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In NYC, Kucinich Preaches To The Choir

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The following piece was produced by HuffPost's OffTheBus.

Dennis Kucinich wants to save the Constitution, and he believes you can help.

On Manhattan's west side, on the fourth floor of a nondescript building, Dennis Kucinich got the chance to talk for an extended period of time and answer questions on topics that he, or the audience, deemed important. In other words, he did what he usually doesn't get to do at debates.

The rally was held at the Chapel of Sacred Mirror, an art gallery / event space owned by Kucinich friend and supporter Alex Grey.

The crowd gathered in a wide airy loft, where large silk screens of some of Grey's work hung on the walls. Background music was of the New Age-ish/world music variety, insistently repetitive drums vibrating, a sitar to match the incense that drifted into the room.

A mix of the very young, college-or-just-got-out-of-age to baby boomers who likely would have supported Kucinich in 1968 as well as 2008, filled the room. Hipsters and artsy types were the majority, with suit-wearers few and far between; there were probably only about four men wearing ties and at least two of those were likely sporting them in an attempt at some kind of fashion irony. Many of the people seemed to know each other, calling out greetings to each other as they came in.

All the chairs were quickly taken and the overflow crowd stood, sat on the floor, the window sills, wherever they could fit. A man dressed in an Uncle Sam-ish red, white and blue outfit, with a witch hat wrapped in stars and stripes, plunked himself down in the aisle.

Alex Grey spoke for a few minutes about his support for Kucinich, specifically about his commitment to peace and nonviolence. The audience cheered when he called Kucinich a visionary.

Kucinich finally made his entrance, working through the crowd, shaking hands with as many people as he could reach. Reaction ranged from a couple of twentysomething guys who applauded casually and didn't jump up for the standing ovation along with others to an older woman who reacted to a hug as if Kucinich was Mick Jagger and this was 1965.

And at this point, with this setup, this is where you would expect Kucinich to begin his speech and say something crazy. Something about aliens, or what his crystals told him to do today, or about the tofurkey he had for Thanksgiving dinner. That kind of thing has become the punchline in the media Kucinich joke.

Instead, perhaps tacitly alluding to the fact that he is usually written off as a no chance to win candidate, Kucinich spoke about people believing in themselves and believing they have the power to change things, no matter what others say; that each person is a light in the darkness and that collectively, those lights won't let the darkness win. He quoted Emerson, going back to the Transcendentalists, talking about their belief in the self and the self's ability to cause change in this world. He told the audience he believed in them and the power they had.

The first audience question was about the status of the bill Kucinich has proposed to impeach Vice President Cheney. The very mention of such a thing got wild applause, but Kucinich went on to explain that the bill isn't so much about Cheney as making a point about how the current administration has violated the Constitution in numerous ways, and how we're in a fight to determine whether the Constitution really means something or whether it's just a piece of paper that can be thrown away.

The rest of the questions ranged from the very specific--people who had the name and number of Congressional bills at hand--to the long and rambling 9/11 conspiracist rants. Kucinich had detailed responses for everyone. The 9/11 folk got a promise to reopen the investigation, not because he believed there was a hidden governmental conspiracy behind the attacks, but because, as he said, the current administration had created doubt and disbelief and this would restore people's faith in the facts. To a questioner who told him that he needed to be angrier in the debates and attack the other candidates, he said that would just get him labeled as a crank.

(Kucinich expressed his frustration that at the last debate, with all the important issues out there, he got asked a question about UFOs. Someone shouted out that they did that to "discredit" him. A man nearby helpfully said, "I've seen UFOs. I've seen them.")

His answer about rejecting a nondiscrimination bill that didn't include transgender person, segueing into his stance that the government shouldn't decide who we can marry got the biggest and longest applause of the night. Plans for saving the environment, the problems with contractors acting as private armies, and anti-Patriot Act material also got big audience reactions.

The audience was always involved and intent; they cheered like they had been waiting for something to cheer for. Some of them, waving "Kucinich for President" signs undoubtedly believed, as Kucinich had advocated, that somehow, despite the polls, lack of publicity and dire predictions, they could all work together and change everyone else's hearts and minds and get their man elected president. Others were probably more realistic and were there just to show they were going to vote their conscience, for someone they believed in rather than someone whose best qualification is the word "electable."

It's easy for other candidates, media, and casual observers to call Dennis Kucinich crazy, just as they do with Ron Paul. But Kucinich isn't crazy---you may not agree with him, but he's a lucid speaker, who knows his material and has specific ideas and plans that don't involve aliens, horoscopes, or talking cats. He's obviously read the Congressional bills referred to in the questions, which is something that probably not every member of Congress can claim to have done. He could deflect the more extreme questioners without insulting them. He quoted Shelley and Tennyson (the man obviously knows his romantic poets--is that how he landed the wife?).

The Tennyson quote was from "Ulysses:" Come, my friends, Tis not too late to seek a newer world." And with these words, into the cool, still New York night, went the crowd of believers in Dennis Kucinich, themselves, and their power to change. Idealists, dreamers, artists; naïve ones, weaklings, idiots. Whatever you want to call them, they would undoubtedly be fine with it because they are sure that they have found something special, something to hang onto, some kind of hope.