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Peace and Freedom Candidates Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez in Oakland

by Paul Burton
Over 400 people turned out to hear presidential candidate Ralph Nader and his running mate Matt Gonzalez at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater Sept. 30.
Hundreds Gather to Hear Peace and Freedom Candidates Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez in Oakland

By Paul Burton

Over 400 people turned out to hear presidential candidate Ralph Nader and his running mate Matt Gonzalez at Oakland’s Grand Lake Theater Sept. 30. The two are on the ballot in 45 states this year as Independents or on various party lines, including the Peace and Freedom Party in California. Several P&F candidates also spoke, as well as Cindy Sheehan, running as an Independent for Congress against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Sheehan is endorsed by the Peace and Freedom Party and the Green Party. She and the other candidates criticized the two-party system and reminded the audience that the Democrats have gone along with George W. Bush on issues ranging from funding the Iraq war and occupation, the PATRIOT Act, warrantless domestic spying and telecomm immunity, and the bailout of Wall Street speculators with taxpayers’ money.

From Peace Mom to Congress: Cindy Goes to Washington

Cindy Sheehan became politically active after her son Casey, serving in Iraq, was killed April 4, 2004 near Baghdad. Sheehan tried to ask Bush, “For what noble cause did my son die?” and camped out near Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas for several months. She has continued to be an outspoken critic of the Iraq war and occupation, and U.S. imperialism. When Pelosi become House Speaker after the 2006 election and pointedly said that impeachment of Bush and VP Dick Cheney was “off the table,” and continued to fund the Iraq war, Sheehan decided to challenge Pelosi.

Describing herself as “a recovering Democrat,” Sheehan pointed out that, “Obama is not a peace candidate or he wouldn’t be the nominee. You can’t be the nominee [of the Democratic Party] without selling out to the corporations, selling out to the military-industrial complex, to AIPAC [the American Israel Public Affairs Committee], and selling us out.” She called Obama, “just another imperialist” because of his support for war in Afghanistan and the continued occupation of Iraq and his belligerent rhetoric about the “war on terror.” Sheehan said that change was needed, but, “we can’t make change unless we challenge the whole rotten system, not just half the system.” Calling Bush, “A boil on the ass of democracy,” she said, “We can lance that boil but unless we cure the system, we’ll have an Obama boil or a McCain boil.”

Ms. Sheehan blamed the economic meltdown of Wall Street and banking institutions on “unregulated crony capitalism.” She said there could be no fundamental change while the government was rooted in and tied to the military industrial complex. “Remember they used the same scare tactics to get us into the Iraq war,” she said, “telling us ‘if we don’t do something now, it will get worse.’”

Sheehan called for a bottom-up solution to the economic crisis, with investment in creating living wage jobs. She noted that she is often asked when she criticizes the two-party system, “What is the alternative?” She said, “We have an alternative in the 8th District; so you don’t have to vote for Pelosi, who extended an olive branch to the White House when she should have extended handcuffs.” She called on voters to stop being co-dependent with the Democrats, who she called co-conspirators with the Bush administration. Sheehan said she was planning to vote for the Green Party candidate for president, former Georgia Congressmember Cynthia McKinney.

Act Locally: Vote Peace and Freedom

Retired public school teacher and Peace and Freedom Party candidate Marsha Feinland is running for State Senate in the 9th District against Democrat Loni Hancock. Feinland called for repeal of the No Child left Behind Act, which she pointed out was written by a Democrat, George Miller, and has punished students and schools and created a standardized testing craze that doesn’t benefit education. She called for more education funding and redirecting funds from the military budget to schools.

Feinland said she supported the demands of the teachers’ union in Oakland—the Oakland Education Association—to raise fees and taxes at the Port of Oakland to help fund Oakland schools. She called for the Port to fund retrofitting of polluting trucks and allowing independent truckers to organize and unionize. And Feinland said real solutions to global warming should be based on regulating polluting industries, not the “cap-and-trade” schemes that allow polluters to buy and sell “pollution credits” and profit off pollution. Feinland said the Peace and Freedom Party represents a socialist alternative that puts people before profits and gives control of resources to workers, not corporations.

Other Peace and Freedom candidates speaking up for a socialist alternative to the corrupt two party system were Gene Ruyle, a candidate for Congress in the 10th District (Contra Costa, Alameda, & Solano Counties) and Bill Callison in the 7th Congressional District. Former P&F candidate for State Insurance Commissioner Tom Condit served as MC.

Matt Gonzalez: More Integrity than Biden, More Experience than Palin

Former San Francisco Supervisor Matt Gonzalez said his travels around the U.S with Ralph Nader had been enlightening. He said at many events there were protesters “who still blame Ralph Nader for George W. Bush.” He pointed out that the Democrats never complained or called Ross Perot a “spoiler” when he gained about 20 percent of the vote in 1992 and enabled Bill Clinton to win the election over Bush’s father with only 43 percent. Gonzalez said the president should be elected by a majority of voters, but he did not explain that in a multi-candidate race this could be accomplished by ranked choice or instant run-off voting (which he championed as an SF Supervisor and which has proven to be workable). He pointed out that the Democrats have done nothing to reform the electoral system in the last eight years.

In an article in on the BeyondChron website in February, “The Obama Craze: Count Me Out,” Gonzalez pointed out that Obama’s voting record does not match his promise of “Change we can believe in.” Gonzalez wrote, “But his record suggests that he is incapable of ushering in any kind of change I’d like to see. It is one of accommodation and concession to the very political powers that we need to rein in and oppose if we are to make truly lasting advances.”

Gonzalez reminded the Grand Lake Theater audience that, while Obama opposed the Iraq War, “he has voted to approve every war appropriation the Republicans have put forward, totaling over $300 billion.” Gonzalez noted that Obama voted for the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) retroactive immunity provision for phone companies that allowed illegal spying on U.S. citizens, and supports offshore oil drilling that is environmentally dangerous and won’t have an impact on gasoline prices or reducing dependence on foreign oil.

Gonzalez left the Democratic Party in 2000 after seeing how the party shut third party candidates out of debates and became one of the leading Green Party elected officials. He criticized the two major parties and the media for narrowing the spectrum of debate. He said he should be included in the Vice Presidential debates alongside Democrat Joe Biden and Republican Sarah Palin. “I’m no Sarah Palin,” he joked, to much laughter from the audience. “And I’m glad I’m not Joe Biden, carrying water for the bankers in Delaware. But I was president of the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco, which has a larger population than Alaska or Delaware, with a budget twice as large as those two states.” Gonzalez also noted that he had received more votes in his bid for Mayor in 2003 than Biden had in when first elected to Congress. Gonzalez also reminded the audience that he was chief sponsor of establishing the highest minimum wage in the country in San Francisco, currently over $9 an hour.

Hammering away at the hypocrisy of the Democrats who blame third parties when they lose, Gonzalez said that six current Democratic Party Senators were elected with the help of Libertarian candidates who served as “spoilers”—taking votes Republicans presumably would have won. One of the Senators is Majority Leader Harry Reid, who Gonzalez said had allowed Republicans to filibuster by phone. “And the reality we are in is Nader’s fault?” he asked.

Gonzalez pointed out that Ralph Nader, as an outsider, has a far more extensive legislative record of accomplishment than Biden, McCain and Obama combined. The list is too long to include here but Nader was instrumental in enacting the Safe Drinking Water Act, Freedom of Information Act, National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act and mandatory seat belts, as well as establishing the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and several public interest organizations.

“At some point we need to fight for what we deserve and really want,” Gonzalez said. He said that when people make demands, Obama says: “Superheroes can’t win; we can’t pass universal health care.” But, Gonzalez pointed out, “There are no superheroes in the Canadian Parliament but they gave the people universal single payer health care.”

He slammed corporate lobbyists who aren’t just pushing for a Wall Street bail out but a bail out of the two party system, which brought on the deregulation of investment entities, banks and insurance companies that led to the current debacle. He said alternatives need to be heard, not shut out of the media and debates. “Why allow candidates who are trying to strengthen democracy to be insulted and ridiculed?” he asked. Gonzalez said that Green Party leader Peter Camejo, who recently died, liked to remind people that James Birney, the candidate of the Liberty Party advocating abolition of slavery in 1840, got only one percent of the vote. But 20 years later the abolitionist cause had gained strength and popularity and ultimately succeeded.

“So how do you feel when you have a major party candidate saying ‘you can’t have peace, you can’t have health care, we have to invade another country to fight terrorism’?” Gonzalez asked. “It’s really insulting and disgusting.”

The McCain-Obama Debate? “Pitiful, Sterile and Cowardly”

Ralph Nader echoed his running mate’s frustration with the lack of media coverage and exclusion from presidential debates. “If you had Nader/Gonzalez in the debates, you’d have a broader discussion—more voices and more choices means more solutions,” he said. “Instead we saw a debate that was pitiful, sterile and cowardly.”

“We represent the majority of people who want universal health care, who want U.S. troops out of Iraq, more fuel efficient cars and no new nuclear power plants,” Nader said. “We represent the majority of people who want to see us in the debates.” But since the Commission on Presidential Debates is controlled by the twin parties of the corporate elite who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, alternative candidates are excluded. “A lot of people don’t like the trap they are in and want more choices, but even the public broadcasting stations, funded by taxpayers, have refused to cover our campaign.”

The consumer advocate and long time critic of corporate power said, “We have proposed 12 ways to go after corporate crime and abuse, but that’s not an issue in the debates because McCain and Obama are corporate candidates—and they are getting away with it because of the two party trap.” Nader told the crowd that when we don’t make demands on candidates and settle for the “least worst,” we remain stuck in the two party trap with no progressive change. “We have to demand more from the political system,” he said.

Commenting on the lack of media coverage of his campaign, which is on the ballot on more states this year than 2000 or 2004, Nader said editors at the Washington Post told him they were ignoring him because he had no chance of winning. “Then why are you covering the Washington Nationals?” Nader asked. “They are in last place!” And when a Nader staffer asked NBC news anchor Brain Williams why the station wasn’t interviewing Nader, Williams said, “We’re too busy with the presidential campaign.” Of course NBC is owned by one of the pillars of the military industrial complex, General Electric, and never features critics of nuclear power or the bloated defense budget that helps enrich GE’s overpaid CEO.

Nader addressed the “spoiler” issue head-on, reminding the audience that Bush was selected by a 5-4 Supreme Court decision; 250,000 democrats in Florida voted for Bush; the Florida Democratic party approved the “butterfly ballot” that caused many voters to vote for Pat Buchanan instead of Al Gore, who did win the popular vote; and tens of thousands of African-American voters who most likely would have voted for Gore were listed as felons and thrown off the voter rolls in Florida. Gore also failed to fight against the theft of the Florida vote and did not win his home state of Tennessee. “Yet the corrupt Democratic Party keeps blaming a little party year after year to rationalize their defeat,” Nader said.

Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand

But Nader offered some hope that as a result of the economic meltdown, people could be mobilized to make demands. “The bailout is a great igniter of public outrage,” he said. Voter outrage did stall passage of the bailout measure and force some changes, but a majority of Democrats in the House voted to put the interests of Wall Street before those of Main Street. “The Democrats don’t make any demands,” Nader said. [The Senate passed their version two days after Nader’s talk, with California’s Boxer and Feinstein joining McCain, Obama and Biden in supporting the measure to use taxpayers’ money to prop up Wall Street speculators’ house of cards.] Nader pointed out that the bailout benefited the very same people who caused the problem, including people like former Goldman Sachs CEO and current Treasury Secretary Paulson. He called for real hearings by Congress that include progressive economists, not just the heads of the Dept. of Treasury and the Federal Reserve.

“When Eugene Debs [who ran for president four times in the early 20th century as a Socialist] was once asked if he had any regrets,” Nader said. “Debs said his biggest regret was that under the U.S. Constitution the people could have anything they wanted, but they don’t seem to want much of anything.” [Debs also famously offered the often repeated adage that, “It’s better to vote for what you want and not get it than to vote for what you don’t want and get it.”] Nader pointed out that since World War II European nations have established real, multi-party democracies with proportional representation. “And they have universal health care, paid vacation time, paid maternity leave, laws that better enable union organizing. Sixty-three years after World War II we don’t have any of it in the U.S.,” Nader said. “It’s a crime when you have to spend all your waking hours struggling just to get by in the richest country on the earth.”

“We need to re-define ‘freedom’ and not confuse personal freedom with political freedom,” Nader said. “Sure you are free to get in a 4,000 pound vehicle and drive three blocks to buy some Chiclets. But freedom should include the freedom to decide how taxes are being used and the freedom to buy food that isn’t plastic and genetically modified.” He called for repeal of the Taft-Hartley labor law to allow workers more freedom to organize unions. But the labor movement has made no demands on the democrats it endorsed, including Obama, Edwards, and Clinton, to make repeal of Taft-Hartley a campaign issue. The issue is “off the table,” as are many other issues like single payer health care, impeaching Bush and Cheney, and cutting the military budget, listed on Nader’s website at

Nader decried the corporatization of the two major parties and said that all the departments of government are under corporate control. He called for checking the corporate takeover of Washington by establishing Congressional watchdog groups in every district. He made a similar proposal during his 2000 campaign that called for 2,000 volunteers in each district to put in 2,000 hours as activists pushing for progressive legislation like single payer health care or a crackdown on corporate crime. “We’d get it in 18 months,” he asserted. “Few people know congress as I do. When they are confronted with an electoral force, they will respond. They want what only we can give them—re-election.”

The Nader-Gonzalez campaign has spent more time in California than McCain or Obama, who only visit Beverly Hills or the Silicon Valley to raise huge campaign contributions. Nader said he strongly supported Prop. 2, which would end some abuses of farm animals, and opposed Prop. 6, which would further criminalize youth, allowing 14-year old suspected gang members to be tried as adults and imposing Draconian prison sentences. He urged the audience to get involved and get out the vote.

The Nader-Gonzalez campaign in California has the potential to help build the Peace and Freedom Party and help its candidates. Nader and Gonzalez are also endorsed by the Green Party of Alameda County, along with Green Party candidates Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente. Peace and Freedom and Green Party members worked together to organize the Grand Lake Theater event.

“We have an opportunity to get out a huge vote for our issues,” Nader said. “Every vote [for Nader-Gonzalez] is a step closer to universal health care, peace, and justice.”

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