I was going to give this a title like "Washington State Progressives Hold a Great Conference" but let's face it: meeting Dennis Kucinich kind of just overshadows everything. So I'll tell you about the great conference (a mini, regional, one-day Netroots Nation style event called NWRoots) and I'll tell you all about Kucinich too.
I'd also like to mention that Seattle was wonderful but there were two deeply felt absences: Exmearden, of course, and Lynn Allen. Both were lost to cancer, and while Exme put up a long fight, Lynn succumbed quickly since hers was so advanced when it was diagnosed. We lost her several months ago, but I only just found out when I arrived in Seattle, and it was a very sad shock.
NWRoots was put together with the tireless work of Andrew Villeneuve and Sarge in Seattle. And it was truly an accomplishment. The lineup began with Roger Goodman, who is running for Jay Inslee's seat in Congress, and Rep. Jay Inslee, who is now running for governor. I was particularly impressed with Goodman, who invited the entire crowd to call him and speak with him directly about their vision for Washington and for the country -- and then gave out his personal cell phone number.
Inslee struck me as a mixed bag (he wants nuclear but doesn't want any nuclear waste in his state... give it all to Nevada, please), but he'll likely be a good governor. I'd love to see him swayed to support legalized marijuana, which was a question that came up that he said he was still considering. I approached him afterward with my own story about a loved one who self-medicated his crippling anxiety with marijuana until he was arrested for it. He then got prescribed a legal drug (Klonopin) from a psychiatrist, and he OD'd on it and accidentally killed himself at age 23. Inslee asked for my name and contact info after I told him that story, which I was very grateful for.
The middle of the day included sessions on labor, health care, food and agriculture, immigration, and electronic voting (Bev Harris spoke, and I hear she was great). Lunch included a vegetarian option, for which I was extremely grateful. After lunch, there was a media panel, with Seattle P-I's Joel Connelly, Darcy Burner, and others. Darcy was as wonderful as she always is, and Joel Connelly was very sharp and entertaining. Even though I don't live in Seattle, I've appreciated the fantastic investigative work of the Seattle P-I for a long time so it was great to hear Joel's point of view.
We then broke for a candidate's forum, and at that point I was on official Kucinich lookout mode. I had stashed my purse under a table but I went back to it and grabbed my camera, just in case. I met Congressional candidate Jay Clough as he walked in with his wife and new baby (adorable!). I can't emphasize enough how deeply impressed I was with this one-day forum in which WA progressives got to meet and interact with their representatives and candidates on such a personal level.
About five minutes before the last session, Kucinich walked in. Without his wife (OK, so I was hoping... if one Kucinich is great, two are better). The session began with a speech by Jay Clough, and then he introduced Kucinich. Kucinich was just as great as I had expected him to be. He was himself. He quoted great poets from memory and spoke from the heart. Unlike so many other politicians, his speech was not canned. He was willing to take chances and not just stick with saying what was "safe." And he certainly wasn't rattling off talking points that he had been faxed for the week.
What I loved most about Kucinich was that he was espousing Keynesian economics. Get the country working. Do so by government spending if need be. THAT will inspire demand and get companies investing. Right now companies don't want to invest more because their market to sell more is so limited because so many people are out of work! And, of course, Kucinich wants us out of our many wars. Hell yeah to that!
The big surprises for me (as someone who doesn't live in Seattle and isn't very familiar with their politicians) were the last two speakers: Rep. Jim McDermott and former Canadian Health Minister Ujjal Dosanjh. Wow and wow. Those two plus Kucinich were like the Single Payor Healthcare trio. And McDermott was FUNNY. Like Kucinich, he spoke from the heart. Instead of quoting famous poets, he cracked us up with his great sense of humor. I'd vote for him to represent me any day. He might not attract all the headlines like Kucinich does, but he's a true blue progressive and he's fantastic.
One of the big questions was whether the Dems would really go along with cutting Medicare. McDermott said that in politics, there are mistakes you can make that are fatal, and there are mistakes that will hurt you but won't kill you. He thinks that cutting Medicare is fatal. He reminded us that Obama can say what he wants, but the fact is that nothing is going to become law unless a majority of Congress actually votes for it.
Last, came Ujjal Dosanjh. Now, this was the end of a long day, and now we're supposed to listen to a Canadian? I wasn't so sure about that idea as he stepped up to the mic. But he was GREAT. And he was so, well, CANADIAN. He told us how Canada got its single payor system and how Canadians now see it as a right. They see health care for all as a public good, not a commodity to be traded. Most would even support an increase in taxes if it were to translate into better health care.
He openly admitted that Canada's not perfect. The US, he said, has all of the newest and best drugs, and sometimes Canada does not have that. It's a trade off. They are a small population and a small market. So sometimes they don't have the newest drugs, but the rest of the time, their people get the care they need. In other words, instead of health care being a privilege of the wealthy all of the time, it's only a privilege of the wealthy a very tiny fraction of the time (when you need a drug that Canada's program doesn't have).
Later, he told me privately that Canada does not have co-pays because even if it was $10, that $10 would keep the poor from accessing health care. I tried to joke about the insane idea from the American right that if you don't charge for health care, people will overutilize it (as if people go in to be stuck with needles and have instruments stuck up their private parts for fun!), but it's not really very funny. Keeping the poor from accessing "universal" health care with a $10 copay is a sick idea, and one that won't help anyone in the end.
The day wrapped up with the Total Experience Gospel Choir (amazing!) and then we headed off to a brief after-party. I got in line to meet Kucinich as he headed out, told him I wished I could have voted for President (he said he was genuinely grateful and it appeared that he truly was), and got a picture with him. I crossed my fingers that he'd join us at the after-party.
The after-party was a small group, as it turned out, and I hear that the King County Executive Dow Constantine showed up briefly although I did not meet him. Ujjal Dosanjh and his wife both came, but none of the other politicians who spoke joined us. I was eager to learn more from Dosanjh so I sat with him and his wife at a large table with many others.
I must say: This man makes me very jealous of Canadians. Why can't our politicians be just like him? I expected we'd talk about his talk and health care, but he told me that he had attended my talk (really?????) and that he enjoyed it. I think my jaw hit the floor when he said that. He said he grew up in India during the Green Revolution, which I had talked about, and he thought I was pretty accurate. I asked where he grew up and asked what it was like. We had only a few minutes to discuss this before Kucinich walked in, and then walked right up to our table and SAT DOWN.
OK, so he wasn't there to see me. I get it. He sat in between the Dosanjhes and of course he was there to speak to them. But I don't care. I was sitting at the same table as Dennis Kucinich. I think I can die happy now. And then it got better. He started talking to Ujjal about the link between nutrition and health. OMG, I was sitting across a table from Dennis Kucinich talking about food policy. Heaven heaven heaven.
The moment came and it went, but I got another picture with him (you can see it on facebook) at least.
All in all, the day was great, and I was very impressed. Impressed and jealous actually, because I've never been to an event in which I had so much access to my local leaders as the people of Washington did at NWRoots. Many, many kudos to Sarge in Seattle and Andrew Villeneuve and to the many others whose hard work made this event happen. If you live in the Pacific NW, consider going next year. This is what democracy should look like. (My one hope for future NWRoots is that they are more multicultural in the future... it was a very white group aside from the gospel choir that performed.)