Inspired by Paul Wellstone's death, 16-year-old Alex Cutler is pouring himself into a 2004 presidential campaign
Alex Cutler lives in a large white house featuring a prominent rose garden. Some might consider that common stuff for a Tangletown kid; others might think it's a sign of things to come for this 16-year-old, who's one of the first Minnesotans to join the Dennis Kucinich presidential campaign.
Looking more than a little like Harry Potter, he leans back in the chair at the desk in his bedroom and looks around, apparently oblivious to the carnage around him. Discarded clothes lie next to a copy of Wired magazine, partially covered by a half-devoured box of Triscuits, which is more or less next to an empty Coke can, The Matrix DVD, a computer printer, headphones, a book on HTML and a placard that shouts "Support the Troops! Bring Them Home!"
"George Bush made a big mistake by going to war in Iraq," Cutler said in a voice surprisingly deep for someone who seems mostly made out of long, slender legs and arms. "I organized a walkout at my school and something like two dozen kids walked out with me. And this was at a private, conservative Catholic school."
That sort of antiwar passion is what Democratic Congressman Kucinich of Ohio -- by most accounts a longshot candidate -- hopes will land him in the White House.
Democratic party time
Cutler has been volunteering over 20 hours a week on the campaign, maintaining the minnesotaforkucinich.com Web site that he built, as well as compiling e-mail lists, and working on the committee that organized Kucinich's Aug. 16 appearance at St. Paul's Central High School. He also puts in time on the networking committee, which includes outreach activities designed to pull in labor and outstate support for the mop-haired liberal congressman.
Another of Cutler's jobs is to reserve space for the 30 or so Kucinich volunteers who meet at Betsy's Back Porch Coffee, 5447 Nicollet Ave. S., every week.
"One time he forgot to reserve the space at Betsy's and 35 of us showed up, and there wasn't room to have our meeting," said Faith Kidder, a nurse practitioner who's co-coordinator of the Kucinich campaign in Minnesota. Because Cutler only lives four blocks away from the coffee shop, the group decided to move their meeting there for the night. "He was extremely gracious about it," Kidder remembered with a laugh, "and his folks weren't home.
"At the end of the meeting, he said, 'Other kids have wild parties; I just have political meetings when the folks are away.' It was really cute."
Dreams live and die
Adorable as he might be, the young activist can also issue sharp political commentary, as he did when asked to trace his interest in politics. He said it goes back to the 2000 presidential election, "where in my childish ignorance I really believed that something as bad George [W.] Bush could not happen to our country. Good does not always win, people don't play fair and there are forces that can manipulate the very core of our democracy. It was this that eventually caused me to sign up to help get Paul Wellstone reelected, and that in turn led to that last stroke of reality when Paul's plane went down. Suddenly, I saw the world as a very different place and knew I had to play a role to make it better."
Is the teenager a cynic or is he a dreamer? Perhaps a bit of both, but one thing he is not is apathetic.
"[When Wellstone died], I decided that if anyone ever really inspired me like he did, I would put everything else aside and I would dedicate as much time as possible into getting him elected," he said.
"He's mature in many ways," said Jane Cutler, Alex's mother, of her son. "He still has fun, but he has a very serious side to him. He's always had a really strong sense of what's fair, and when things aren't fair, that really makes him angry. He's been that way since he was a little kid."
Cutler believes in the former "Boy Mayor" of Cleveland -- Kucinich won the job at 31 -- and his vision of America: universal health care, reduced defense spending, withdrawal from NAFTA and repeal of the Patriot Act, among other things. (Cleveland went bankrupt on Kucinich's watch when he refused to sell the municipal power system to nuclear-energy interests; a few years later, with municipal power 30 percent cheaper than nuclear, Kucinich was elected to Congress, and the feisty underdog's campaign signs featured the outline of a nuclear power plant.)
"The reason I think Dennis can beat Bush is because he's so radically different than anyone else out there," Cutler said.
Cutler's a little different than most of his peers, too, though he admitted with a sheepish grin that he still enjoys "violent video games -- you know, the stereotype. I find some time to shoot tourists online [in a game]."
He also enjoys acting and improvisational comedy, spending time this summer on the Youth Improvisation Team at Brave New Theater. But since the troupe's season ended a couple of weeks ago, he's been more focused than ever on the Kucinich campaign.
Summer is ending, however, and his attention is, perhaps somewhat reluctantly, returning to school. He'll be a junior at Academy of the Holy Angels, 6600 Nicollet Ave. S., where his own political career has already begun. He's the new president-elect ("it's sort of like class president-in-training"); a post he'll hold this school year before ascending automatically to president of his senior class.
"He's so involved in [the Kucinich campaign] that I hope he can pay attention when school starts," his mother said. "It's going to be a weaning process."
Then again, maybe it's going to be a lifelong pursuit for the kid from the white house with the rose garden."
"I'll work on any campaign he ever has," Kidder said. "Even if I'm an old, toothless lady, I'll work on a campaign of his if he'll have me."
Cutler just might take her up on that offer.
"I hope to go into politics," he said. "I want to be involved in any way I can, whether that means becoming one of the people behind the scenes or to someday run for office myself. That's something I'll have to figure out as I go on."
After a moment's pause, he smiled and said: "My father loves his rose garden. Hopefully, I can get him a big upgrade someday."