Peter Camejo 2002
Photo by Walter Lippmann.
Excerpts from the book
NORTH STAR, A Memoir, by Peter Camejo
Haymarket Books, 2010
Selected by Walter Lippmann.
Peter Camejo came to Madison, where I was a student at the University of Wisconsin, in 1962. He was on the national speaking tour in defense of Cuba described below. He was arguably the most effective socialist public speaker I've ever heard in person. The accounts written by Peter below give the reader also a sense of his speaking ability, though hearing a sound recording would always give a much better sense. This book is one of the best I've seen describing that period by a participant who was part of many of the same groups and experiences I was.
This book can be purchased from its publisher, Haymarket Books, or through Amazon or your local independent bookstore. I recommend this book with immense enthusiasm, having myself been unable to put it down once I turned the first page.
My grandmother was a figure from another place and time, like a character right out of One Hundred Years of Solitude by the famous Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In Marquez's novel there is a grandmother with gold hidden throughout her house that no one can find. So it was with my own grandmother. While visiting Chita at her home in Barquisimeto in the early 1970s, I woke up to find a 1915 U.S. gold piece under my pillow. (My mother had the gold piece set into a tie clip for me; it is one of the few accessories I ever wore.) In the old colonial style, in Chita's house the rooms opened onto long corridors that met in a central courtyard. Hammocks hung from the bedroom walls. Chita liked to spend hours napping in a hammock.
My grandmother also slept with pictures of both Fidel Castro and Jesus Christ over her bed. I never asked about it but waited for her to offer an explanation, which she never did. My Aunt Milagro, the only political progressive in my family until I came along, told me, "She likes Fidel because he is good to the peasants."
I Am Drafted
At twenty I was drafted into the army. When I went to be inducted I refused to sign the loyalty oath. That oath no longer exists. In addition to pledging to uphold the Constitution the oath required you to swear that you didn't belong to any of a list of about 150 organizations deemed "subversive," which had been selected arbitrarily by the attorney general. None of the groups on the list had the right to appeal its designation as "subversive." The whole process clearly violated the First Amendment so the army avoided ever letting it be examined by the courts.
Officials handed out the loyalty oath to about fifty inductees in the room. Then they told us where to sign. No one read it or had any idea what he was signing. I knew this was coming so I handed it back without a signature. About twenty minutes later a soldier came up to me and said, "You forgot to sign this." I said, "No, I didn't forget. I don't violate the law and that form is illegal."
A few minutes later a captain came to see me. I was surprised because the captain was a woman. (This was 1960.) Her first comment to me was, "I know why you did this." I thought she was going to say she knew I was a socialist. Instead she observed, "You've been to college." I almost laughed out loud. After giving me a "last chance" to sign she told me to go home and that I would hear from the army later.
After a time I received a letter stating that I had been rejected from the Armed Forces and given a 4-F status—unfit for military service for medical, psychological, or moral reasons. There was a certain stigma to getting a 4-F as it meant something was "wrong" with you, anything from asthma or flat feet to being gay. It did cause prospective employers to look at you more closely. But the army offered me an appeal if I wanted to serve. I wrote back saying yes, I wanted to serve, since it was illegal for them not to let me serve.
I was given a hearing. This amounted to a right-wing Cuban emigrant asking if I knew a list of people from Great Neck who, I figured, had been or were suspected to be members of the Communist Party. I didn't recognize any of the names, but even if I had I wouldn't have admitted it. A tape recorder in front of me had its power switched off to make it seem as though they weren't taping everything I said, although I'm sure they were, just from some other source. It did cross my mind to whisper to the Cuban in Spanish, "You're doing a great job. It wasn't easy for the Party to get you in," to get a laugh wondering how he would explain that to his superiors, but I stayed quiet. After the questioning I was told they would contact me. The army sent me another letter stating I was a 4-F and would not be allowed to serve.
The Cuban Revolution
In January 1959 the U.S.-backed Batista dictatorship in Cuba fell and the July 26 Movement, led by Fidel Castro, came to power.* In the summer of 1960 I went to Cuba in a delegation of six YSAers. For me it was a joyous experience to witness a country, brutally ruled for years on behalf of America's corporations, that was now in the hands of people who aspired to eliminate the corruption, exploitation, and poverty that had been the hallmarks of the Batista dictatorship.
The six of us YSAers got on a train and traveled from Havana to Santiago de Cuba for a huge July 26 rally. All the international guests going to the event were aboard the train. We made a sign to put in the window that said, "Americans for Cuba." At each station stop I climbed out onto the platform, overlooking crowds that came out to cheer the visitors, and gave a speech on behalf of Americans who believed in the right of the Cuban people to rule their own country. At every stop we got enthusiastic cheers.
In Santiago de Cuba the rally took place in a huge open field. We were led up to the stage. Sitting with us were some of the original twelve July 26 Movement survivors who started the revolution to liberate Cuba from Batista's pro-corporate dictatorship. Later Fidel Castro arrived and wanted to shake hands with all the international guests. Everyone lined up to shake his hand. I didn't because I thought it disrespectful to waste his time. Now I wish I had.
Two helicopters circled above us to protect the crowd and the Cuban leaders. There was constant fear the CIA would try to assassinate Castro or others. Of course the whole world knows they have tried but failed for many decades. With the helicopters buzzing you couldn't hear the speakers so the crowd started waving up at the helicopters. It took a while for the pilots to figure it out and fly off a distance so the rally could begin.
The commitment level of the youth we talked to was overwhelming. I was struck by their massive support for the revolution and how it must feel when people oppressed their whole lives suddenly had a government that aimed to represent them. I would wager that every one of them would have given their lives on the spot to protect what they viewed as their liberation from U.S. domination.
* The July 26 Movement was named to commemorate an attack by anti-Batista rebels on the Moncado army barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953. Only twelve rebels survived, including Fidel and Raul Castro.
In 1962 I toured the United States speaking in defense of Cuba. I had given the first speech in my life at the age of nineteen in Boston, while at MIT. With that very first speech I found I had a natural affinity for public speaking. I don't know exactly why, although I think it has something to do with the strong oral culture of Latin America. As the years passed I developed and deepened my ability to address a crowd with humor and persuasiveness. Many jokes have just come to me while I was speaking. But I have always prepared some jokes ahead of time too, ones I have tested and know will work with a crowd, because I have found that nothing does more to get people to listen to you than humor.
To me, public speaking is its own art form. In the 1970s a speech-anddebate teacher came to listen to me and said she found it very interesting that I violated a lot of what are considered the rules of speechmaking, but that my style was exceptionally effective. Through the years I have learned small but specific techniques—for example, that a moment of sudden silence will gather the audience's concentration, or that you can sense whether or not you are reaching people. You can feel it in the audience's physical movement. During a talk the audience is participating much more than they are aware. At rallies people really speak to each other through their responses.
One of the keys to effective political speaking is the use of what are called defensive formulations. With a defensive formulation, you base a position around something people already understand and support, such as people's battles for democracy and freedom, something positive and generally accepted. By doing so you can create a bridge from the audience's existing awareness to something that they might not yet understand or even have considered.
Trip to Cuba
As 1968 closed I went to Cuba with a YSA delegation to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the revolution. I stayed for three months. The United States would not allow American citizens to travel directly to Cuba, so the rest of our delegation was flying to Mexico first. But because I had been legally banned from Mexico* (* A permanent ban on my visiting Mexico was legally established by my deportation; sometime later I just went back to Mexico and it was as though the ban had never existed.) following my deportation in 1967, my trip started with a flight to Spain on December 25 from New York's Kennedy airport.
About three hours out over the Atlantic one of the left engines caught fire. I could see the flames coming out of the wing. Many of us wonder, when we fly on an airplane, what our reaction would be if a catastrophe were to happen. I can tell you firsthand. My immediate feeling was of deep depression—not panic, but a profound sadness. I thought I was about to die.
The pilot came on the speaker system with a calm voice and said something like, "One of our left engines has caught on fire. We can't put out the fire so we will begin to return to Boston for an emergency landing. The stewardesses will prepare the plane for this situation. Please cooperate with them." He was amazing. His voice was utterly calm and unhurried. Next thing I knew, the plane dropped rapidly until it was just above the water. I knew you couldn't last long in the North Atlantic even if you succeeded in getting into the water alive.
A flight attendant became overwhelmed and the others sat her down and buckled her up. Then they began removing seats from the exits so people could deplane more rapidly. A woman seated in front of me started praying, not too loud, but I could hear her; at first it annoyed me. But then a feeling of sadness and compassion for all the other passengers, especially the children, came over me. I found this interesting because in the first moment my depression had been only about myself. After another twenty minutes of steady, relatively uneventful flight I could feel my body chemistry change as hope that I might live entered my head.
The entire time everyone remained quiet. The pilot started taking the plane back to a higher altitude. During all this I could see the flames licking around the dead engine. After about an hour or more the pilot came back on the speaker and explained that the plane no longer had brakes so it couldn't land in Boston. Instead, he said, we would have to head back to Kennedy airport in New York, where we had started.
It took about another hour to reach New York City. As the plane approached the landing strip I could see fire trucks moving alongside the airplane at a high speed. Even before the plane touched the ground, firefighters, looking like gunners in a World War II movie, fired sheets of foam at the flaming wing. Before the airplane hit the ground they had put the fire out.
In the early hours of the morning we boarded another aircraft and took off for Spain a second time. I had known it would be a challenge to get to Cuba, but this was more than I had bargained for.
I thought it remarkable that I could get to Cuba from a country run by fascists, but not from the United States. The flight to Cuba from Madrid was actually routed through Canada; imagine flying to Europe and back, just to arrive ninety miles south of Florida. When we arrived in Cuba, at 3:00 in the morning, customs officials took our passports and kept them. I retired to the Habana Libre hotel, where I had a great room—these many years later I still remember it was room number 716.
The next day, New Year's Eve, I met up with the other YSAers in the delegation. According to my diary this included Joel Britton (from the L.A. branch), Robin Maisel, Linda Wetter, Danny Rosenshine, Evelyn Kirsch, Maureen Jasin, Dave Prince, Paul McKnight, Derrel Myers (from Berkeley), Will Reissner, Derrick Morrison, and two others from Madison and Cleveland whose names I did not write down. Later that day Eva Chertov, an SWPer living in Cuba, joined us, as did Robert Scheer, one of the many North Americans visiting Cuba at that time. In the evening we all went to the Copacabana, where we stood and sang the Internationale as the clock struck midnight. That marked the end of one of the greatest and most tumultuous years in history, 1968; it was also my twenty-ninth birthday.
I stayed in Cuba until early March 1969, traveling throughout the island, visiting factories, farms, and the very site where the liberation forces of the July 26 Movement launched their guerrilla war to end the Batista dictatorship and U.S. control over their country. Prior to the Cuban revolution approximately 60 percent of Cuba's territory had been owned by North Americans or Canadians.
On Sunday, January 5, 1969, the YSA delegation had the opportunity to hear Fidel Castro speak. It was outside Havana, with a crowd of mostly agricultural workers. I wrote in my diary:
Castro started talking at 5:30 p.m. His talk was excellent. His style reflects such deep conviction, sincerity, and honesty. He does not talk down to the people but is extremely honest. He came down real hard on the realities of that region. Giving facts on how little existed and how little had been accomplished and the problems and concepts of how to change it. He speaks with the confidence of someone who feels full support in the masses for his position. It rained heavily ... We were all full of mud. Got back at 11:45 p.m. We ate and went straight to sleep.
At the time of my visit Cuba was, as it remains today, a society run by a one-party system. I raised this issue with Cubans I met throughout my stay on the island. Their responses were interesting—no one claimed it was a good thing. Rather, they maintained it was a necessity, due to the ongoing terrorist attacks and threats of invasion by the United States, as well as the never-ending U.S. blockade of Cuba. They argued that if the system were to be opened up, the CIA would pour in billions of dollars to organize an opposition and eventually would stage an invasion or incite a civil war in order to retake Cuba. As it turns out that is exactly what the United States did when its puppet dictator, Somoza, was overthrown in Nicaragua. So the argument has a great deal of validity.
Our delegation met with lower-level officials of the Cuban Communist Party. I posed the question whether it would be a good thing for the Chinese government to let their people read the writings of Che Guevara. The party officials responded, yes, of course. Then, I countered, why not allow the people in Cuba to read the writings of Mao? Their response was that, unfortunately, Cuban realities were complicated. I took that as a reference to Cuba's dependence on the Soviet Union for survival in terms of oil, arms, and more; of course the USSR was in heavy conflict with China. No one, neither party officials nor ordinary citizens, seemed hostile as I asked these questions. Over and over what I witnessed was a deep commitment to the creation of an egalitarian society, and a genuine sense of solidarity with all working people across the world, especially the Vietnamese.
Throughout my travels I was struck by the real-life practice of this egalitarianism. What follow are some examples that stood out when I recall this trip. I attended a trial for a young woman who had stolen shoes from a store. The judge explained to her that, unlike in most other countries, in Cuba no one person could own hundreds of shoes while others had few or none. She needed to understand that stealing was not allowed because all Cubans were sharing what was available. She was permitted to keep the shoes but was required to work on an agricultural project for two weekends to compensate the economy for what she had taken. The sentencing judge worked alongside her and others.*
* What a difference from California, where a seventeen-year-old, Santos Reyes, received a sentence of one year in prison for stealing a radio and, later in life, was sentenced twenty-six years to life for cheating on a driver's license test (he had taken the written test for an illiterate cousin). See more about this case in chapter 20.
The city of Havana had developed block committees to deal with very local issues. One of the block committees' innovations was to station two people on each block to sit outside at night as a neighborhood watch. I believe they were armed, because Cuba had armed its people to be able to resist a U.S. invasion. So a person walking alone at night in Havana was protected on any given block by citizens sitting outside to make sure no crime was committed. I think Havana became the safest city in the world.
I visited a tobacco factory. Workers received full pay if ill and full pay after retirement. There was one month of paid vacation each year. In all the factories I visited, decisions were made by workers' committees along with the management appointed by the various government departments that coordinated the economy. No corporations existed, no stock market, and no owners.
On the very spot where the guerrilla war for liberation had begun, I met a peasant whose home had been given to him by Castro. In the early days of the revolution the peasant had risked his life to help the guerrillas, and in return Castro had promised him this house. It was beautiful. He lived with his doors wide open and chickens running around inside.
Nelson, one of the Cubans who drove me around during my stay, had fought against the U.S. invasion at Playa Girón in April 1961 (also referred to as the Bay of Pigs invasion ). He took me there to show me the museum and the battle site. Visiting the Museo Girón was a profound experience for me, as I could see so clearly that the people back home in the United States had no idea of the truth. During the invasion the U.S. media had reported nothing but lies prepared by the CIA. Adlai Stevenson, the liberal Democrat serving as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, got up in front of the UN and lied, denying that the United States was attacking Cuba—while it was happening.
I was deeply moved to learn what had happened at a small children's school on the very beach of the invaders' landing. Teachers had packed the schoolchildren onto on a bus and driven them away from the beach to safety. But a group of teachers refused to abandon their school. They all had rifles and military training, and they were determined to hold back the invaders until reinforcements could come. Tragically they all died in the attempt. One teacher, with his blood, wrote "Fidel" on the wall as he died. The first reinforcements on the scene were young recruits from a police training school. They had only light weapons but fought off the invaders until Cuban army troops arrived. Those Cuban army troops included Fidel Castro himself.
I left Cuba on March 4, 1969, and flew back to Madrid to make a connection to Brussels. There was no burning aircraft on this leg of the journey, but I had a tough time getting back as well. At the airport in Madrid there was an eighty-cent charge to board a plane, an "airport exit charge." I had run out of money and had only sixty cents. I asked the official to please let me on the plane for sixty cents because I was physically, materially unable to pay the remaining twenty cents. The official refused to let me board. Finally the person behind me said, okay, for God's sake, here is the other twenty cents, let him on the plane.
When I arrived in Brussels, Barry Sheppard met me at the airport. I had one cent on me.
THE NORTH STAR
The North Star is one of the greatest symbols for justice stemming from the history of our people. "The North Star" was an expression that meant heading toward freedom as slaves tried to escape northward. It has become a symbol in my life of both the goal and the guiding light on the road ahead.
In this final chapter I would like to offer some of my views as to how we can change our nation and the world. These ideas have developed gradually throughout my politically active life. As I have mentioned they began shifting more definitively in the 1980s but I have rarely written down my thoughts.
The world is changing at an ever increasing rate. Human knowledge is rapidly expanding. Computer technology has completely altered the nature of our society, economy, and ability of our species to function into the future. Almost anything anyone says about the future will, as usual, be in good part wrong, but now their predictions will be tested faster than ever.
Yet human knowledge has made little or no progress in finding ways of stopping the destruction of the planet or of ending the vast inequalities that leave the majority of our species living in poverty, with huge numbers dying needlessly from hunger and disease. Even one simple solution, making contraception widely available, is opposed and obstructed by major organizations and governments, including that of the United States, in favor of "abstinence." This contradiction between the potential of human society, based on knowledge and productivity, and its reality is the most striking feature of our time.
No issue is more vital than saving our Earth, the basis of all life. Even though a considerable movement is developing in support of saving the planet, the world economy as a whole continues moving toward the destruction of the oceans, air, and topsoil, while contributing to global warming at an increasing tempo.
I am convinced that whatever I write here, someone reading it forty years from now will say, "Well, of course, there was no way Camejo could have known about what has happened in countries X, Y, and Z, which hat made it a lot easier now to understand how to solve these issues." So the first piece of advice I have for young people is to think for yourself and recognize that having an understanding of how to change society is a moving target. It is a science, not a ritual.
Was Marx Right?
Of course Marx was right. Marx said human history can be understood like any other scientific process. He applied the most advanced, progressive, and scientific knowledge of his time to social issues and rejected all the silly superstitions that were commonplace—and still are—as to how to explain human history, why some people are poor and others rich.
Marx connected changes in human history—primarily the changes in how humans survive, otherwise referred to now as the economy—to material causes. He thought the standard opinion of those at the top, that things won't change or can't change, was wrong and will continue to be wrong. He believed that humans can establish a far more egalitarian existence than the class societies that appeared when agriculture made food surplus possible. Marx raised the idea that humans can transcend the brutality, violence, and abuse that have characterized most of human society for at least the past few thousand years. He laid out a view that attempted to tie society's past evolution to how it might evolve in the future.
Poor Marx. Over time his views grew so popular that distortions became commonplace. He was turned into a sort of "god" who had discovered the truth, and a priesthood was required to interpret his discoveries and profound truth correctly. If we think of Marx as a scientist and revolutionary who was trying to comprehend human society in order to change it, we will be much closer to an accurate appreciation of the role he tried to play.
Was Marx ever wrong? Not according to some of those who have tried to turn him into a religious figure. Yet it is inevitable that scientists who make important discoveries are in time superseded by others. Was Newton wrong because Einstein's theories supplanted some of his? Well, to a degree. As we learn more about human beings and our societies, and as concrete events help bring a deeper understanding, our views on social change will alter. That does not mean that Marx was "wrong" for working to make our understanding of human history a science rather than a superstition.
Did Marx ever say stupid things? Of course. One in particular that amuses me because it touches on Venezuela is his statement about Venezuelans being lazy and British troops having to do the fighting to get rid of the Spaniards.* I don't give this much credence. For someone fighting all the prejudices of his era about human nature Marx did pretty well at presenting his views in a scientific manner. A slip into this kind of comment in his time is wrong and lamentable but easily dismissed since it runs in contradiction to most of what he said.
It's similar to the case of Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence was an amazing step forward for humanity in many of the concepts it raised. The fact that the author himself, in complete contradictions owned human slaves does not completely negate the positive nature of what he wrote, said, and did.
There are no gods. The people we admire, learn from, and look to for. inspiration, were just that—people. They were all human beings, m malian primates, and reflected in infinite ways their own time and surroundings just as we do.
So the fundamental point I want to make—and repeat and repeat that you have to think for yourself. When theory comes into conflict reality it is best to drop or adjust the theory, not deny the reality. Human society is full of contradictions. Sometimes trying to explain things thro formulas will simply separate you from reality. That is another fundamental lesson from Marx, a lesson he drew from the ideas of others—that reality is always in flux and is full of contradictions.
The science of social change is permanently evolving. We will learn what works—that is, what is "true"—through the inevitable conflict of ideas and by testing those ideas against reality. This is a challenge, to say the least, because we are all influenced by the contradictions and conflicts in society. But this struggle is not over some abstract arguments; it is a battle for the physical survival of humanity.
To create a just society and end thousands of years of violence and exploitation is not simple. Generations upon generations of humans have tried to move in a more just, egalitarian direction. It is essential that we respect and learn from these people. The history of all positive social gains has been the product and effort of millions upon millions of humans working together. It is a science, not superstition. Superstitions come from a mystical, unchangeable source. Science is the product of a massive, collective, ever-changing effort of our species.
The Cost of Stalinism
In this book I have explained that the movement for positive, egalitarian social change was derailed for a period of history by the rise and dominance of Stalinism. Those opposed to change in an egalitarian direction, toward human justice, try to claim that Stalinism was the natural, outcome of the mass progressive social movement of the 1800s. I think the evidence shows exactly the opposite. Stalinism was a terrible defeat for the progressive movement. It is only now that we see that era of Stalinist distortion coming to an end throughout the world. The struggle for social justice never stopped. Millions of people continued struggling for equality and progressive change. But Stalinism in its time was able t block, exploit, disorient, or destroy many of the mass social movement impacting the world.
During the era of Stalinism the so-called left became splintered a sectarian, each group distinguished by specific rhetoric that was incomprehensible to the average person. This issue needs to be understood and con. fronted. The goal of people fighting for social change is to succeed, not win a theoretical argument or to sound more radical than someone e Empty rhetoric is a form of capitulation.
Content versus Form
Those of us trying to reach people to oppose war, injustice, and exploitation must recognize the need to speak in language and with symbols that people will understand. The concept of communal life—or in its politicized word form, communism—originated with some progressive elements in the ideology of the early Christian religion. The word was later used in the mid-1800s to describe a totally egalitarian society. For most people in the United States today "communism" invokes horrible totalitarian regimes and has become shorthand for government-run economies that deny all civil liberties and human rights.
In many cases spending one's time trying to argue the correct meaning of a word is about as productive as arguing with people who call themselves Chicanos by informing them that "Chicano" was once a derogatory racist term for Mexicans in the Southwest, or insisting that "monster rally" does not refer to a rally of monsters but a large demonstration.
The word socialism now has a series of associations that are completely different from 150 years ago. If you were to stop ten average Americans and ask for the meaning of "socialism" you would get about fourteen different answers. Some think it means government ownership; some connect it with government services, such as "socialized medicine"; others think it refers to an economic system that can lead to totalitarianism as in the Soviet Union. Still others might think of a bureaucratic system that paralyzes economic growth. The word's definition even depends on the country in which it is used—"socialism" in Europe or Latin America has different connotations than in the United States.
Many people who consider themselves socialists use a definition separate from the various meanings promoted by our educational system and mass media. They think of socialism as an economy based on democracy, not benefiting a small rich minority but instead benefiting all the people. Wouldn't it be helpful if those people were to express this idea in understandable terms—such as "economy based on democracy"—instead of getting into arguments over terminology or confusing others as to what is being advocated? Among some socialists, however, there is a grave fear that to omit the word "socialist" is to betray the great ideals of social justice born in the 1800s.
Saying the word "socialist" repeatedly may allow some people to think they are very radical but the truth is that sectarian language and actions that isolate people politically are a form of capitulation. Having lived through this phenomenon I am more convinced than ever that we will not build a movement in the United States with a mass base until we learn two things. One of them is to ground our language and movement in our own history, traditions, language, and culture. The second is to have an understanding of how our society works. By this I mean not harboring illusions about those who have chosen to favor money over people and understanding fully how the power of money controls our media, education, religion, government, military, and political parties.
The Third American Revolution
The United States is ripe for a third revolution. The First American Revolution, which ended British control over the United States, raised some astoundingly progressive positions for that time, such as separation of church and state, the right of assembly, free speech, and the establishment of an elected government—although only 10 percent of the people had the right to vote. This revolution inspired people all over the world. For more than two hundred years the Declaration of Independence has been used as an example by people fighting for their freedom.
The United States was born as a country that allowed and promoted human slavery. The second revolution, the Civil War, ended chattel slavery and deepened the concept of democracy. Out of that revolution came explosions of workers' struggles seeking the right to unions, women demanding the right to vote, and most profoundly, Reconstruction governments in the South that opposed racism, sought equality, and promoted all kinds of progressive social legislation and rights for working people.
Just as the first revolution, in complete contradiction to the goals stated in the Declaration of Independence, had left untouched the system of chattel slavery, the Second American Revolution left the country controlled by a small minority opposed to the very ideas of democracy and equality that had come out of the revolution.
Deep social changes like the first two revolutions of our nation take a long time to mature. Today the contradiction of a society that is supposedly of, by, and for the people but instead is of, by, and for an extremely wealthy minority cannot sustain indefinitely. It is unlikely, in spite of all the handicaps, that the majority will never mobilize itself to end the rule of a minority and finally create a democracy in the United States.
The political structure of the United States is rooted in a lie. The rulers have to give the appearance that the people rule. Their manipulated elections, control of the media, influence through religion, and falsifications in education have allowed them to weather one potential social explosion after another. In good part their success is rooted in the triumph of U.S. imperialism and the maintenance of a relatively higher standard of living for large sections of working people. But that era appears to be coming to an end.
The average American worker has not experienced any gain in wages, adjusted for inflation, in thirty-five years. This is the first time in American history that the average person has not gained for that stretch of time. Now, with the fall in home values, for many families their actual well-being is in decline. The need for the rich to maintain the illusion of democracy is a sign of weakness to begin with and could become a major problem for them. The pending battle for free elections, runoffs, and proportional representation will have a different meaning in the United States than it has had in Europe. In any case I would think that opening up the electoral system may soon appear as a major issue in American history.
The vacuum of leadership in the trade unions, their utter corruption, and failure to fight corporate domination—although these are now negatives—may turn out to be beneficial, because these same unions would be useless against a sudden political explosion. The main instrument effectively blocking the development of a mass movement for change is the Democratic Party. But the success of the Democrats in derailing and co-opting movements requires that the party be able to offer some concessions, which may be coming to an end on some levels.
Whatever happens, it will take everyone by surprise. It is like water running downhill—when stopped temporarily by obstacles in its course, the water eventually finds a way around the blockage and keeps moving, usually in an explosive new channel or by removing part of the obstacles.
The culture of the left tends to expect forms similar to those from the past. But the world is moving so quickly that the formulas understood to be "the way" change occurs are changing too. In fact, events may prove so complicated and misleading that many people waiting for an explosion or revolt to bring about social change may not recognize it when it occurs, or may even oppose it. The process is likely to be very contradictory. That is, a movement might not appear at first to be progressing toward a confrontation with the rule of money, but it will either develop splits that move in that direction or the movement itself will veer. Such a possibility might be borne out precisely because of the enormous success of the two-party system and the wealth in this nation. The fact that there exists no real "left" force with preconceived ideas or other objectives (as with Stalinism) leaves very little to get in the way once a mass movement unfolds.
Will there be splits in the Democratic Party? Of course, once a mass movement develops all kinds of possibilities will appear. One thing is sure, an explosion of opposition to the Democrats could open the door for a sharp move toward revolution because the entire system is set up with the Democrats as the main roadblock to change. The culture of the Democratic Party is so corrupt that a split, unless driven from its ranks and clearly hostile to the Democrats, would likely not be much of a help but rather act as another roadblock. One example is the small Working Families Party, which tries to attract people alienated from the two-party system, only to offer another way to vote Democratic.
I am convinced the struggle will appear as a fight for democracy and will develop around very concrete issues of a defensive nature. The form may be deceptive because mass mobilizations and electoral explosions are often narrowly focused on a specific law or specific events, yet they can transform quickly into a broader challenge to the ruling system.
Can the Third American Revolution occur without a visionary leadership having been formed? I think the answer to that is no. But such a leadership can develop very quickly if currents exist that have broken with the rule of money, such as electoral oppositions whose politics and culture simply will not vote Democratic. If one studies the Second American Revolution one sees such developments in play. They appear chaotic, but over time they were laying the groundwork for a political explosion.
The Forty-Year Wave
There appears to be a pattern of successive waves of mass struggle, about forty years apart, throughout the history of our nation. Each takes a different form, fighting to improve people's conditions and for increased democracy. In 1849 you see the flare-up of the battle against slavery. Forty years later came the huge populist eruption after 1889. Everyone recognizes the date 1929 with the rise of the labor movement and the creation of the industrial unions that followed. Forty years later in 1969 we were already in the mass rise of a youth rebellion, antiwar struggle, the beginnings of a rew wave of feminism, and the gay rights movement. Today we might just he at the beginning of a new wave.
Why this seems to hold true remains elusive. The empirical evidence I; as been noticed by many people and disputed by just as many. Some have raised the idea that the forty-year period corresponds to technological cycles in our economy.
I lived through one of these waves. I want to relay to you how fast people can suddenly change their minds. When it seems hopeless that the American people will ever understand what is happening around them, question what the media is saying, and fight back—spontaneously it seems to happen. Looking back it becomes much easier to see that these struggles were actually percolating prior to the explosion. Certainly the massive civil rights struggles of the 1950s and 60s set the framework and started the process that found broad expression at the end of the 1960s. I watched in the late 1960s and early 1970s as what had been a small minority point of view—opposition to the war in Vietnam—rapidly expanded into a resounding majority.
Change Is Inevitable
Although we cannot completely rule out apocalyptic scenarios such as our species failing and the world being destroyed or some sort of fascist society arising that annihilates all the gains of the past, I believe there is very little indication that such outcomes are likely. Change will be difficult, that is certain; possibly very violent, since the resistance to democracy and justice is deeply embedded in our society. But I believe that victory will occur. Preparing the way for future generations and fighting to create currents of thought to see through the lies and manipulations can help usher in a victory when a wave hits. Mass defeats such as the rise of Stalinism can derail the process for a generation or more but humanity still appears to be moving forward.
Sometimes changes are occurring beneath the surface that are not fully understood. Even within the two parties of money the roles of women and African Americans are changing, after more than two hundred years of only white men as leaders of our nation. The new wave that is coming will probably accelerate these developments, moving women, Latinos, African Americans, and other minorities closer to the center of our history.
Guiding the social movements back onto the path of scientific thought, shedding the anti-materialist, "idealist," neo-religious concepts that penetrated the left during Stalinism's chokehold, and refusing to get caught in sectarian schemas that isolate us will all be important steps toward the creation of a revolutionary current to fight for the Third American Revolution. Just as important, if not even more so, will be to develop movements that draw the line on capitulation and refuse to sell out to the power of money.
Temporary setbacks are inevitable. It is sad to see us move forward, as with the Nader campaign in 2000, and then have the forces opposed to democracy push back for a period. Setbacks often serve to solidify an ever more committed layer of leaders with the insight and patience to endure, making the next rise even stronger. This is part of the process through which leadership is created for social change.
This is far easier to describe than do. Our movement will always be full of conflict and divisions. That is not just the unfortunate reality; on the contrary, it is a dynamic essential for success. How to build a movement, where to draw the lines, is a process of discovery that occurs in real time as ideas are checked out against material fact. The debate on these issues takes the form of a conflict of ideas. We must never fear democracy, differences, and conflict within our movement for social change.
The Third American Revolution will be part of a world revolution. Saving our planet is not a national but an international issue. The U.S. economy, unlike at the time of our first two revolutions, is now completely interlinked with the rest of the world. Referring to the Third American Revolution is not hidden nationalism or the notion that we are different from the rest of the world. As long as humans are still grouped in nation-states the dynamics of our people will in great part be tied to the history and culture created within our national boundaries. But the coming struggles will consist in part of the dissolution of those boundaries. There is nothing more revealing of the failure of the leaders of our country than when they talk of being "competitive" in the world. Why would we want to compete with and defeat other members of our species? The idea is fundamentally absurd. Such phrases have a purpose, to convince working people to view other humans as the enemy and the ruling class of their own nation as their defenders. The truth is exactly the opposite. The formation of international movements can offer an enormous benefit for everyone.
We are one species. We are one planet. Our success for justice and democracy in this world, for creating a world without hunger or poverty, depends on our species comprehending this simple yet all-encompassing truth.
All these movements—the struggle for women's rights, an end to racism, an internationalist outlook—will come together in time. The Third American Revolution will have as a central aspect of its ideology the end of the nationalist, racist superiority that has characterized so much of U.S. history.
The corporate rulers can co-opt such positive developments for their own purposes to make it easier to move capital and exploit across borders. We are now living in the beginning of the era of the unification of our planet as one economy and one people. We are very far from the day when the people living in India will have the standard of living of the people in the United States. But that must be our goal. The only real solution is to have a peaceful planet where all humans can live in harmony.
PETER CAMEJO DEBATE TRANSCRIPTS
Camejo's debate with Swarzenegger and others, Sept. 25th, 2003
The participants were Democratic Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, Green Party candidate Peter Camejo, independent candidate Arianna Huffington, Republican state Sen. Tom McClintock and Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger. The moderator was Stan Statham. Camejo excerpts:
CAMEJO: This recall exists because we have a crisis in California. There's no question that in the last five years we have the highest income the state has ever had, and instead of ending up with a surplus we ended up with this disastrous deficit. The polls have taken the governor, Gov. Davis, down to 22 percent and that can't be done by the Republicans alone. They were only 35 percent of the registered voters. So we do have a crisis here. And this election is the worst election we've ever had and best election we've ever had. Why the best? Because the public has really gotten a chance to see more than two points of view. To all of a sudden have two candidates here who are not Democrats or Republicans... And it's the worst because we don't have a runoff system. We have no way for the will of electorate. ...
CAMEJO: I think both Tom and Arnold are both factually wrong here. First of all, corporations are now being charged the lowest tax rates that they have been for decades and decades. Their tax rates have gone in the last 60 years from 9.6 to 5.3 percent. In fact, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona, three states where the Republicans dominate, have higher taxes than California. So I want to ask Tom and Arnold to go visit those states and have a talk with them before they come and tell us to lower taxes when their Republican Party has higher taxes than our neighbors. People are not leaving California. They're pouring into California. This is a place people want to come to. We're right now hitting a record GDP. But we have too much unemployment because we're having a jobless recovery. That is, the corporations are making more money than ever before but not the people. We need to look at the fact that people are paying much higher taxes than the wealthiest people in our state or what the corporations are paying. I want to cut taxes on the majority of the people, but I want the richest people, that 1 percent that have more income than 70 percent of our people to pay the same taxes you're paying, the average person, so we can balance our budget and start moving in the right direction.
CAMEJO: Look, we pay ... the average person in California pays about 9.2 percent of their income in taxes. The wealthiest one percent pay 7.2. If we just had the wealthiest 5 percent, who receive all the advantages of the great strides in the economy in the last 10 years -- their income rose 113 percent. Your income only rose 8 percent. Latinos actually declined 3 percent. If we taxed them at the same rate that you pay, we would now have a surplus in the budget. We're 27th in education, we were No. 1 in the nation in the economy. And Tom wants to cut, cut, cut. I want to put more money into education. I want a fair tax. On my Web site, votecamejo.org, we showed exactly how it can be done. How we can have a $19 billion surplus, and that means we can start developing affordable housing, we can make California the leader in renewable energy. These are the things California could be doing, and all they want to do is cut, cut and rip, rip over here on my right, and the others, I don't know what they do. They get all the money in the world, they spend it all, we don't know where it went. I'm calling for a five-year audit. I want a five-year audit to find out how we had a $30 billion surplus turned into a $38 billion deficit. Because I think we just don't know for sure how some good things were done. And let's say it, more money was put in to give teachers a higher pay, some steps were made in taking care of some of our infrastructure. We don't want to go back on that, but it was done irresponsibly. They didn't worried about the income. They were cutting the taxes on the wealthiest people while they raised your taxes. I want to reverse it.
[Cutting California's auto registration tax: McClintock was a rightist Republican]
CAMEJO: Let's let Tom go first. I agree with you on this.
McCLINTOCK: That's actually the campaign that I started five years ago, to abolish California's car tax. It is a tax on a necessity of life. Not a penny of it goes to fixing the roads. I have said from the beginning of this campaign, that the very first act that I will take within moments of taking the oath of office will be to sign an executive order to rescind the governor's crippling of this tax. If he can claim that he has the authority to raise the fee, then by God I can claim the same authority to lower it right back again. But I want to see it abolished. That's why we're circulating an initiative right now to abolish that entire use of tax and to guarantee local governments full reimbursement.
CAMEJO: Amazing, Tom, but as a
Green I agree with you.
How are you going to ensure that all Californians have adequate health care?
CAMEJO: All advanced Western
countries have established universal health care. We are the only nation that
hasn't. And we really have to realize that having the insurance business running
our health care is not working. We have to turn to a single-payer system. I
support (state senator) Sheila Kuehl's proposals. I think SB2 that John Burton
has raised is a step in the right direction but not the real answer. Actually,
if we did this, a study was done that shows that we would save $7.3 billion in
California, about $4 billion actually out of our budget and we'd have everybody
covered. We've got to learn from Canada and Europe. There are things that other
people can teach us. America is not always right at all, and in fact this is one
of those issues where we have to move to universal health care for everybody.
Single-payer system, that's what we advocate and that's why the whole world is
watching. Why America? Because of a (unintelligible).
MODERATOR: I've thought of something to make this a whole lot more controversial in the area of health care. So why don't each one of you tell us how much money the state of California should spend on health care for the kids of illegal immigrants? Who wants to go?
CAMEJO: I just want to say this,
the people we are talking about are the lowest paid workers in California who
work the hardest, who pay taxes and receive almost no benefits. They are
essential to our economy. We loosely use this word, I think totally
inappropriately, illegal. No one is going to arrest them. If somebody is
illegal, you arrest them. But nobody is going to arrest them because they are
essential to California. Everybody knows they are here to stay. They are part of
our family. We have to end this apartheid system that we have toward them. They
are part of our community and are essential to our economy. I really object to
this term illegal. I mean, you know, in the first debate I referred to who came
over here totally illegally and it was European Americans who came over here.
But they are here. So give them a driver's license, give them their rights. I'm
not going to object to that. But these are the people of the indigenous people
of this continent. Let's understand that if your economic situation was the same
as theirs, you would do exactly the same thing. People all over the world are
moving through borders to try to feed their families. Let's look at this as a
human problem we face, not as criminality. These are part of our families. We
need to help them and work with them and give them medical insurance and the
cost that will come about, they are paying for it because right now they are
contributing as taxpayers.
[Proposation 49 was a racist
ballot proposition which would have prevented the collection of statistical
information about ethnicity and was defeated in the election.]
CAMEJO: Well, you know, the issue here is this is a proposition that promotes ignorance. It says we will not know. Look, if you made a poll right now and asked people what you're income level is between right- and left-handed, we all know it would be about the same, or education level. But it isn't on race. If you ask the Latinos, do they have the same education? They have less. They have less income and they pay a higher tax rate. Do you know that? Latinos in California pay a higher tax rate than European Americans. But Prop. 54 doesn't allow us to know that. We're not allowed to ask the questions. So how can we correct problems that exist in our society, which are complex? And I welcome what Tom says and Arnold says that they are for equality, but if you're for equality you have to be willing to have the information so we can take the necessary action to change this. And Prop. 54 is a very dangerous bill because what it does is leads the people to begin to think that these problems are behind us. They are far from behind us. We still have enormous problems to solve in our society.
[How to make California more business-friendly]
CAMEJO: Well, first of all, (citizen) Mike, I want to thank you for the question. But I'll tell you that I think there is a myth here. The biggest problem we're facing is the outbreak of a crime wave. You have the Enrons and the Worldcoms, and why is it that the managers are all stealing all over the country? In fact, there was a study done for two years, and this was a ways back, but it was very interesting. It showed that of the largest 538 corporations, in two years, 67 percent of them violated the law. There is no other neighborhood with that type of criminal record. So the corporations, what we need to do is get the rule of law established. We have companies with felony convictions every single year. Nobody goes to jail. Part of the problem is that the owners of these corporations, the largest ones, are the pension funds. And working people actually own these companies and don't even know it. What we need to do is democratize, change our 1937 act, democratize our pension funds so they can exercise control. You know what we should've done during the energy crisis with these corporations? Voted out all of their boards and put law-abiding citizens in there and stop them in their tracks.
MODERATOR: Thank you.
CAMEJO: That's what the answer to
this problem is. Business is welcome in California and has been super-welcome.
Their tax is as low as it can possibly go.
[How to help local government, starved for funding since Proposition 13 in 1978]
CAMEJO: Yeah, I'm trying to be respectful to everybody here and, you know, I'm trying to say, I want to thank Helen for her question because this is a mystery in California. There is a problem here that most people are not aware of. Our county governments are starving for money now. Most of the money they received is already allocated. The county supervisors have almost no power at all, and the fact is about half of the discretionary money was taken away from them and then when we had surpluses in the budget of the state. And instead of giving back the money, they refused to. This is creating a crisis and I'll tell you where it starts hurting. Counties start looking at their pension fund as a big pile of money that maybe they can somehow they can lower, solve their budget problems by not making the payments that they should be making. So what we need to do is give that money back. We have to empower the local government. We have to give them more freedom. We have to look at these issues more carefully, and I think that as a supervisor that Helen's raising, the stress that she's feeling, the stress that all supervisors are feeling, the lack of funding to be able to carry out the very important tasks they do, including preventive, uh, medical, the health care, the issues of -- if we cut those, we'll end up paying more because that simply becomes the problem in emergency rooms.
[Proposition 53, a measure mandating a percentage of the state budget for infrastructure spending, taking responsibility away from the legislature for this.]
CAMEJO: I'm opposed to Prop. 53. It's micromanaging. We do have crisis of infrastructure. It's super important. But the way you finance infrastructure is very different from the year to year budget. It's really a capital expenditure. And should be able to self finance. But we are creating a disaster in the future for the next generation if we don't start straightening out and have a 20-year plan. I really think one of the things we're doing wrong in California is we're not getting together and coming out with a long-term plan in how to keep our infrastructure and make it positive for our economy. And we need to have funding that's not affected directly with the budget -- like when you build a bridge, you pay a fee to go across that bridge. That's what pays for it. And you borrow money to build a bridge. So we can build the infrastructure even without hurting our budget.
A two-minute closing statement from Green Party candidate Peter Camejo.
CAMEJO: We have a fiscal crisis in
California, and we're not going to solve it unless we have a fair tax system.
The wealthiest 1 percent pay a 30 percent lower tax rate than the average person
is paying. And they talk about not raising taxes, but they have already raised
it on you. But they're not, the wealthy people are not paying they're fair
taxes, nor the corporations. And we're not going to solve the crisis of
education ... unless we establish a fair tax. The amazing thing is that we would
have a very substantial surplus and we could actually attack these issues. Now
is there waste in our budget? Of course there is, and we should try to find it
and stop it and curtail it. On that, I agree with some of the comments Tom has
made. But we are 27th in education. I want to improve that. I want to start an
affordable housing program. I want to make renewable energy, I want to make
California the leader in renewable energy. We also have to raise our minimum
wage. I want a living wage. You know that our minimum wage is 24 percent lower
today, adjusted for inflation, than it was in 1968, and our economy has improved
so much? We need universal health care. And one of the problems that's deeply
bothering me, and we need a governor who will speak out on this, is the issue of
civil liberties in America and of our people in California. I am very concerned
about what is happening internationally because California is a key to this
world. We're the fifth largest economy and we must speak out. Here we were for
10 years supporting Saddam Hussein and arming him, and now we're illegally
occupying that country and destroying the federal budget. No, we need someone
who will speak out in support of the Kyoto agreement, and the U.N. charter and
the rule of law in the world and the world court. What I want to do is fight for
the change of our electoral systems so that you don't just hear two people in
the debate. And it's sad to say that in the next two debates, they're trying to
exclude me. The League of Women Voters now doesn't want the Green person heard
anymore, who's calling for a fair tax. If you believe in democracy, in
sustainable economics, and if you believe in peace and pre-elections, vote
Green, vote Camejo governor.
September 3, 2003
[How to vote on the California recall]
Corporations are having a massive criminal problem. We have the Enrons and the
Worldcoms. There is something breaking down. The rule of law is breaking down.
In California, we have lowered the taxes on corporations on a straight line
down. They are paying half of what they were paying just 16 years ago. The
richest people in California, taxes are lowered while your taxes are going
higher, the average person. Where is the money to solve this problem?
(Unintelligible)... In the corporations and among the richest people paying the
lowest tax rates (unintelligible)... You are willing to go there, you cannot
balance the budget.
[taxing the wealthy to pay their fair share]
Next question for Peter Camejo, coming from John Myers, the Sacramento bureau chief of KQED-FM.
Myers: Sir, you proposed that the state tax go from (unintelligible) for the wealthy that is a big jump to make in one year, from 9% to 14.3%. How do you justify that increase? If it is wealthy today, could it be the middle class tomorrow?
Camejo: The raise I'm proposing for them would make them even with what the poorest people pay. What absolutely amazes me is that people are willing to see the poorest people in California, making $15,000 a year, pay 11.3% Of their income in taxes, but say that the rich should have to pay it. The fact is I'm for a fair tax, which is that the wealthiest people in California should be paying the same that you are, the average person. That would balance the budget. That is where we have to go. We also have to get rid of waste and the loopholes that Arianna Huffington referred to. But there is no will. The Democrats and Republicans are at the service of the people who fund them. That is the difficult problem that we now face. That is, they are allowing these crises to happen and they are cutting education, health care and all of the services that we need. People have to choose. What do you want? Lower the taxes for the rich? Give them everything? Or allow these services to continue and protect education in California.
Myers: But Mr. Camejo, how do you get Republicans like Mr. McClintock to vote for that?
Camejo: I will
stand with Cruz Bustamante on this, he had the courage to say if we cannot get
the right kind of tax structure, let's go to the people. I will tell you who
will vote for a fair tax in California, the people in California. It is about
time. We have one third of 1% of the people of California get 20% of the income,
200 billion dollars and they pay lower taxes than you do. That is not right. And
the Democrats and Republicans have allowed that to happen. That is why we have
to have the Green Party here and a voice heard to challenge the corporate
domination and the money domination of our political system.
[Taking money from gambling casinos]
Camejo: you know, casinos, I would never accept money from casinos, tobacco companies or energy companies, whatever. Once you accept money from them, there is a compromise there. The truth is, casinos are not a good thing. They are a regressive tax. Of course, deep inside me, I have to feel some sympathy for the native americans who have finally found a way, but it is the wrong way, preading casinos over america, every community, it is damaging to our society, not helpful.
[anti-immigrant Proposition 187]
Camejo: I'm opposed to 187. I voted against it, considering it unconstitutional, violation to U.N. Charter, a denial to children to go to school, punish them for the economic problems their parents suffered.
[lowering the legislative vote percentage to pass a state budget from 66% to 55%]
Camejo: only three states have the system we have. I'm against it. I support the proposal to lower to 55%..
Camejo: I'm pro choice and I believe that the issue is rooted in separation of church and state. Everyone has the right to their opinion, should be respected, the government should not interfere.
Shandobil: Are you saying that you would have signed it.
[Electricity industry de-regulation]
Audience member: California electricity industry is at a cross-road of deregulation versus reregulation. What will you do to fix the broken system and the high electricity rates.
Camejo: (unintelligible) Green Party is the only party in California that are opposed to the deregulation of energy. The Democrats and Republicans voted unanimously, promising to lower instead it increased as we predicted would happen. I believe that we are in a complete crisis on the issue of energy. Worldwide. I want to see California become the leader for renewable energy, the only real solution. We are setting ourselves up for future crisis by defending on natural gas whose prices will go through the sealing as we run out of it.
We have to import it. No effort is
being made to solve this. We have to regulate the industry. The question is how
to do it to do it right? The way that we have been deregulating is simply
leading to corporations management taking the money and going into crisis and
you always end up paying for it, as taxpayers and consumers. We need to change
it and have a vision.
[budget deficit and education funding]
Camejo: Our budget heavily goes it education. When the Republicans talk about cutting it, they will cut education, that is what they are talking about. You notice they never mention a specific thing about what they will cut. If you are a serious candidate, say it. Do I not want to cut from education. I want to put more money into it. I do not want to see it privatized. Free public education was a great victory in this nation, it is part of our culture and tradition, it must be protected and you can only do that with a fair tax in California.
[workers compensation fraud and education testing. two separate issues, but Camejo was asked the second question right after answering the first one]
Camejo: You know, fraud exists, of course. We have to look at it. In fact, I believe there is a lot of -- I've called for an audit of the last five years to try to find out what in the world happened. How did we get from having this incredible, unusual income and end up with a massive deficit. I pointed out at my first press conference an example, over $6.4 Million given to a corporation supposedly for education when there is no education. There is programs happening here where they are giving away money to corporations, and to -- basically, you know, welfare for the rich. We have to stop that waste.
Shandobil: Okay. Thank you. We move on now to the next question for Pilar who has a question for Peter Camejo.
Marrero: Mr. Camejo, the implementation of the high school exit exam had to be postponed for three years because of the disparities in access to good education would have made for a high failing rate for African-American and Latino students. Given that apparently right now there is no money to solve that disparity, will you get rid of the requirement until the playing field is more level?
Camejo: I think so. I'm nervous about the mania we have now on testing. The problems are often blamed on the teachers. The teachers cannot solve social problems that the society as a whole has some of. They are doing the best that they can. We have to have a holistic approach to judging the work they are doing. Where I think this is going, with all of the testing, is to say that public education is not working and we'll privatize. It is not the fault of the teacher, the CTA, the teacher's union has been explicit, clear on this, come forward and said that the testing mania is hurting us in the way that the teachers have to teach and their job and their responsibilities. We have to fight this. There is a hidden agenda behind the mania for testing everyone and use that go as a criteria, instead of a holistic criteria.
Marrero: But how would you measure that the students are moving forward and really getting a education.
Camejo: I believe that that is complex. I think that you have to look at a school by school situation. The language issues, all of these different issues necessary for making judgments on the advance of people. We are making advances in California. And by the way, even though I've been extremely critical of Governor Gray Davis, as those of you have heard me know, but he did put more money into education, you know? We are making an effort. We are making headway. But we still have a long way to go. And we need to improve gentlemen indication. But the testing is not the way we're really going to judge it in the end.
Peter Camejo interview on CNN,
August 28, 2003
Interview With Green Party California Gubernatorial Candidate
Aired August 28, 2003 - 15:16 ET
THIS IS A RUSH
TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT
BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CNN ANCHOR: Checking more of the day's developments in the California recall,
former L.A. Olympics organizer Peter Ueberroth is invoking the memory of the '84
Games with the first of what he's calling Carry the Torch for Peter Issue
Forums. The town-hall-style meeting in wrapped up just a short time ago.
Ueberroth took questions from about 50 to 60 people who have preregistered on
his Web site.
Arianna Huffington held a news conference with reporters today in Sacramento. Just yesterday, Huffington took the politically risky step of proposing changes to some of the tax provisions created by the popular Proposition 13.
Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante today proposed state regulation of gasoline. Bustamante said the oil companies should be regulated because they are guilty of what he called irresponsible price-gouging.
Well, with me now to talk more about the California recall race is Peter Camejo. He's the Green Party candidate in the recall election for California governor.
First of all, Mr. Camejo, "L.A. Times" poll last week, it had Cruz Bustamante at 35 percent, Arnold Schwarzenegger at 22 percent, several others. You were down there, I think, seventh on the list with 1 percent. How are you going to translate that into victory?
PETER CAMEJO, GREEN PARTY, CALIFORNIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: Well, the Green Party's been growing continuously over the last five years. I got 5.3 percent statewide. We got over 10 percent in the north. We beat the Republicans in the whole area of the Bay area. We have more and more people elected every year. We're up to 65 elected officials in California.
The problem with those polls is, they're likely voter polls that only cover 20 percent of the population; 80 percent are not included in those polls. And the 80 percent that are not included is where our strength is, which is people of color. Those polls are 80 percent white, even though the white population in California is 45 percent.
WOODRUFF: So you're saying those other people are going to turn out to vote.
I want to ask you about your positions vs. Lieutenant Governor Bustamante. The two of you seem to agree on a number of things, from abortion rights to same-sex unions, and I could go down the list. What about the argument that, even if you're just taking a few percentage points away from him, you could end up costing the Democrats the election and handing it to a Republican?
CAMEJO: Well, the problem is that, in California, we tax the average person a lot more than we tax the rich people; 99.9 percent of the people of California pay a higher tax rate than Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I'm alone in calling for the 5 percent richest people, whose income has risen 100 percent in the last seven years, that they pay the same as the average Californian. That would balance the budget. I'm calling for a fair tax. That's the difference between us and all the other candidates, including Bustamante, who I do agree that he has come up with some good proposal. And some of them, I'm going to support. In fact, all the candidates...
WOODRUFF: So 5 percent richest people would pay what tax?
CAMEJO: We want to increase people above $200,000 by 2 percent and people who are making over $500,000 5 percent, which would bring them and the actual taxes they pay to about the same as what the average taxpayer is paying in California. The poorest 20 percent pay 11.3. The richest 1 percent are paying 7.2.
WOODRUFF: And you're saying that would help make up the $8 billion budget deficit?
CAMEJO: We would have a surplus.
Also, the corporations used to pay 14 percent. They now pay 7 percent. We haven't assessed their properties in almost 20 years, over 20 years. If we did that, that would bring in $3 billion more. I today announced a whole plan for how to balance our budget. And, in fact, we could have a surplus, as we should have.
Do you know that California got the most income ever in the last five years, way above the norm? We should right now be sitting on about a $30 billion surplus. And Gray Davis lost it all, plus created a massive deficit.
WOODRUFF: You have an interesting agreement I want to ask you about with Arianna Huffington. And that is, whichever of the two of you has less support as you get closer to Election Day is going to drop out and throw support to the other one. It sounds like neither one of you is serious about this campaign. How do you explain this?
CAMEJO: Well, no.
What is happening, again, is, the polls so far are showing you only likely voters. And we haven't had the debates. On September 3, for the first time in California history, a third party will be in the televised debates. This is a big breakthrough happening because of the recall. The mass people, the millions, will finally be able to hear what the Green Party says and its position of fair taxes and social justice and peace and democracy.
So this is a great opportunity for us. Arianna Huffington is saying many of the same things I'm saying. I welcome her. We're friends. We're working together. We're trying to get a message out. And we hope that the voters will turn to us. And the only agreement we've made, really, is that if either of us had a chance to win, the other would do whatever they could to help that happen.
WOODRUFF: And you'll make that decision between now and Election Day?
CAMEJO: Yes, Judy, if the opportunity actually existed.
WOODRUFF: OK, Peter Camejo, thank you very much for talking to us, the Green Party candidate for governor of California. We appreciate it.
CAMEJO: Thank you.
TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com