17 February 2002
Americans for Democratic Action
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
Email responses: http://www.kucinich.us/contact.htm
(to be sung as an overture for America)
"My country 'tis of thee.
Sweet land of liberty of thee I sing. . . .
From every mountain side, let freedom ring. . . .
Long may our land be bright.
With freedom's holy light. . . ."
"Oh say does that star spangled banner yet wave.
I offer these brief remarks today as a prayer for our country, with love of democracy, as a celebration of our country. With love for our country. With hope for our country. With a belief that the light of freedom cannot be extinguished as long as it is inside of us. With a belief that freedom rings resoundingly in a democracy each time we speak freely. With the understanding that freedom stirs the human heart and fear stills it. With the belief that a free people cannot walk in fear and faith at the same time.
With the understanding that there is a deeper truth expressed in the unity of the United States. That implicate in the union of our country is the union of all people. That all people are essentially one. That the world is interconnected not only on the material level of economics, trade, communication, and transportation, but interconnected through human consciousness, through the human heart, through the heart of the world, through the simply expressed impulse and yearning to be and to breathe free.
I offer this prayer for America.
Let us pray that our nation will remember that the unfolding of the promise of democracy in our nation paralleled the striving for civil rights. That is why we must challenge the rationale of the Patriot Act. We must ask why should America put aside guarantees of constitutional justice?
How can we justify in effect canceling the First Amendment and the right of free speech, the right to peaceably assemble?
How can we justify in effect canceling the Fourth Amendment, probable cause, the prohibitions against unreasonable search and seizure?
How can we justify in effect canceling the Fifth Amendment, nullifying due process, and allowing for indefinite incarceration without a trial?
How can we justify in effect canceling the Sixth Amendment, the right to prompt and public trial?
How can we justify in effect canceling the Eighth Amendment, which protects against cruel and unusual punishment?
We cannot justify widespread wiretaps and Internet surveillance without judicial supervision, let alone with it. We cannot justify secret searches without a warrant. We cannot justify giving the Attorney General the ability to designate domestic terror groups. We cannot justify giving the FBI total access to any type of data which may exist in any system anywhere such as medical records and financial records.
We cannot justify giving the CIA the ability to target people in this country for intelligence surveillance. We cannot justify a government which takes from the people our right to privacy and then assumes for its own operations a right to total secrecy. The Attorney General recently covered up a statue of Lady Justice showing her bosom as if to underscore there is no danger of justice exposing herself at this time, before this administration.
Let us pray that our nation's leaders will not be overcome with fear. Because today there is great fear in our great Capitol. And this must be understood before we can ask about the shortcomings of Congress in the current environment. The great fear began when we had to evacuate the Capitol on September 11. It continued when we had to leave the Capitol again when a bomb scare occurred as members were pressing the CIA during a secret briefing. It continued when we abandoned Washington when anthrax, possibly from a government lab, arrived in the mail. It continued when the Attorney General declared a nationwide terror alert and then the Administration brought the destructive Patriot Bill to the floor of the House. It continued in the release of the Bin Laden tapes at the same time the President was announcing the withdrawal from the ABM treaty. It remains present in the cordoning off of the Capitol. It is present in the camouflaged armed national guardsmen who greet members of Congress each day we enter the Capitol campus. It is present in the labyrinth of concrete barriers through which we must pass each time we go to vote. The trappings of a state of siege trap us in a state of fear, ill equipped to deal with the Patriot Games, the Mind Games, the War Games of an unelected President and his unelected Vice President.
Let us pray that our country will stop this war. "To promote the common defense" is one of the formational principles of America. Our Congress gave the President the ability to respond to the tragedy of September the Eleventh. We licensed a response to those who helped bring the terror of September the Eleventh. But we the people and our elected representatives must reserve the right to measure the response, to proportion the response, to challenge the response, and to correct the response.
Because we did not authorize the invasion of Iraq.
We did not authorize the revocation of the Constitution.
Yet we are upon the threshold of a permanent war economy. The President has requested a $45.6 billion increase in military spending. All defense-related programs will cost close to $400 billion. Consider that the Department of Defense has never passed an independent audit. Consider that the Inspector General has notified Congress that the Pentagon cannot properly account for $1.2 trillion in transactions. Consider that in recent years the Dept. of Defense could not match $22 billion worth of expenditures to the items it purchased, wrote off, as lost, billions of dollars worth of in-transit inventory and stored nearly $30 billion worth of spare parts it did not need.
Yet the defense budget grows with more money for weapons systems to fight a cold war which ended, weapon systems in search of new enemies to create new wars. This has nothing to do with fighting terror. This has everything to do with fueling a military industrial machine with the treasure of our nation, risking the future of our nation, risking democracy itself with the militarization of thought which follows the militarization of the budget.
Let us pray for our children. Our children deserve a world without end. Not a war without end. Our children deserve a world free of the terror of hunger, free of the terror of poor health care, free of the terror of homelessness, free of the terror of ignorance, free of the terror of hopelessness, free of the terror of policies which are committed to a world view which is not appropriate for the survival of a free people, not appropriate for the survival of democratic values, not appropriate for the survival of our nation, and not appropriate for the survival of the world.
Let us pray that we have the courage and the will as a people and as a nation to shore ourselves up, to reclaim from the ruins of September the Eleventh our democratic traditions. Let us
declare our love for democracy. Let us declare our intent for peace. Let us work to make nonviolence an organizing principle in our own society. Let us recommit ourselves to the slow and
painstaking work of statecraft, which sees peace,
Let us work for a world where America can lead the way in banning weapons of mass destruction not only from our land and sea and sky but from outer space itself. That is the vision of HR 3616: A universe free of fear. Where we can look up at God's creation in the stars and imagine infinite wisdom, infinite peace, infinite possibilities, not infinite war, because we are taught that the kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.
Let us pray that we have the courage to replace the images of death which haunt us, the layers of images of September the Eleventh, faded into images of patriotism, spliced into images of military mobilization, jump cut into images of our secular celebrations of the World Series, New Year's Eve, the Superbowl, the Olympics, the strobic flashes which touch our deepest fears, let us replace those images with the work of human relations, reaching out to people, helping our own citizens here at home, lifting the plight of the poor everywhere. That is the America which has the ability to rally the support of the world. That is the America which stands not in pursuit of an axis of evil, but which is itself at the axis of hope and faith and peace and freedom.
America, America. God shed grace on thee. Crown thy good, America. Not with weapons of mass destruction. Not with invocations of an axis of evil. Not through
America, America. Let us pray for our country. Let us love our country. Let us defend our country not only from the threats without but from the threats within. Crown thy good, America.
Crown thy good with brotherhood, and sisterhood. And crown thy good with compassion and restraint and forbearance and a commitment to peace, to democracy, to economic justice here at home
and throughout the world. Crown thy good, America. Crown thy good, America. Crown thy good.
March 25, 2002
Dennis Kucinich never doubted that millions of Americans had deep concerns about George W. Bush's ever-expanding war on ill-defined foes abroad and on civil liberties at home. But the Congressional Progressive Caucus chair admits he underestimated the depth of the discomfort until February 17, when he delivered a speech to the Southern California Americans for Democratic Action, in which he declared, "Let us pray that our country will stop this war." Recalling the Congressional vote authorizing the President's response to the September 11 terrorist attacks--a resolution supported by Kucinich and all but one member of Congress, California Democrat Barbara Lee--the Ohioan thundered, "We did not authorize an eye for an eye. Nor did we ask that the blood of innocent people, who perished on September 11, be avenged with the blood of innocent villagers in Afghanistan. We did not authorize the Administration to wage war anytime, anywhere, anyhow it pleases. We did not authorize war without end. We did not authorize a permanent war economy. Yet we are upon the threshold of a permanent war economy."
Kucinich's "Prayer for America" speech was interrupted by repeated standing ovations. But the real measure of the message's resonance came as the text of the speech circulated on the Internet--where a genuine worldwide web of opposition to the Administration's actions led to the posting of Kucinich's words on websites (including www.thenation.com ) and dispatched them via e-mail. Within days, Kucinich received 10,000-plus e-mails. Many echoed New Jerseyan Thomas Minet's sentiments "Since the 'Axis of Evil' State of the Union Address, I have been searching like Diogenes with his lantern for one honest person in Congress who would have the guts to speak out about the attack on Democracy being mounted by the Bush Administration. It has been a frustrating search indeed, and I was just about ready to give up hope when I ran across 'A Prayer for America.' Thank God for this man's courage." Others simply read, "Kucinich for President."
For Kucinich, a former Cleveland mayor who led Democratic opposition to the US bombing of Yugoslavia and proposed establishing a Cabinet-level Department of
Peace, speaking out against military adventuring is not new. But he says he's never experienced so immediate and enthusiastic a response. "We can't print out the messages as fast as we
are receiving them," he says. "But I've read through a lot of them now, and they touch on the same themes. The Administration's actions are no longer appropriate, and it is time
for Congress to start asking questions. The people
Kucinich was not the first Congress member to express concern about Bush's plans. Lee cast her cautionary vote in September. In October, responding to reports of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, Representative Jim McDermott criticized the speed with which the Administration had taken military action and the failure of the White House to adequately consult Congress. In December, Kucinich, McDermott and Lee joined five other House Democrats in signing a letter to Bush, written by Representative Tammy Baldwin, which noted, "We are concerned by those in your Administration and among our own ranks in the Congress who appear to be making the case for broad expansion of this military campaign beyond Afghanistan. Without presenting clear and compelling evidence that other nations were involved in the September 11 attacks, it is inappropriate to expand the conflict." Another letter, by Representative Peter DeFazio, called on the White House to comply with the War Powers Resolution before expanding the war. In February Senator Robert Byrd said that Congress should no longer hand the President a "blank check." Senate majority leader Tom Daschle suggested the war "will have failed" without the capture of Osama bin Laden--a statement rebuked by Republicans, who want no measure of success or failure applied to this war.
But Kucinich's speech was a clarion call. "For most people, Kucinich's speech represents the clearest Congressional criticism they have heard about the conduct of the war, and of the Administration's plans to expand it. That's enormously significant," said Midge Miller, who helped launch Senator Eugene McCarthy's antiwar challenge to President Lyndon Johnson in 1967. "Citizens look for Congressional opposition to organize around--they look for leaders to say something. When I read Kucinich's speech, I thought, This could be a turning point."
It has certainly been a turning point for Kucinich. Overwhelmed by invitations to speak, he says his top priority will be to work with Baldwin and others to encourage a broader Congressional debate over international priorities, Pentagon spending and the stifling of dissent. Expect battles in the House Democratic Caucus, where minority leader Dick Gephardt has been more cautious than Daschle about criticizing Bush. But Kucinich thinks more Democrats will begin to echo Senator Byrd's challenge to blank-check military spending in a time of tight budgets. Kucinich plans to encourage grassroots activists to tell members of Congress it is not merely necessary but politically safe to challenge "the Patriot Games, the Mind Games, the War Games of an unelected President and his unelected Vice President."
Kucinich, whose working-class district elected a conservative Republican before him, is confident Democrats from even the most competitive districts can safely join him in questioning the war. "The key," he says, "is to recognize that there is a great deal of unity in America around some basic values: peace and security, protection of the planet, a good quality of life for themselves and for others. When people express their patriotism, they are not saying--as some would suggest--that they no longer believe in these things. There's nothing unpatriotic about asserting human values and defending democratic principles. A lot of Americans are telling me this is the highest form of patriotism."