One of those big garbage bins is rumbling down the fourth-floor hallway of the Rayburn House Office Building. It's making a racket.
"Here come the tanks," says a woman who is standing in the doorway of Room 2456. She is here to see Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), the long-shot presidential candidate standing at a podium with two colleagues -- Reps. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). They are reintroducing legislation to establish a U.S. Department of Peace. "Your voice is being heard throughout the country," Lee tells Kucinich, "and throughout the world."
Except it's hard to hear Kucinich in the back of the room when the trash bin passes. "Proud to join with my colleagues," Kucinich says, rumblerumblebumprumble ". . . provide an alternative . . ." rumblerumblebumprumble ". . . to suggest that war is not inevitable . . ." rumblerumblebumprumble.
Here we say hello to our friend Mr. Metaphor.
Because Kucinich, 56, believes that his message is being drowned out. His presidential campaign is not receiving enough attention. The media isn't covering him enough and has thus missed the groundswell for peace -- and for his candidacy.
Few people know about the enormous crowds who have come to hear him in Louisville and Los Angeles, he says. He concedes that there are other things going on. "I'm not assuming I'm the only story in America right now," the four-term congressman says in an interview. "I'm just another person running for president." And that's okay, he says. Because "sooner or later, everyone wakes up."
Today may or may not be the day. Kucinich's call for a Cabinet-level Department of Peace takes place in a room crammed with staff, news media and peace activists. "The idea of a Department of Peace changes the debate in this country," Kucinich says. He looks determined with a messy mop of brown hair. He envisions a world, not so far away, when "war is not seen as inevitable . . . but as a failure of diplomacy."
The Department of Peace would be run by a Secretary of Peace, who would be appointed by the president and subject to approval by the Senate. It would include a Peace Academy modeled after the military academies and offer a four-year concentration in peace education.
Kucinich has proposed this department before. The bill expired in committee last year. But he says the war in Iraq makes the need for such an entity as urgent as ever. He is asked by a reporter if he expects the legislation to fare differently this year. Or if this is, perhaps, a symbolic gesture. Kucinich reads off the names of 47 Democrats who co-sponsored his legislation. If it were just him, and him alone, he says, then maybe it would be symbolic.
"I'm sure we'll take a serious look at his ideas," John Feehery, press secretary for House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), says later. Feehery is chuckling.
Kucinich is not when a reporter asks him a question about his presidential campaign during the Department of Peace news conference. Kucinich asks the indulgence of the audience -- this is not a campaign event -- and answers the question.
"I expect to be the nominee of this party," Kucinich says. He says this repeatedly, as if he might not really believe it. Or maybe he suspects that you don't.
But what's clear is that Kucinich's presidential imperative gets him attention. His media audience is considerable -- including reporters from Fox News, CNN, BET and the New York Times -- compared with the last time he proposed a Department of Peace.
"Poverty is a weapon of mass destruction," Kucinich says. "Homelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. Hopelessness is a weapon of mass destruction. No health care is a weapon of mass destruction."
Symbolic or no, peaceniks are clapping and cameras clicking. In this one small room, there is the whiff of momentum.
"Don't take this personally," Kucinich says to a reporter after the announcement. "But because the media hasn't been covering this campaign, they have no idea of how these themes are resonating all over the country." He is walking down a long hallway. As Kucinich waits for an elevator, the reporter asks if, perhaps, these themes are resonating -- not for him, but for former Vermont governor Howard Dean, the antiwar Democrat who has drawn widespread attention recently. Kucinich winces.
"Look, I'm the only Democrat in the race who has led the way," he says.
As he walks off the elevator, Kucinich wants to emphasize that he is not criticizing any individual candidate.
"I fully expect to be the nominee of this party," he says, rushing down a basement hallway. But then he stops abruptly for emphasis. "And I fully expect to be the president of the United States."
He says this again a few seconds later, by way of goodbye, as he waits for a tram to take him to the floor of the House. He is with a reporter and a press aide in a remote corner of the Rayburn basement. It is quiet except for far-off footsteps.