UC Berkeley News


Camejo: America can do better than ‘anybody but Bush’
Nader’s running mate says major parties deny the ‘right to decide’ to voters who would prefer to vote green

| 22 September 2004

The Democratic Party has failed America by refusing to oppose the policies of the Bush administration, said vice-presidential candidate Peter Camejo at a campus appearance last week. Seated to the gesticulating candidate’s left in this photo was anthropology professor Laura Nader, the sister of Camejo’s running mate, Ralph. (Peg Skorpinski photo)
There’s no question that significant numbers of Berkeley voters agree with Peter Camejo on issues of war, peace, and social justice.

Nor is there any doubt lots of them wish he would disappear — at least until, say, Nov. 3.

A few such ill-wishers turned up at North Gate Hall Thursday to confront Ralph Nader’s 2004 running mate, including one heckler who called the team’s quixotic White House campaign “a Republican plot” before being hustled out the door. But several hundred others in the crowded, airless lecture hall — many contemplating their first votes in a presidential election — made it plain it was Camejo they wanted to hear.

“Let him speak,” they chanted. “Let him speak!”

Camejo, who went on to speak for 35 minutes before fielding questions from the audience, may or may not have picked up any votes. But his message — that people unhappy with the two major parties have a right to be heard — won an enthusiastic response from the predominantly student audience, which punctuated his talk with cheers and capped it with a standing ovation.

The Nader campaign, he told them, “is not about Nader. It’s about you.”

A Cal student himself in the early 1960s, Camejo was introduced by Laura Nader, Ralph’s sister and a longtime Berkeley professor of anthropology. Nader, citing “a bevy of lawyers, mostly Democrats, going state to state” to keep her brother’s name off the ballot, called the issue of ballot access “a civil-rights question.”

“This reminds me of Selma, Alabama,” she said.

Nader and Camejo predict they will appear on ballots in 40 states and Washington, D.C., either as nominees of the Reform party or as independents. They have failed to qualify for ballot status in a number of other states (including California), where they are asking voters to write in Nader’s name.

Nader’s champion-of-the-underdog image was tarnished after the 2000 election, which many Al Gore supporters believe he tipped to Texas Gov. George W. Bush by taking votes in swing states like Florida. Fearing a similar fate this year, Democrats have not just opposed his candidacy but have challenged his efforts to get on the ballot in a number of states. Camejo — arguing that America can do better than “anybody but Bush” — condemned the electoral “trap” in which Bush’s opponents now find themselves.

“The mystery of this election is that tens and tens of millions of people agree with Ralph Nader,” he said. “They’re opposed to the war [and] the Patriot Act, they’re for a higher minimum wage....But they won’t vote for him. And the reason is so simple: because we don’t have runoffs. They feel they’re in a political prison. If they vote for Nader, it’s going to help Bush get elected.”

Some form of “instant runoff” system would help fix that problem, Camejo said. But he charged that Democrats and Republicans refuse to allow voters other options.

Progressives “vote against what they believe in because of this political trap,” he said. “But who set the trap? What political parties are there that won’t allow you the right to decide? Because when you manipulate like this you prevent the people from choosing the candidates they want. What you do is block the whole political process so that the domination of money can control the people.”

“We are losing our democracy,” he declared. “We are losing our Constitution.”

By turns fiery, funny, and folksy, Camejo — a candidate for president on the Socialist Workers Party ticket in 1976 and more recently the Green Party’s nominee for California governor — bemoaned what he called “a system in which wealth is being transferred from the average person to the wealthiest people.” Such burden-shifting, he added, is the work of “Democrats and Republicans together.”

“Of course there are differences,” he allowed. “The Democrats would be useless to the Republicans if there were no differences.” Yet those differences, he insisted, are mainly cosmetic.

The war in Iraq, Camejo said, “is opposed by everybody in the world. The point of view that Ralph Nader represents in America is the majority point of view in the world … as compared to the Democrats and Republicans, who represent a tiny minority.”

Kerry voters hope he’s lying

Of progressives who support Democrat John Kerry in the hope that he’s less pro-war than he suggests, Camejo said, “Most people don’t like politicians who lie. But in this election, the people who are going to vote for Kerry are hoping he’s lying.”

Nader, the Green Party’s presidential nominee in 2000, failed to win the California party’s endorsement for his 2004 race. But Camejo, asserting that the party’s nominating process was undemocratic, insisted “the Green Party of California stands solidly behind Nader-Camejo,” and he said, “I’m a Green. I’m running as a Green.”

And he hammered home the point that more important than electing “anybody but Bush” is the need to build “our own party.”

“What we are doing to America is wrong,” he said, referring not just to Republicans but to the Democratic Party, which, he said, has failed to oppose the Bush administration’s policies. “We’re destroying the planet. We’re disobeying international law. We’re destabilizing the world.…It’s time for a voice to be heard that challenges this.”

“It’s fine if somebody disagrees with us,” Camejo said. “But who makes the decision [on how to vote]? The people make the decision.”

Laura Nader, in her introduction, said, “It’s no exaggeration to say that the country is in trouble. … It’s also no exaggeration to say that the only defense we have is the democratic process.”

“The rest of us, who are neither Republican nor Democrat, the independents — who number between 30 and 40 percent in this country — we need to provide our country with an opposition voice,” Nader said.

“Democracy,” she declared, “is about showing up.”