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Synthesis/Regeneration 40   (Summer 2006)

Salvaging Democracy

Campaign 2006 Strategy

by Peter M. Camejo

On August 24, 2005, over 30 Greens from around the state met in Oakland, California, to work on developing a strategy for the 2006 Green Party statewide campaign. This exploratory committee put forth an innovative vision that could help build the Green Party and transform it into a more powerful political organization.

The committee proposed building a statewide campaign that is integrally linked to the living social movements and our potential voting base. A campaign that helps builds those movements and turns the Green Party more directly into the electoral expression of mass social struggles.

The success of such an approach depends on the development of strategic alliances with activists and movement leaders that understand the failure of the two corporate parties to truly defend and represent their communities or their issues and who are rooted in mass movements or their communities.

Today, there are Green Party members in organizations fighting for peace, labor rights, social justice, ecological balance, civil liberties, and environmental justice all over California but often they see these efforts as separate from their support or involvement with the Green Party.

There is also a race and class divide. Large numbers of people are voting for us and even registering Green but have no organizational relationship or contact with us. It is not part of their experience, especially those that have not been to college, to attend meetings or get involved in organizational matters.

The Latino community

Many Green Party members may not be aware that during 2002 there were mass demonstrations in various cities among Mexican-American workers with banners “Vote Verde” (Vote Green). How this happened is instructive. I met with a small group of Mexican workers in Los Angeles where one young worker told me, “You have to meet with Miguel Araujo, the leader of Centro Azteca.”

My first meeting with Miguel and several other Centro Azteca leaders, which lasted about four hours, revealed to me their great frustration with the Democratic Party and the shock it was to them to learn that the Green Party in California was sympathetic to the rights of undocumented workers—quite different from the Green Party in Mexico that endorsed Fox for president.

This simple fact shows the importance of running candidates for state wide office. It allows large numbers of people to learn about our party and what it stands for.

From this meeting began a process of increasing collaboration between the Green Party and many leaders in the struggle to defend migrant rights. I found it particularly interesting once in San Jose when a couple of really nice and supportive local elected progressive Democrats (hopefully they will become Greens) came to a rally for the right to a drivers license and they saw signs reading “Vote Green” among the workers and the coordinators of the march shouting “Vote for the Party that defense your rights! Vote Green!” I think it not only surprised them but also made them aware of the growing strength and sympathy for the Green Party. These marches had a deep impact on the reporters that covered them as it completely altered their concept of the Green Party.

Our work with the non-partisan organization Centro Azteca opened the door not only to these demonstrations but to almost every single Spanish language radio program and talk show. Miguel Araujo has the second most popular talk show in Spanish in the Bay Area. The end result was a sharp rise from our receiving 1% of the Latino vote in 2000 to 8% in the 2002 elections. In Northern California, that figure probably reached 15%.

It was not only Centro Azteca that drove our increasing reception in the Latino community. South West Voter Registration Project, led by Antonio Gonzalez helped us get exposure in the Latino community starting with our first gubernatorial candidate Congressman Dan Hamburg in 1998. Dan Hamburg did a marvelous job debating both the Democrat and the Republican before 1,000 Latinos.

With my run in 2002, this support grew. Soon we were being endorsed by Spanish language community papers and knowledge of the Green Party reached much deeper into the Latino community. This led to a meeting with the staff of La Opinion, the largest Spanish language daily and they began regular coverage of our campaign.

Matt Gonzalez’s electoral and legislative achievements deepened the support for the Green Party among Latinos. As the President of the Board of Supervisor he became the highest elected official in our party. In Matt’s run for Mayor, the Latino community voted overwhelmingly for a Green in a major US city for the first time. Out of those efforts by Matt it became easier for Renee Saucedo’s (her self a leader in the community) excellent campaign in San Francisco for Board of Supervisor and other Latino candidates throughout the State.

Then Nativo Lopez, leader of the oldest Mexican American association for political endorsements, MAPA, (Mexican American Political Association) called for a general strike of the Latino community in part because of the driver’s license issue. The call spread throughout California and hundreds of thousands responded. Schools were half to some times two thirds emptied in Los Angeles and other communities. Demonstrations seemed to sprout almost spontaneously throughout California. Senator Gilbert Cedillo, who has led the fight in Sacramento for the drivers license, told me how he was looking out the window at the capitol and saw a demonstration passing by so he ran out to join them to cheers from the marchers.

The Muslim community

A similar story can be told about what has been happening in the Muslim community. In great part through the work of Jo Chamberlain of San Mateo County, the Green Party’s relationship with this community has grown rapidly. In 2002, I was given the opportunity to speak to several thousand in San Francisco at an annual gathering of the Pakistani community.

... polls now showed that 22% of the Muslim community consider themselves supporters of the Green Party.

From the podium the leaders of the event asked the gathering to formally endorse the Green Party candidate for Governor as the only candidate defending the Bill of Rights and their community. The Muslim color is green. From the podium they called out: “Just remember the color green and who defends our rights.”

In 2004 Jo Chamberlain and I spoke to thousands of Muslim at their massive annual gathering in Chicago.

At our August 24 gathering forming the 2006 Exploratory Committee Agha Saeed, President of the AMA (American Muslim Association) addressed us through a speaker phone, informing the Green organizers that polls now showed that 22% of the Muslim community consider themselves supporters of the Green Party, by far our largest percentage wise mass support.

This support is critically tied to our opposition to the USA Patriot Act and our consistent demand for full rights for Arab Americans and the Muslim religion and community.

We need to invite leaders of the Muslim community to speak out on attacks being committed against American Muslims. While many of their leaders will not be in a position to endorse any candidate the fact we offer our support to their critical issues will continue to win the hearts and minds of their community to the Green Party.

Other topics

During the Gubernatorial and the 2004 campaign I tried, wherever possible, to raise the issues of the death penalty and the “three strikes” law. At some of my campaign meetings Geri Silva, the Executive Director of FACTS (Families to Amend Three Strikes), spoke with me. At one meeting Donna Warren brought Harold Hall, an African American who served 18 years in prison until it was discovered he was innocent. Watching several hundred young people listening to Harold Hall himself explain how such injustices occur in our society has an educational impact that cannot be easily expressed in words.

Leading this work and educating the Green Party on Three Strikes has been Donna Warren, the African American Green leader from South Central LA. As our candidate for Lt. Governor she was the only African American in 2002 running for a State office and made such an enormous difference to the perception of our campaign and Party.

Under her guidance I raised at every televised debate in 2003 the issue of three strikes. The impact this had was reflected when African Americans became the racial group delivering the largest vote (percentage wise) for the Green Party in the recall election (6%), Latinos came a close second at 5%.

Keep in mind that the Democrats were running a Latino for Governor, Cruz Bustamente. For the Green Party to receive such a solid vote in the Latino community reflected the support we are gaining. Our largest support was demographically from youth and the poorest people in California (9% for each category).

Let us become the vehicle to educate the labor movement on what having a party that is independent from the corporate rulers can mean.

Again, we need to continue our efforts on these issues. I especially want to raise the case of Santo Reyes now doing life in prison for cheating on a DMV test trying to get a drivers license so he could work as a roofer to support his family.

Labor and the minimum wage

Thanks to the relentless work of a group of Greens, especially Tim Smith of Sonoma, and also Cres Vellucci and Pat Driscoll from Sacramento, the Green Party, with other allies, is now petitioning to try and place a referendum on the ballot to raise the minimum wage. Just to match what it was in 1968 the minimum wage needs to be increased to $8.65 per hour.

This effort will result in many benefits for working people’s perception of our Party. It will provide a way for progressive leaders in the labor movement to break ranks with the Democratic Partys control over the unions and join with us in an effort desperately needed and supported by millions of Californians possibly a majority. We should welcome sympathetic labor leaders to come to our rallies and speak on this issue.

Most of the speakers we want to bring to the podium will be strategic allies of ours even if they cannot endorse us. Let us become the vehicle to educate the labor movement on what having a party that is independent from the corporate rulers can mean. When Matt Gonzalez ran for Mayor, the AFL-CIO would not endorse him but some union locals and union leaders did. In Matt’s race they all so Greens can win. They need to see we can organize and that people are listening to us.

There are many other local issues, such as medical marijuana, that we can include in our campaign. I had the opportunity during a campaign event in Chico to have a leader of this movement speak before a large audience. One of them did go to jail for a year. Our campaign needs to let our people know about all of these issues. We need to have campaign meetings and our message focused on certain critical issues. But before our candidates speak having a small selection of representatives on a series of issues can be of great value.

Our slate

Some of this reach out work is obviously facilitated by the composition of our slate. We want it to be gender balanced. We are also considering running, Forrest Hill, who will be the first openly Gay person to run for a state position. Forrest has been an organizer for the Green Party for years.

He has worked as an environmental consultant and has a PhD from MIT. He is extremely articulate and knowledgeable on key issues around IRV, Gay rights, tax issue, economics, the environment and social issues.

The war would not be possible without the Democratic Party support.

Our thought is to have our ticket headed once again by myself (Spanish speaking Latino) and Donna Warren (African American woman). This slate offers us a man and women for Governor and LT Governor. We want to have a California Teachers Association (CTA) union activist as our candidate for Superintendent of Schools. We want some younger people on our slate.

There is nothing wrong with there being two candidates until our primary for a position. It gives us two or more voices during the primaries to talk to people about our ten key values. Don’t forget that we had four Greens running for the same office during the recall election.

Kent Mesplay from San Diego is preparing to run for Senate. Kent ran as a candidate for president during our primaries. There may be others I do not know about that have already indicated an interest in running. The Green Party membership will decide at our primary in June of 2006 exactly who our candidates will be. We hope you will support the candidates committed to the vision outlined in this report.

We are all thinking through who we should run for the United States Senate.

We see this as one of our key positions. We have had discussions with Muslim leaders seeing if we could find a Green in that community to run against Feinstein. We have not yet been successful. As I mentioned above Kent Mesplay has decided to enter the race others may also.

Political context

Bush is crashing in the polls; so is Arnold Schwarzenegger. After rejecting the failures of the Democratic Party in the recall, people in California now see the Republicans are no answer either. This is an important moment for us to present our alternative.

The incredible resistance of the people of Iraq, the world condemnation of US governments open violation of international law, and the projected endless military occupation of Iraq, has created a frame work that is changing America. In spite of the relentless propaganda effort of the corporate media people are beginning to loose patience and begin to question a failed policy that is clearly based on lies. The Democrats in the last State of the Union address gave Bush 39 standing ovations; they rose to their feet in cheers every time he mentioned his policies in Iraq.

As more and more people turn against the war we need to educate them how it is not just Bush that has committed this crime. The war would not be possible without the Democratic Party support and assistance in helping to derail and block the development of a massive opposition to the pro war agenda.

Ninety percent of the people of the United States have made no gains in their inflation-adjusted salaries for 30 years. The minimum wage has dropped for 35 years while our economy climbs. Taxes have shifted to the middle income layers and the poor as they have collapsed for the rich and the corporations. Some 52% of the profitable corporations in California pay no State tax; they pay just the annual registration fee of 800 dollars a year. The richest 1% pays 7.2% of their income in state and local taxes while the poorest 20% pay 11.3%.

The budget deficit in California, the cut-backs in education and social services, are direct by-products of the rich and corporations refusing to pay their taxes. We will receive an ever-increasing positive reception on these issues as I did especially in the 2003 campaign during the debates.

Getting new people involved

One of the sectors working on our campaign will be a PAC called IDEA (Independence, Democracy, Empowerment, and Accountability). Their task will be to help get people involved in the Party structure. They will work on identifying new faces and candidates that can run for our County Councils and our State Coordinating Committee. They will try to make sure candidates that support our vision of opening up the party, empowering our rank and file, and making our Party a more democratic organization, become part of our candidate lists for county councils in June of 2006.

To democratize our party is to open it up. To have the meetings, leadership bodies from county councils to our State coordinating committee really be an expression of those who are supporting and voting for our party.

There is a disconnect happening in our Party.

In some areas that is not often the case today. On the contrary, in some cases there is a marked difference between the official structures and the rank and file of Greens. There is no better example of this than when Matt Gonzalez announced for Mayor of San Francisco and the San Francisco Greens would not endorse him.

I was present at the meeting begging the 50 or so Greens gathered to endorse Matt. He could not get the 2/3 votes needed. I believe the 15,000 or so registered Greens in San Francisco would have overwhelmingly voted with both hands to endorse our Green President of the Board of Supervisors as they did during the election. There is a disconnect happening in our Party.

Similarly, when I ran in 2002 and 2003 in Alameda, the County Council would not endorse me. In 2002 they published a position that went out to Green voters in Alameda saying since they could not vote “none of the above” they made no endorsement in the primary (I was the only candidate). In 2003 they demanded a meeting with me. The purpose of the meeting was to berate me for running.

Meanwhile registered Greens in Alameda voted massively for our campaign and after the recall election the mass sympathy for our Party grew especially in the Bay Area. Obviously the county council was out of touch with our members. They did not want any Green running. May be I’m wrong but I believe our 157,000 members want us to run.

There is a simple and democratic way to find out. Let those Greens who oppose running put up a slate and campaign for not having a slate. They can ask Greens to vote for them and they will withdraw if they win. Let the membership decide if they want our party to run candidates for state wide offices. Of course everyone understands what not running really means. It means lesser evil politics that is support for the Democrats. Our campaign will all be Greens who favor complete independence from the Democrats. The Greens setting up our exploratory committee oppose a fusion or lesser evil strategy. We will advocate the need for Green independence and democracy as part of our platform.

We need to turn outward and make the Green Party a party truly of the people of California. This will require a serious commitment of people to accept new ideas and new people including younger people into leadership positions.

Our campaign will work to try and get more people involved, to run Greens for County Council who may have felt alienated and not comfortable with Green meetings. The comfort zone issue works both ways. It creates and in group and keeps new people, especially when there are class and race differences out.

Turning the Green Party into a stronger, more rooted organization cannot be achieved in one year. I suggest we help begin this process through our state campaign in 2006. After the campaign we can evaluate the progress we have made. There is no question in my mind that the opportunity exists if we have the will to try.

There is within our party people who really miss the way the party was before Nader. It did not run for state-wide offices or for President.

Therefore, the party was not threatening to the Democrats and did not come under attack. Everyone was in their comfort zone when they went to meetings. They were from the same educated backgrounds and would only run local non partisan candidates.

Many thought at the time this was wise and some still do so. A partial answer is for Greens that want only to work on local non partisan races to do so but they should not try to stop the majority of Greens that see the value of state and national races that stand clearly against both corporate parties telling the truth.

In any case, all points of view within the Green Party have to be heard. Truth can only be ascertained through the conflict of ideas. I was unable to present my views at the meeting referred to above. We will just avoid conflict and present it through other channels such has this memo.

The New Party tried to build a party that would never have a conflict with the Democrats. It failed. They no longer exist. In the early beginnings of the Green Party the concept was raised not to run candidates at all but try to convince the pro corporate major parties to adopt our platform. In a way this is what the early abolitionist tried, to convince slave owners to give up their slaves. But in 1840 a group of abolitionist launched the Liberty Party and said no votes for either pro-slavery party period. The rest is history. These conflicts inside our party are normal. When differences exist all views should be heard, and let the membership decide.

We have our primary in June of 2006. Let all the sunflowers bloom that want to; let our members vote and let us move forward respecting all points of view.

Peter Camejo was Ralph Nader’s running mate in the 2004 presidential election and is the Green Party’s 2006 candidate for governor of California. http://www.votecamejo.com.

[24 apr 06]

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