Joe Lavin

December 2, 2003

Meeting up with the True Believers Part II


Second in a series of columns about Meetup.com and the 2004 election.

For a candidate at one percent in the polls, Dennis Kucinich has quite a crowd at his Boston meetup. It's possible that most people have never even heard of Kucinich or his campaign for the presidency, but twenty-five people have shown up on a weekday evening to talk about him. Most meetups take place in a restaurant, but this one is in the small community room of a Boston apartment complex. Bill, one of the organizers, tells me that they've tried restaurants before, but it was tough to find one where they could play videos. Plus, he complains, "restaurants always seem to want you to buy something."

Kucinich may be behind in the polls, but his supporters here are certainly excited about him. Sally, the woman next to me, talks about Kucinich as if he is some mythical figure. "He's so personable. If only everyone could meet Dennis, I just know they would vote for him. I must have shook his hand four times!"

"He's a politician. That's kind of what they do," I think to myself, but I don't say it. I can respect her excitement. I just find it odd. I have never been able to care that much about any candidate, and it turns out I'm not alone. We hear from Beth, an Australian who is participating in her first American election. She tells us that she is shocked to be so involved. "If you told me five years ago that I would be working for a politician" -- she utters the word with pure contempt -- "I would have thought you were insane, but Dennis is different." The others agree. Dennis is the one candidate who finally speaks to their political passions. In short, Dennis is dreamy.

Thanks to Bill and his VCR, we spend much of the evening watching videos of Dennis. Bill has brought three videos and insists that we watch them all. When at the two-hour mark Bill pops in a documentary about Patch Adams, even the other organizers have lost patience with him. Kucinich isn't even in this documentary, though Patch Adams does say nice things about him, and that's enough for Bill.

Despite the videos, we do have some time for discussion. Many are worried that the media is ignoring Kucinich. We have to do all we can to get the word out about him, they tell us. An older man shows off his Kucinich t-shirt. He wears it every day, he tells us, and people are always stopping him on the street to ask questions. "I have two t-shirts, a white one and a blue one, so that people don't think I don't do laundry," he explains. He thinks we should all do the same.

Later, we talk about whether Kucinich is electable, and Beth takes a novel approach. She reads a letter from a supporter who thinks we are asking the wrong question. We shouldn't be asking, "Is he electable?" Instead, we should ask, "Will we elect him?" If we all just decide to elect him, then the question of "Is he electable?" becomes moot. Let me get this straight. If we just believe Kucinich is electable, then he will be elected. Apparently, he's a little like Santa Claus, except with universal health care.

There's more than that. "We have bake sales for our schools. Why not have bake sales for our candidates?" Along with bake sales, it's suggested that we could sell our junk on eBay and give the proceeds to the campaign. I have a lot of junk, but somehow I don't think it can match the thousand-dollar-a-plate fundraisers that Bush is having.

The strangest moment of the night comes later when a man in the back asks, "Have you considered distributing the Playboy interview with Kucinich?" Nobody knows what he is talking about, until he tells us that the interview took place in the seventies when Kucinich was still Mayor of Cleveland.

"If we can find it, maybe we could reprint it on the web site," one of the organizers suggests.

"Well, you'd have to ask Playboy about that. I'm not sure if I still have it. I'll have to check my collection."

Here is a man who has no problem telling a room of twenty-five people that he has a softcore porn collection from the seventies. Clearly, we're not at a Joe Lieberman meetup.


©2003 Joe Lavin

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