| The Dandi March statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Delhi
Washington, Oct. 16: Mahatma Gandhi’s historic Dandi March of 1930 will serve as inspiration in America tomorrow for one of the nine candidates seeking the Democratic party’s presidential nomination in 2004.
The padayatra on behalf of Congressman Dennis Kucinich will kick off from Portland in Maine, America’s border state with Canada in the northeast, with a rally and an initial walk of about 10 km by Kucinich’s supporters towards Portsmouth in New Hampshire. Thereafter, each morning they will walk 10 to 12 km and another 16 to 20 km in the afternoon across this huge country.
The first phase of the walk will end at the statue of Mahatma Gandhi opposite the Indian embassy in Washington. A second phase will take the padayatris to Des Moines, Iowa, and the third lap to San Francisco, California, on the west coast.
Kucinich is this year’s recipient of the Gandhi Peace Award, instituted here in 1960. Previous recipients include U Thant, the former UN secretary-general, Eleanor Roosevelt, whom many Americans consider to be the most influential woman of the 20th century and Linus Pauling, the only person to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes — for chemistry (1954) and for peace (1962).
The idea of a “Walk for Dennis” was proposed on September 11 by one of his young supporters during an online discussion among volunteers for the presidential aspirant.
Jonathan Meier’s idea quickly caught on with many people right away offering to join the walk for small stretches and others offering housing and vegan food for the marchers all across the US. Kucinich is a devout vegan.
Some enthusiasts, such as Suzette Lisuk, a mother from Washington state, will join Meier on the walk all the way from New England to California as soon as she has made arrangements to look after her 15-year-old son, according to sources in the Kucinich campaign.
Explaining the idea behind the walk, Meier said “we need to draw awareness... we need to develop a sense of community throughout the US, where people will open up to each other, letting go of their fears, and treat each other as brothers and sisters instead of as strangers and potential terrorists”.
Kucinich wants to hand over Iraq to the UN and bring home American troops immediately. He is fighting on a platform to repeal the notorious Patriot Act legislated after September 11 and to “take this country away from fear and war and tax giveaways”.
He has also promised to pull the US out of the World Trade Organisation and the North American Free Trade Agreement if elected president.
Son of a truck driver, Kucinich, 57, has been in public life in his home state of Ohio since 1969. He has been a member of the House of Representatives since 1997.
Kucinich is considered a long-shot contender for his party’s presidential nomination next year, but under circumstances where many Democrats are still undecided, he will have the ability to influence the party nominee’s platform or even the election — especially if the economy and the situation in Iraq deteriorate.
Although the “Walk for Dennis” is attracting much curiosity and attention here, the concept of padayatras itself is not new to American politics.
Forty years ago, Martin Luther King Jr, marched with his followers for civil rights and Ceasar Chavez, who founded the first successful union of farm workers in history, also a recipient of the Gandhi Peace Award, did the same.
Four years ago, Granny D, a social activist in her 90s, walked from California to the US capital for political reform. She has endorsed Kucinich. So has Arun Gandhi, grandson of the Mahatma.