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Herding Ducks"

These are some musings on the personal experiences of being involved with the grass roots, indy-media, blog and e-mail driven campaign for president by Dennis Kucincih. In Portland there is a perfect fit between Kucinich and Oregonians, both independent and beholden to no one. But we're a strange lot here in Cascadia with our complete suspicion of anything organized. It's a lot like 'Herding Ducks'.
"Herding Ducks"

I had never heard that expression before moving to Oregon twelve years ago. It made me laugh out loud in stodgy linguistics class when a fellow student first used that phrase. The image, wild independent creatures flapping and fluttering as some hapless individual attempted to corral their boundless energy for her or his own purpose, imprinted itself on my mind's eye. Of course, back then, I was sympathizing with the person whose task it was to bring order to the ducks, never realizing that as time went by in this web-footed region of our nation that I was becoming 'the other'.

Independence is the hallmark of the people of this part of America. It's our best trait and it's our worst trait. We tend not to travel in packs and we are suspicious of those who do. We want others to see the world through our eyes but we are skeptical of any growing consensus. We love new, radical ideas and disdain those who cling to tradition, but we eschew those same edgy ideas when we perceive others as 'jumping on board'. In Cascadia, the critical mass required to turn any innovation into yesterday's news is so exceedingly small, rooting the seeds of real change is almost impossible. But 'seeds of change' is what our community is demanding.

Of course less than fifty percent of the voters in the last federal election supported George W. Bush. Some exceedingly good sports decided to accept the dubious outcome of 2000 and did what they perceived as their patriotic duty, supported the person who occupied the Office of the President. Americans pride themselves on being good sports, and they are. They're team players.

Many more individuals, however, have never accepted the validity of the Supreme Court ruling and most of these people have become more, not less disgruntled as time has gone by. These people, for the most part, see their patriotic duty defined as an attempt to honor the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and in doing so opposed any number of policy measures instigated by the current administration that they perceive as damaging the pillars of American life.

Maybe it is those trailblazers, the ones who are independent minded to begin with, the ones willing to be branded 'poor losers' or 'bad sports', risking not being liked by those whose opinions others courted, who have begun recently to trade in their discomfort with the political system for a chance to make a significant difference, or maybe it is just the right moment in history for such action, but the seeds of change are being sown right here in River City.

And so we come to the campaign of Dennis Kucinich (kü sĭn′ ĭch), Congressman from Ohio, who is igniting the imagination of millions across this country. What Dennis Kucinich is and isn't, is so much like what Oregonians are themselves- independent and beholden to no one! Because the Kucinich campaign takes no corporate contributions and because personal donations are limited by law, this politician is answers to no one but his conscious, and this resonates loudly across this land and especially in the valley from Portland to Eugene.

The Kucinich for President campaign ( http://www.kucinich.us/) has been steadily growing against all odds since the first of this year. Dennis Kucinich simply doesn't look the part. A man, average in stature without the movie star looks, he seems hardly the type to rock a nation. But 'against all odds' is the underlying theme of his entire life, rising from the hardships of a large family in a poor, working class neighborhood to become the youngest mayor of a major city when he was sworn in a mayor of Cleveland Ohio in 1977, at the age of thirty-one.

It is the 'long-shot' of this campaign that seems to appeal. It is those individuals who are willing to defy the pundits who predict 'four more years'. There is a grass-roots movement right here in Oregon that has drawn the line in sand and said enough is enough. It's not just the lackluster economy or the intractable State government, it's not only the sad condition of our educational and health care systems, and it's not simply the attack on the environment or our State's rights to choose death with dignity, but it's the overriding belief by so many that we are at a turning point in the history of our State and country, and we don't like what we see ahead.

TheWar on Iraq has been a catalyst for much of this frustration.. Many people firmly believe that deficiencies at the State level are in some major way a product of the long range commitment of the Bush administration to an unrelenting war on terrorism. It is time to reprioritize. It is time to place peace, education and healthcare above institutionalized violence.

The support for Kucinich seems to have come out of nowhere. I first heard him speaking on C-Span in a discussion sponsored by the Marion Wright Edelman's Children's Defense Fund in very early spring. A breath of fresh air, a bolt of lightening. And for a few weeks I wandered around trying to find someone else, anyone else who had heard of him. It was my brother-in-law from the Bay area who first recognized the name, then a fellow member of CodePink, next an article on Yahoo and finally, months later there were several hundred people cramming the law offices and boardroom of Greg Kafoury on a beautiful Sunday morning in early July.

Overflowing. The crowd began to gather more than an hour early. The doors opened early. The organizers were clearly surprised. They had arranged seating for eight. There was one elevator working and the stairwells were locked so the line snaked out into the street. They took out the chairs first. But there was not enough room. Then the boardroom table was removed, and the big potted plants were shuffled to one side. Still not enough. First we sat on the floor but then we had to stand to make room for more. Someone opened the windows and a cheer went up. People filled the hallway that ran right angle to the room. Now the crowd in the hall coalesced, no movement forward was possible anymore. It was hot. Hardly a breath of air moved. There was a buzz of voices in the high-ceilinged room. The excitement could be felt on the skin.

Not the kind of excitement, mind you that there was when Bill Clinton was running. Not that kind of celebrity frenzy. This was an intellectual excitement, finding like-minded people in numbers we had thought was no longer possible. And then from the
far down the hallway the sound of anticipation grew. There was a ripple in the crowd as Kucinich made his way towards the boardroom.

When he came to the entrance of the room he asked for a chair. And he stood right there in the doorway, eschewing the table and chair set up at the end of the room. His voice boomed through the corridor as he explained he had honed this skill in the council chambers of Cleveland. Everyone laughed. It was a moment in history.

He spoke briefly. He stated his case. He was honest and forthright and direct. He answered questions. Then he did something pretty unusual. He took the people outside, across the street, into a parking lot. He climbed atop the yellow payment box, four feet off the ground and he continued to engage the expanding crowd. Here he was, commanding an audience in an empty car-park, the morning sunshine reflecting off a Dairygold billboard backdrop, the only vegan elected to Congress.

Soon a car came for him and his two companions, (one was Dot Maver, it turned out, the founder of the Vermont Peace Institute) who were whisked away to their next stop in Eugene. It wasn't really anti-climactic what happened next because no one felt let down or disappointed, but there was a feeling of being at loose ends. There had been so much energy in the moment and now that seemed to be slipping away. But people stayed. A core group hung around determined to not let the enthusiasm of the morning evaporate into the yellow day. We exchanged emails and phone numbers. There seemed to be no one in charge. But there was a glimmer of hope that we could make be part of something good, that the results of election night 2004 were not yet carved in stone.

We are getting little guidance from the headquarters in Cleveland now, more in the nature of moral support. The staff there is overwhelmed though with the way the campaign has grown and intensified. Amy, a coordinator there says the campaign has grown exponentially. They've reorganized again, she said and while there's more contributions than they anticipated, there are more requests for resources than they can meet.

So where does this leave us? Starting a campaign from scratch. And that's how it was on Tuesday of this past week where fifty or so people came together in the upper room of the Friends building on SE Stark at the end of the day where the temperatures outside had licked the century mark, fifty or more people who had on short notice given up their evenings to see if they could make a difference. Only a handful had worked on campaigns before and only one had worked nationally.

Grassroots. We hear that expression often during any given campaign season. It lends an air of authenticity to the process. There's a desire is to indicate some serendipitous, almost spiritual event, a spontaneous convergence of like-minded souls in the heartland of pastoral America. The Kucinich campaign may be just that, but this grassroots experience has been generated in the land of Marshall McLuhan rather than American Gothic. Kucinich is the first candidate of and by the global village.

Excluded by the mainstream media, the word of mouth campaign has grown through the internet almost exclusively. Many of this campaign's most ardent activists have never met
each other face to face. This is a grass roots movement of chat rooms, meet-ups, blogs and indy-media. The mainstream that had been declared dead by many pundits had simply been dormant, waiting for a chance to regroup and re-emerge.

Whether or not Kucinich is 'successful' in this campaign depends on a definition of that word. Already much has been accomplished that even a year ago was unimagined. George Bush has coalesced the left by his guerilla warfare on the environment, the media and on the rights and freedoms of everyday Americans. And we are fighting back with the new tools of the age. Kucinich is the right person for this era. His new style campaign is a perfect fit with our times... loose, mobile, hip, although it feels as if we might be trying to herd ducks.

phone: phone: 503-806-9593
address: address: 1410 sw harrison, portland oregon

kudos to you 05.Aug.2003 21:30


I really like what you've written and how well you've written it (without necessarily agreeing with every point ... sorry 'bout that).

I'm especially impressed with how you've made your position clear without slamming anyone else or their opinions. It's clear, non-judgemental, evocative and enjoyable to read. I wish I could express myself and my feelings as well.

Very nicely done!

pic 05.Aug.2003 23:35