Good interview with US VP candidate Peter Camejo
- Its like a kind of psychological trauma that is happening in our society.
This interview was done for Relay, a new socialist magazine in Canada.
Ernest Tate, on behalf of Relay, interviews Peter Camejo, who speaks about the
various left groups who are cooperating in support of his campaign and about
some of the internal difficulties in the Green Party. Ernest Tate has known
Camejo since the late 1950s when Peter was a leader of the Young Socialists
Alliance and a leader of the American Socialist Workers Party. In the 1960s,
Peter gained national prominence because of his work against the Vietnam War
at the beginning of a profound youth radicalization which later swept America
and Canada. He is now a leader of the Green Party in California and has
emerged as a major figure on the American left. He ran in the last state
election for governor in which Arnold Schwarzenegger was elected. He is on the
Ralph Nader ticket as Vice Presidential candidate in the coming November
Ernest Tate: This mornings National Post says Ralph Nader has been ruled off
the ballot in Florida. In your Avocado Declaration,* you predicted these
kinds of tactics being used against you.
Peter Camejo: Well, in the case of Florida, its a judge who has simply taken
it upon himself to declare that the Reform Party is not legitimate. This is
unheard of. Its really untenable. In other words, even if a party has ballot
status, they can just rule it off. This has never happened before to a party
that has ballot status. So were appealing the decision in the court system.
The Reform Partys national convention came out against the war in Iraq and
against the Patriot Act - for these reasons theyve endorsed Ralph Nader. Once
a large party, but now not so large, it still has ballot status in six states.
The authorities in other states have accepted that the Reform Party does
Tate: Why are you on the Nader ticket?
Camejo: Ralph Nader is the one voice in the United States saying that its
wrong to vote for the war, for the Patriot Act, to vote for candidates who
have opposed the labour movement and the environment. Bush and Kerry, agree
with each other on all the major issues. Kerrys posture in this campaign is
about how to best implement Bushs policies. We dont agree with that. We
believe what Bush has been doing is wrong. We believe you have a free election
when people can hear different platforms and can vote for them.
The Democrats have a candidate in Kerry who gave Bush eighteen standing
ovations, on one day in January. Its very peculiar to have a candidate who so
admires this President that he gave him eighteen standing ovations, and is now
running against that President as a candidate. Thats what we now have. Kerry
voted for everything Bush asked him to vote for, even stating he agrees with
Bush on his policies on education, the environment, labour, the war, the
Patriot Act - on every issue.
Kerry is calling for lowering taxes on the corporations, who now are paying
the lowest tax rates ever in their history, while they have the larges profit
margins ever. Nader is the one voice that has stood up against all this, so I
was very happy to join him as Vice-Presidential candidate.
Tate: Im sure our readers would like to know how you address the charge from
the Kerry camp that a vote for Nader is a vote for Bush?
Camejo: We think a vote for Kerry is a vote for Bush; a vote for Bush is a
vote for Bush, so we think its really Bush versus Nader. The only reason we
are saying this is because in America, like in Canada, we have a first past
the post system, and therefore, the will of the electorate is manipulated
because people dont feel free to vote for whom they want. In fact, the most
amazing thing about this campaign is that the overwhelming majority of those
who will vote for Kerry do not agree with Kerry.
It is very peculiar to have an election in which a candidate expects to win by
getting people to vote for him who do not approve of what he stands for.
The first past the post system is the reason.
In reality, Kerry is stealing all of Naders votes. There are people who are
voting for Kerry but who agree with Nader and should be voting for Nader. If
the Democrats really believed in free elections, they would long ago have
proposed that we have a system that avoids such a situation or have a system
that allows proportional representation, so that if a political party gets 20%
of the vote, they get 20% of the seats. But the Democrats are opposed to
democracy, they oppose free elections, they want to give the impression of an
election without actually allowing one.
The most important thing about elections is that the various points of view
that exist in society should be represented. The Democrats very much oppose
this and are doing everything they can to prevent this from being a free
They dont want Nader to be on the ballot. They dont want the people to be
free to vote against the war and against the Patriot Act in defense of the
constitution of the United States. They prefer to limit the election to two
individuals who are fighting over implementing the same platform.
Tate: How is the issue of Iraq affecting the election?
Camejo: Thats the main issue of the campaign. There are polls that indicate
about half the population of the United States are opposed to the war - that
is about half agreeing with the overwhelming majority of the world. Only the
Nader ticket advances this position. It is amazing to watch how these two
corporate-backed parties, the parties backed by big money, do not respect the
will, not only of the people of the world, but of the American people. They
dont want the overwhelming majority of humanity to be allowed into the
debate. This is the central issue of the campaign. Its the central issue we
present and our support, which is in the millions of people, comes primarily
from those people who say, No matter what, I just cannot vote for a candidate
whos for war.
Our support right now primarily comes from among young people, from among Arab
Americans, from Muslims, of which there are 7 million in the United States,
all who really see the importance of the issue, and who see that Nader alone
stands for the views of the overwhelming majority of people in the world.
Tate: Are you getting much support from the anti-war movement?
Camejo:. There was a march recently, of half a million people in New York in
which I participated; all were against the war and against Bush. The amazing
thing to me is that these people, while theyre against the war, plan in their
majority to vote for war. On the march you could tell the depth of their
confusion and their guilt over this, because they werent carrying signs in
support of their candidate, who is John Kerry.
The whole march was almost completely empty of election signs. On the whole
march, I only saw one, a woman was carrying a sign that said she was for
Kerry. I walked over to her and suggested that perhaps she was at the wrong
demonstration, because this was an anti-war demonstration and yet she was
carrying a pro-war sign. Its a contradiction some anti-war activists have.
They feel theyve become victims, theyre trapped, and theyre like prisoners
of a political system thats designed to imprison them and to prevent them
from ever being able to vote for what they truly believe in.
Tate: What is the Nader/Camejo ticket saying about the Star Wars missile
Camejo: Were completely opposed to it. We think its a total waste of money.
Its not defending America from anybody, or anybody from anything. Once again,
its a promotion of the military industrial complex, designed to give
Americans the impression that there is some kind of gigantic danger to them
somewhere and that this system is somehow going to protect them. We just dont
agree with that.
We think the problems American citizens face from terrorism are due to a
continuing crisis, in terms of relationship, between the United States and the
Arab and Muslim world, with a great amount of antagonism and hostility to the
United States. But thats generic.
Right now the entire world is hostile to the United States and its policies.
Were seeing more and more individuals who may be determined to act against
the United States and against individual Americans. The American people are
more and more in danger from the policies of their own government, which in
violation of international law, occupies and invades other countries.
The fact is the United States supported Saddam Hussein and supported Osama Bin
Laden. This is their policy coming back to haunt them from the past. They
promoted terrorism and promoted terrorist organizations that now have become
anti-American and are using the very methods the United States military
trained them to carry out. But terrorism is always wrong, no matter who is
using it for whatever ends.
The United States, in order to defend itself against this danger, needs to
change its social, economic and political policies towards the Middle East,
and become supportive of democracy in the Middle East, instead of continuing
to support totalitarian regimes such as the one it has installed in Iraq by
military occupation and those that exist in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and
Jordan, etc. All these dictatorships are supported by the United States.
Tate: An issue that concerns Canadians is NAFTA. Whats the ticket saying
Camejo: Were opposed to NAFTA and the World Trade Organization. We regard
these as governmental organizations whose leaderships are not elected by
anybody, but which are created by the corporate world to make decisions on the
environment, labour, the promotion of capital, all kinds of decisions about
trade, which governments then implement. We think that this is wrong.
All these organizations are set up to provide cheap labour throughout the
third world for the major corporations, to lower environmental standards and
to permit the continuing destruction of worlds ecological system.
Tate: Whats happening with the abortion issue ?
Camejo: Were pro-choice. Were for full rights for women on all issues. Kerry
tends to be for this also and the Democrats generally agree with us on this
and are both in opposition to the Republicans. On this issue, there is a
difference between the Democrats and the Republicans. If the Democrats were
exactly the same as the Republicans, they would be useless to the Republicans.
The way the Republicans look at the Democrats, its the Democrats job to
prevent any serious opposition developing to them. They want an organization
that appears to be different, and which can co-opt any opposition which may
appear, such as on the war or other issues.
Some issues like the rights of women and the abortion issue are used as a peg,
for example, essentially as to whos going to be nominated for the Supreme
Court. This becomes a reason for everyone to write off all major issues and
announce that because the Democrats and Republicans are in agreement on one or
two things that they will therefore vote for them.
I think the issues around women have enormous validity but deep down we still
see the Democratic Partys failure to do a whole series of things that are
important to the overwhelming majority of women, such as raising the minimum
wage. Many women suffer the consequences of a declining minimum wage that has
dropped almost 40% in the last four years.
These are issues that are important for women, like issue of choice, which we
stand for and defend, as opposed to the Democrats and Republicans.
Tate: Are you getting much black support?
Camejo: When I ran for governor in California against Arnold Schwartznegger,
percentage-wise my largest vote was among African-Americans. Second highest
was among Latinos. Both African Americans and Latinos voted 2:1 percentage-
wise for me, compared to European-Americans.
The Green Party in California has become a party whose mass base is now in the
youth, among working people, the poorest people in California and people of
colour. In the case of the Presidential race, Nader may be the only candidate
whose votes come from a majority of people of colour, because between the
Latinos, African-Americans and especially the Arab American community, were
at about 26% in the polls.
This may be the first time a majority of non-whites have voted for a
presidential candidate. In truth, I think many organizations such as the
Latino and African-Americans, are very much controlled by the by the
Democratic Party, just as it controls the unions, the not-for-profit
organizations and the NGOs. The Democratic Party has a strangle hold on
these. Many people have become their prisoners.
What weve noticed recently is the beginning of a rebellion against this. In
California, the president of MAPA, the Mexican-American Political Association,
the traditional organization of the Mexican-American people, recently,
publicly left the Democratic Party and joined the Green Party in a public
registration, which he did at the Secretary of States office.
Weve had leaders in the African-American community, and other Latinos, who
are beginning to change and leave the Democratic Party. But this is all at a
very early stage.
Tate: Whats happening with organized labour? Is it continuing to support the
Camejo: Organized labour, a long time ago, accepted a strategy to work with
and to support the Democrats politically. The end result is that trade-unions
have declined from 37% of the population to under 12%, and play a diminishing
role in American society.
Labour is unable to grow, unable to organize - the laws and the policies of
the government prevent it. This situation has been brought about by the two-
party system, especially by the Democrats and is a result of the union
leaders failure to break with them.
These union leaders take the dues from their memberships and without
consulting them, give tens of millions of dollars to the Democratic Party.
This relationship is like a revolving door with positions and appointments
given out, etc., where the leadership of the unions and the Democratic Party
politicians are both in a game of corruption.
They are tied together and in return for better union support for the
corporate world, labour and working people in America are left without any
real political representation and without any real defense of their interests.
Tate: During the last presidential campaign when Nader was a candidate, some
hoped that a permanent organization would come out of it. Are there any
beginnings of a class alternative to the Democrats and Republicans emerging
after this election?
Camejo: After the election in 2000, Ralph Nader worked very hard to build the
Green Party. He did forty-one different events, engaging in fundraising and
recruiting to the Green Party. His campaign led to the very rapid growth of
the Green Party and the election of over 200 people throughout the country and
now 1,000 candidates running for office.
In the 2004 election, we in the Green Party decided to become part of a
broader coalition and Green Party members are the largest number of people
backing Ralph Nader. He also has the support of many independents, some people
who have come out of the Democratic and Republican parties including elements
of the Reform Party. Its a broader campaign than in 2000, even though the
ticket may get fewer votes. It reaches out to other forces because people are
starting to rebel, especially around the issue of the Patriot Act, the deficit
in the government and the war.
This is all beginning to create a break and an interest in alternatives. In
the Green Party a peculiar event took place, where, even though the primary
showed an enormous victory for Ralph Nader, one candidate who opposed Ralph
Nader, who only got 12.2% of the vote in the primary and who also lost in all
the major state conventions, nevertheless was able to pack the Green Party
convention and win by a small margin. This has created a big crisis.
The Green Party is now very divided, but it is still the dominant third party.
It continues to grow and the overwhelming majority of the members support
Nader. A caucus called, Greens for Democracy and Independence, is being
formed inside the party, demanding democracy, for internal elections to be
upheld, respect for majority vote and the will of the membership. On the issue
of independence, the demand is that the party must remain completely
independent of the Democratic Party.
Theres no question that Democrats were influencing the convention and trying
to get the Green Party to vote for Kerry and run a candidate that would not
oppose Kerry, which is what has happened. Theres now a big division in the
Green Party with the majority supporting Nader and a minority which is
supporting a person who has a strategy they call faith based, where they
call for a vote for the Democrats in certain states.
Tate: Was that primarily in California?
Camejo: At the Nader-Camejo opening rally in California, where the Green Party
is the strongest, we had 1,000 of our supporters there from the Bay area.
David Cobb, who is the official candidate of the Green Party, held a meeting
where only thirty-five people attended, in an area where we have 40,000
members. Only thirty-five people showed up for his campaign meeting!
Virtually no one supports David Cobb. Only a handful, primarily individuals,
are backing him and in reality they are backing Kerry. In this sense, their
whole campaign is a farce. Its a tragedy that its happening inside the Green
Party, as it will cost the Green Party very heavily, probably in terms of
losing members and having to battle this out.
There is, however, among the periphery of the Green Party, people who are
loosely connected, a lot of people who are influenced by pressure from the
Democrats to vote for Kerry. This has become the basis of the Cobb current in
the Green Party. There is a real clear left-right division, with the majority
of the party being with the left and supporting Nader, and because of the
impact of the Democrat Party, a growing minority supporting Cobb.
The Democrats dont hide this. All the Democratic Party influenced press
congratulated the Greens when they voted against Nader in the convention and
supported a pro-Kerry person.
Tate: The Green Party in Ontario is quite conservative. But it seems to me the
Green Party in the United States is different. Is this so?
Camejo: The Green Party in most countries of the world embraces an ecological
programme around the crisis of global warming and other issues concerning the
environment. It tries to get all the political parties to adopt platforms on
these issues. It tries to make society aware of these issues. In that sense,
the Greens play a positive role.
On other issues the Greens may support all kinds of different platforms, and
are not necessarily for social justice, for improving democracy or other
issues. But in America there is neither a labour party, nor a left party or
socialist party. There have never been in the last fifty years, almost one
hundred years, any large forces that are politically independent from the
corporate world, therefore the appearance of the Green Party immediately takes
on a different colouration.
The Green Party in America is not a party only organized around environmental
or ecological issues. It is the beginning in America of an alternative party
that challenges especially, the anti-labour, anti-discriminatory, racist
policies, and international policies, etc., of the two major pro-corporate
parties. So the Green Party is not a typical Green Party at all.
Tate: What is the attitude of the various left groups to the Nader-Camejo
Camejo: The small groups that call themselves leftists or socialists are still
much divided. The International Socialist Organization now is the strongest in
America, has the most young people in it and is the most active. Theyre
working very hard to support the Nader-Camejo campaign and are very effective
in their support. They have a lot of influence on the campuses and theyre
been very helpful. They also have people in the labour movement.
Theres another group, Solidarity, which is doing a lot of work in the labour
movement. They are very supportive and have been in the Green Party for a long
time, and have been very helpful. Regarding the remnants of the Stalinist
currents, the Communist Party and Maoist group, theyre all pro-Democratic
Party. Theyve always been for the pro-corporate party.
Other people who are considered leftists, or independents, are around Global
Exchange. Theyre supporting Kerry. All of these organizations that are
dependant on funding from liberals or liberal Democrats, fear they will be
crushed financially. Its very difficult to maintain an organization like
Global Exchange and not be pro-Democratic Party because the Democrats can cut
Thats how the Democrats function and the not-for-profit and environmental
groups, to avoid being destroyed financially, simply go along with them. So we
have some organizations like that, which are supporting Kerry, and not Ralph
Nader. But as for those who are in the socialist currents, which are very
small, there is a division between those who have come from a Stalinist
background or the historically conservative, social democratic backgrounds,
But what is of interest is were seeing more and more people, unlike anything
since the sixties when there was a massive radical shift by Americans,
breaking with the Democratic and Republican parties. Twenty-five percent of
the American people are no longer registered Democrats, or Republicans. Thats
the highest its ever been in the history of the United States.
Tate: There seems to be more hostility in this election season than in the
last one on top of the chronic problem of voter apathy. Whats the explanation
Camejo: This is partly due to a shift in the policies of the United States
government in the last four years. The reason the government gives is the 9/11
terrorist attack on the United States, but I think the real reason is were
reaching a peak in oil consumption, and control of the Middle East is
essential for all the advanced industrial countries. Their economies need all
the oil they can get.
The United States has the largest military and it has made the decision to
arbitrarily violate all international laws to get control of the oil. This
change in policy has been very scary to a lot of progressives and liberals who
have always depended on the Democratic Party for leadership and theyve
watched that party giving standing ovations in support of this policy and they
see the Democrats voting for the Patriot Act, which takes away our
constitutional rights, they see them voting for the war against Iraq.
It puts progressive and liberals in a state of shock and they just think to
themselves that the only reason the Democrats are doing this is so they can
get elected. Thats an extremely peculiar phenomenon. We have tens of millions
of people who will vote for Kerry, hoping hes lying about what he himself
Its like a kind of psychological trauma that is happening in our society. Of
all those people who agree with Ralph Nader, the majority are going to vote
for John Kerry and the people who agree with Kerry, are going to vote for
Bush. And the people who actually agree with Bush and are voting for Bush,
really need psychiatric help because with his positions on everything and what
hes doing, hes also disconnected from reality.
Tate: Can some kind of left convergence take place around your campaign, and
continue after this election?
Camejo: There has certainly been a development of groups working together in
our campaign, but I dont see a left convergence taking place in the United
States at this stage. How things will proceed in the next period is very
The Green Party has a membership in the order about half a million people. It
is increasingly becoming a big centre of progressive activity, but only
electorally. The Green Party is not very active at other levels.
The anti-war demonstrations are organized by people who are mainly outside our
organization. The Greens support the demonstrations, but doesnt take the
leadership of them. The Green Party is a rainbow of opinions about of a lot of
issues that have come together within a single organization. Theres been a
recent shift in the approach of other progressive and left organizations, but
until now they have not become members of the Green Party. Thats now
beginning to happen. Theyre following what Solidarity did in joining us. I
think others will too. But I think theres some feeling among progressives
that the Green Party has too many internal problems and difficulties and that
it may not be the instrument that they think can be most effective in making
At this stage Im urging everyone to join the Green Party and help us fight to
keep it independent of the Democrats and to democratize its internal structure
and deepen its involvement in the community, for example, in the unions. We
have tens of thousands of members in Californias unions, but we have yet to
organize them. We have been trying to organize caucuses in the unions and
this, I think, is how the next period could go if more forces keep joining.
We are making headway among Latinos, especially in California. We feel its
possible we could become an arena in which different progressive groups begin
to work together to build an alternative force against those who favour the
governments policies towards labour.
Ninety percent of our people, in the last few years, have made no financial
gain when you make adjustments for inflation, in a period in which the GDP of
the United States has risen more than ever in its history. At this moment,
profit margins are now the largest ever in the history of the United States.
Corporations are now paying the lowest tax rate theyve ever paid. They once
paid 33% of all our taxes; now theyre only paying 7.8%. Meanwhile the minimum
wage has dropped from $8.15 to $5.15, adjusted for inflation.
But there are changes happening where the Green Party has had influence. In
one city, because we elected a person to one position, we were able to have
the minimum wage raised to $10.50, and in another to $8.50.
We have also succeeded in giving the right to undocumented workers to vote, a
democratic right thats now on the ballot because of the influence of the
Green Party in San Francisco. We can see the beginnings of an alternative
political force emerging, and it would be good to have all those who are doing
work in other areas to come into the Green Party and work together.
But there is no unanimity on this. For example, we have a party in California
called the Peace and Freedom Party which has about 70,000 registered members.
While were starting to work together in my campaign Im welcoming one of
their candidates to speak with me at all my meetings we have yet to bring
our two forces together.
The Green Party has 160,000 members in California and the Peace and Freedom
Party has 70,000. Therefore, there are about a quarter of a million people in
California who have clearly broken from the Democratic and Republican Parties.
That lays the basis for the beginning of a movement that will fight for social
September 8th, 2004.
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