Sunday, March 18, 2007

My Interview With Elizabeth Kucinich in Heidelberg, Germany

When I learned that Elizabeth Kucinich would be in Heidelberg (a 20 minute drive from Mannheim) for the International DPCA meeting of Democrats Abroad, I contacted the Kucinich campaign and asked if I could interview her. I expected 20 minutes tops. What I got was to accompany and talk to Elizabeth and Christina Kraich-Rogers, a German native who now works as the New Hampshire coordinator for the Kucinich for President campaign, for about four hours.

I met Elizabeth and Christina at a peace vigil in Heidelberg organized by German anti-war groups. While Germany is participating in the Iraq war, it is still home to several U.S. bases including Ramstein Air Base and the Landstuhl hospital, where injured soldiers are brought before they're ready for transport to Walter Reed. Elizabeth and Christina told me about their trip to Landstuhl the night before and about their conversations with injured soldiers. I could see how deeply moved and shaken they were from this encounter (you can read more on this here).

Elizabeth (left) talks to a protester

Elizabeth addressed the crowd at the peace vigil and talked to many individually. Most seemed to be quite surprised by the presence of the wife of an American Congressman.

Elizabeth addresses the crowd. The banner reads: War is always terror.

Afterwards we headed to the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut (German-American Institute - DAI) where Democrats Abroad had their meeting. In the DAI library Elizabeth talked with me about the main issues of this campaign.

Elizabeth Kucinich, who is still a British citizen (she hasn't been in the States long enough to obtain American citizenship), came to the United States in 2005. Though her lifepath crossed that of the American people in a strange way four years before. On September 11, 2001, Elizabeth had her final exam in her M.A. course in International Conflict Analysis. The exam title: "Conflict Resolution in International Politics." Later that day, as she watched the attack on the Twin Towers in New York, she felt that "a lightswitch came on."

As many Europeans, she saw how the U.S. media "spun the grief and shock into something different." While people across the world held prayer vigils for the victims of 9/11, even in places like Iran, the administration and the media "were shutting out the world in a way that was not necessary."

After having lived in India working with Mother Teresa's organization in Agra she later went for 16 months to Tanzania and worked in a small village as an advocate for regional development.

In 2005 she took a job with the American Monetary Institute in Chicago. On her second week on the job she went to Capitol Hill. She hadn't known or even heard of Dennis Kucinich previously but to her it seemed that their "life paths merged together." Elizabeth and Dennis tied the knot in the same year.

When you meet Elizabeth Kucinich and hear her talk about the issues she cares about and her husband's campaign, you sooner or later come to the conclusion that she may just be Dennis Kucinich's strongest assett. She's passionate and knowledgeable and doesn't depend on a campaign staffer on any subject like you so often here about many candidates.

Quickly she steers the conversation towards the subject of the war in Iraq. She stresses that Dennis led 125 of his colleagues to vote against the Iraq War Resolution in the House and that "he's the only candidate who's stand against the war is consistent" as he also voted against all funding bills for the war.

In Dennis Kucinich, Elizabeth sees "a man who speaks with integrity and truth." She says that in 2008 the people of the United States should "elect a President who is honest, who is willing to stand up when it's not popular."

Privacy Rights

I mention the recent comments by Gen. Pace who sees homosexuality as 'immoral'. I ask her what her husband's response to this is, especially in light of the squirmishness on this subject by the two front-runners, Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. Elizabeth makes it quite clear that both she and Dennis don't share this view: "When there are people who are devoted to each other, who want to have a family together, who is the government to say they cannot do that? The government should stay out of people's bedrooms, as they should stay out of their phone calls and their libraries. This is actually an area where goverment needs to be reduced."

Department of Peace

There have been some comments stating the idea of a Department of Peace is ridiculous as there already is the Department of State. I ask Elizabeth what her reaction to this criticism is. "Anyone who says this clearly has not read the legislation," is her first response. The idea of a Department of Peace is not about shutting down other departments. It would be completely separate from the Departments of State and Defense. She explains that a Department of Peace would not solely be an international endeavour. Quite to the contrary, "it is about building structures domestically. We need to build up peace structures within our society. America has a problem with violence. Peace is more than the absence of war." Elizabeth is quite adamant about this, she says that this is about teaching children to resolve conflicts peacefully, so that later on they won't be involved in domestic violence and in hate crimes: "Anyone who does not support the Department of Peace, isn't supporting putting a stop to domestic violence."

Iran

On the subject of war and peace, Elizabeth also has a few words to say on Iran: "I can see the condition of a Third World War developing. It is about destruction or creation. We can come together. What do the American people want?"

Nevada

The recent AFSCME forum in Carson City was Elizabeth's first time in Nevada. She came away impressed by the "fantastic people" she met and "loved the landscape. Her next trip to Nevada is only a few days away as Dennis will speak to the Culinary Workers Union on Friday and before the SEIU health care forum on Saturday.

Yucca Mountain

Elizabeth says that Dennis has tried to lead on this issue and has been consistent on his stance against storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, though ultimately, this is not just a Nevada issue but also a national one as "we've spun a line on nuclear energy that it is clean and economically viable" while people and politicians ignore that nuclear waste has to be stored forever and eventually the American people have to pay for it "not in utility bills but through taxes." Therefore, Dennis Kucinich is "not in support of nuclear power. Period."

Water

On another hot-button issue in Nevada, water, Elizabeth says that it is also a global issue: "Water is the next oil." She says that everyone is responsible and can take action by preserving water as everyone has a choice - for how long we take showers, how much water our dishwashers and washing machines consume.

Climate Change

Elizabeth has been passionate about climate change since she was a child and she sees a chance for the world in fighting climate change: "Never in world history has there been an issue that brought the world together. We have the intelligence and money to bring the world together in fighting climate change. We have the chance to stop global warming now or we can fund the war and put more money into the war.

Health Care

Coming from Europe, where most countries have health care systems that cover the entire population, she is "astounded" when she travels around America "that there is a country with all these resources that it cannot provide health care for its people." She says that it's not a money problem as the United States pay more money per capita for health care than many industrial countries with universal health care: "We're paying for health care. We're just not getting it. Across the United States 46 million people are without coverage." Dennis Kucinich proposes universal single payer not for profit medicine for all.

According to Elizabeth this is also a business issue as it will reduce their costs and increase the vitality of their workforce.

First Lady

I find the "what would you do if you were to become First Lady" questions usually quite nauseating, mostly because the answers are as well. I asked Elizabeth anyway. To my question what issue she would focus on she replied: "I've never been a one-issue candidate."

"My main passions are the environment, animal welfare - welfare in general, really -, peace and international relations." Dennis and Elizabeth would be working together: "We're a joint ticket, a team. We share the same perspective of America and the world."

Elizabeth would like to start a '9/10 forum'. "The American people never got an opportunity to grieve after 9/11. What was their world like on 9/10. What were their highest aspirations. There is a narrative I'd like to start: When did you feel most secure? When were you proud of your nation? It's a discussion I would like to take across the country."

According to Elizabeth the people should focus on the good of both 9/10 and 9/12: "The heart of the world was open to the American people after 9/11. How do we recreate the sentiment of togetherness and solidarity of 9/12?"

How does Elizabeth feel living in America? "It's a great honor to live in America. I love Cleveland and made it my home." And on politics in America: "Coming from a different country one sees the politics in a different light."

Elizabeth and I in the DAI library

After my interview with Elizabeth we went downstairs to the Democrats Abroad meeting as Dennis Kucinich was to call in shortly. He talked about why he was running and took a couple of questions. Both his general remarks and his answers received at times strong applause. Especially his anti-war stance and his promise to join an American voters abroad caucus in Congress were enthusiastically received.

More information on Dennis and Elizabeth Kucinich can be found at the Kucinich for President website.

3 comments:

Rick said...

Great interview. Cool pictures. Surprising how well you can cover the presidental candidates all the way in Germany. Elizabeth seems very compassionate and caring, the way she went out of her way to visit the American troops in hospital.

The woman Elizabeth went to the hospital with, Heather Wokusch...she has some interesting videos. Thanks for turning me on to her stuff.

Pete Bogs said...

I'm sorry for not addressing the SUBSTANCE of your post, but my god is Elizabeth fetching! They don't call me the "Scarlet Pimp" for nothing.

Hubby Dennis is the only one actively pursuing impeachment for Bush. I hope more Dems get on board with this, especially if Bush continues to ignore the reality of Iraq.

Danielle said...

An excellent post, just goes to show how far you can go if you just ask. Four hours of access is unprecedented.
I will take up your challenge at My Silver State soon. Things are quite hectic.

Glad we hooked up.

Danielle
Author of Modern Musings