York, Running Sky thought for a moment.
“Probably hitching. Or catching a ride with all of these wonderful people.”
In case you think these people sound a little, well, nuts, consider that not far off were the Lyndon LaRouche supporters. One of them handed me a booklet with a picture of Dick Cheney on the cover. “You know who that is on the cover?” asked her friend, poking her head out of the back window of a rented black GMC Yukon. “It’s Lucifer.” She wasn’t kidding.
That’s why, when I approached some Kucinich supporters in the parking lot, unwittingly brandishing the LaRouche booklet in my right hand, they picked up their pace and tried to walk away. After convincing them I was a reporter, they confided, ” The LaRouche people are driving us crazy! They’re really aggressive to us.”
Campaign activists don’t just try to convert the locals. They try to convert each other. And the poor peaceful Kucinich people have been hounded relentlessly by the LaRouche supporters, who don’t like to take “no, thanks, you fruitcake” for an answer.
Back at the UNH rally for Kucinich, which was dubbed a “party,” not a rally, the scene was more laid back. No one pressed his views on anyone else. Everything was “cool, man.” Derek Garcia, a 22-year-old volunteer from Albuquerque, said he was first attracted to Kucinich by “his courageous stance against the 1972 ABM treaty, which begins to allow the weaponization of space.”
In addition, he said he liked Kucinich’s honesty and agrees with most of his positions.
“I agree with 99 percent of his positions, except flag burning.” (Kucinich is against it.) “He’s the only one who voted against the Patriot Act, which pretty much shreds the Bill of Rights.”
Michael Bedar, 25, of the Tree of Life Rejuvenation Center somewhere in California, also rode in the bus to New Hampshire. He said that Kucinich first appealed to him because of “civil liberties” concerns. But then he got interested in “peace, sustainable energy.” For Bedar, his discovery of Kucinich was serendipitous. “I found my spiritual side right before I got into those issues,” he said.
Bedar was taking tickets at the door. The price of entry to the event, which featured guitarist Tim Reynolds, whose name you’ve probably never heard before, was a $4 donation to the Kucinich campaign. A scruffy student in a big, black coat walked up to Bedar and held out a dollar.
“I’ve only got a dollar.”
“That’s cool. Just help clean up after, or something,” Bedar said, taking the dollar and letting the student pass.
Beatrix Hallowell, a 32-year-old German national who lives in New Hampshire with her American husband and three children, was passionate about Kucinich.
“Of course he talks about peace! That includes everything.”
She explained how it is important that the United States focus on helping the world’s poor, such as keeping people in the Himalayas who have calluses on their feet from walking barefoot all the time.
She discovered Kucinich after hearing him interviewed on New Hampshire Public Radio a few weeks ago. She said she agrees with Kucinich on almost everything.
“He believes we should pay the Iraqis for the destruction. I don’t believe that. If we stay over there, this country will have no money!”
Reminded that she had just said America needs to help the world’s poor and that some of the Iraq money will go to build schools and buy medical supplies, she said, “Yeah!” and rolled her eyes. “I think most of the money goes into the military.”
But how will the Iraqi people get back on their feet? “Just like every other country. Do you look at North Korea and China and ask how they do it?”
Hallowell said the United States should stop spending money on defending the country from terrorists.
“I’m not afraid of terrorists! Spending money on homeland security, what a joke! I don’t need that. I have three children, I’m struggling hard.”
One of the few long-time New Hampshire residents at the event was Dave Anderson, a 24-year-old humanities graduate from UNH. He was attracted to Kucinich because “I feel the idea that you can defeat terrorism through war is absurd.” Also, “I enjoy his ideas on medical insurance and education. They should be human rights. Everyone should have equal standing to begin.”
Another New Hampshire resident, 27-year-old Eric Wentworth, said he’d “been flip-flopping between candidates for a while, trying to decide who’s going to win and who’s not going to win. And I realized it really doesn’t matter. This guy stands for what I believe in. I have to vote my conscience.”
He also really liked the event. “It’s pretty hoppin!”
Brent Adams, 37, of Santa Cruz, California, said the Kucinich supporters are “trying to be the change–this is Gandhi, by the way–that we would like to see in the world.”
Adams said he’s “livin’ in a tent, don’t have to pay no rent.” He wore a multicolored Viking hat with braids hanging from each side. He was standing by the entrance to the event when a man who called himself “Vermin” approached. Vermin wore a ZZ-Top-looking beard, Mad-Max-style shoulder pads, and a long rubber boot for a hat. He said he was running for president on the “time-travel research platform.” If elected president, he would fund time-travel research so we could “go back and kill Hitler.” As he was standing near Adams, wearing the Viking hat and supporting the candidate who wants to create a Department of Peace so that all the world will learn to live in harmony, a man wearing a Kucinich shirt pointed to “Vermin” handing out literature, and said, “Who would take anything from that idiot?”
Kucinich himself arrived at the party after 10:00 and roused the crowd with phrases like, “Are you ready for free college tuition?!” and “Are you ready for social and economic justice in a nation that doesn’t have any?!”
Speaking of his appeal to young people, the crowd was almost entirely under 30, Kucinich said, “I hold in my heart that rebellious spirit of youth that demands change.”
He told the crowd, “You’re not content with the dark visions that people spread across the world.”
Urging them to get out and vote on primary day, he led a raucus chorus of, “Tuesday! Our Day!” before breaking into a funky little dance then taking over the drumsticks from a supporter who was pounding on a plastic oil barrel with foam mallets. (It really happened. I have it on video.)
After Kucinich left, the party calmed and people began to file out into the subzero New Hampshire air. Walking by the “Democreation” bus, which was parked in front of the event, one student summarized her thoughts about the evening to a friend.
“It’s an awesome idea,” She said. “A world where everyone lives in peace and harmony, where there’s no war. It’s a f***ing awesome idea! But you know what? It’s never gonna happen. A billion dollars in my pocket is an awesome idea, too. But you know what? It’s never gonna happen.”
–Andrew Cline is editorial-page editor of the Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News.