MADISON, Wis. – Over 1,000 people turned out here on May 31 to hear Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich and other activists speak at a “Rally for Peace and Prosperity.” Kucinich received a warm welcome from labor and antiwar activists. David Newby, president of the Wisconsin Federation of Labor, lauded Kucinich’s strong stand in Congress for working people’s issues. Ed Garvey, a former candidate for governor, described Kucinich as “the progressive candidate in the tradition of Sen. Paul Wellstone.”

Kucinich got cheers when he challenged the Bush administration on the intelligence “lies” that were a pretext for the invasion of Iraq. He characterized his job as one of “breaking the spell of fear and doom being used by the Bush administration to consolidate power and push through a right-wing agenda.” He called for substantial cuts in the Pentagon’s budget in order to fund social needs such as a jobs program modeled on FDR’s Works Progress Administration, and a universal single-payer health plan.

Kucinich, who also appeared at Radfest, an annual forum held at Aurora University, has been spending a lot of time in Wisconsin, aiming to tap into the state’s tradition of progressive politics. Last year he spoke at the “Fighting Bob Fest,” a gathering of Wisconsin progressives inspired by Sen. Robert “Fighting Bob” La Follette, a critic of World War I who ran a campaign for president on the Progressive Party ticket in 1924.

Identifying with LaFollette, Kucinich told the Capital Times, “I still believe that the progressive message is a winning one, and that’s why I’m working so hard to get it into the Democratic campaign.”

Sue Holmes, an organizer of the May 31 rally, noted that it only took a small group to “mobilize over 1,000 people to come out on a Saturday night with one week’s notice. Imagine what could be done around the country!”

Joe Rody, a local activist, said that Kucinich inspired him to “get out there and make waves,” because “he talked from the heart on everything that concerns the average working man. He said that we need to spend money on schools instead of an over-bloated military, that we need to tend to the concerns of older people and pass a single-payer health care system.” Rody plans to attend the Wisconsin Democratic Convention June 13-14 and participate in a caucus for Kucinich.

Kucinich may be stirring up the grassroots, but according to an article by John Nichols in the Capital Times, “Kucinich draws a crowd, but no media.” Nichols points out, however, that neither Carter nor McGovern received much media attention early on and they both went on to receive the Democratic Party’s nomination.

The author can be reached at John Gilman assisted in gathering some of the research for this article.