Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Peter Camejo Memorial This Sunday, 2 PM!

Peter Camejo Memorial: Sunday, November 23,
2 PM at International House (I-House), Berkeley


Please Forward Widely!

The Memorial is less than a week away. Help us get the word out to all who might like to attend.


International House (I-House): Directions and Parking

International House (I-House) is at the top of the UC Berkeley campus, 2299 Piedmont Avenue, Berkeley, California, 94720-2320. Please leave ample time to park and get to the Memorial, as we will be starting on time. We have a full program.

International House at UC Berkeley

International House Parking and Directions page


Doors will open at 1:30

We will have tables at the rear, with slide shows of photographs of Peter, books and pamphlets Peter has written, and clips of interviews and speeches by Peter. The program is scheduled from 2 pm to 5 pm.



Speakers from a wide range of Peter's life and activity will share their memories. The program follows a chronological route. There will be a welcome from Peter's wife, Morella, and family. Then his brother Tony will speak about his early family and Berkeley years, followed by Gus Horowitz, speaking on Peter's Socialist Workers Party years.

There will be a number of speakers from the 70s through the 90s, when Peter founded North Star, and then Progressive Asset Management, worked on environmental issues, worked with Dr. Agha Saeed, from the American Muslim Alliance, who will speak, and worked on issues concerning Brazil and Venezuela.

Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez will speak about his later years in the electoral arena, as will some of Peter's co-candidates, including Donna Warren. His work with the Immigrant Rights movement, the May 1 demonstrations and the Santos Reyes case will be highlighted by Alicia Mendoza and Nativo Lopez. Barbara Becnel of the Stan Tookie Williams Legacy Network will speak, and the program will end with Leslie Evans, speaking on Peter's autobiography, that he finished just before his death.

There will then be an open mike. We have asked Jo Chamberlain, who worked with Peter in his campaigns in the Green Party, and Barry Sheppard, who knew Peter for fifty years, to start off the open mike portion. We have asked others also to share their reminiscences on the open mike, that we would like to have had on the program, but it is very long as it is. Peter knew, influenced and inspired so many.


After Memorial Socializing

Friends of Peter have organized a get-together for after the Memorial. The Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists have made their facilty open to us. The address is 1924 Cedar Street (at Bonita Avenue), Berkeley. There will be modest refreshments. Additions welcome.

BFUU directions


Messages and Reminiscences: Please use the Blog

Some messages have been sent to us. There will be an opportunity for those attending to write brief reminiscences also. For those who have not sent their memories of Peter, and who will not be attending the Memorial, we encourage you to use the blog to leave comments and messages. Those can reach us all in real time. As time permits, some may be read at the Memorial.

Messages can be left there as 'comments' to this message, which will be posted on the blog. The blog also has interviews with Peter from YouTube, and earlier comments from friends (primarily as comments to the very first message - scroll down to find them).


Willing to help?

Those willing to help with the arrangements on the day of the Memorial, please contact Claudette or Alex at the phone number or email below, and plan on being at the Memorial at 1:00 PM.


Peter's autobiography/ DVD of the Memorial

If you'd like to be informed of the publication of Peter's autobiography or would like to find out how to receive a DVD of the Memorial, there is a link at the bottom of this email to be added to the Peter Camejo Memorial list, or you can send a request to achis@igc.org.


Claudette Bégin & Alex Chis
P.O. Box 2944
Fremont, CA 94536


Lisa Macdonald said...

Dear friends,

We regret very much that we are not able to send a comrade from the Democratic Socialist Perpsective in Australia to Peter's memorial. We would have liked to have honoured Peter's courage and commitment to creating a better world by attending this gathering, but the tyranny of distance is too great. We will, however, be present in spirit.

Please find below a tribute to Peter, abridged from Green Left Weekly.

Warm comradely regards,
Lisa Macdonald
For the DSP, Australia
A tribute to Peter Camejo
From the Democratic Socialist Perspective, Australia

Supporters of social justice around the world were devastated to receive the news that renowned US socialist and fighter for a better world Peter Camejo had succumbed to cancer and passed away on September 13.

Camejo, of Venezuelan descent, spent much of his childhood in that country and in 1960 represented Venezuela in the Rome Olympics. He studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley.

As a student he joined the Young Socialist Alliance and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), becoming a leader of both. He was a leader of the US anti-war movement, and in 1967 was suspended by Berkeley campus authorities for “unauthorised use of a megaphone”. Then-governor Ronald Reagan listed him as one of the 10 “most dangerous” people in California.

He ran for president for the SWP in 1976. However, by the late 1970s, the SWP under its central leader Jack Barnes was taking an increasingly sectarian turn, insisting that only struggles led by the industrial working class were of significance and refusing to participate in the existing struggles tainted by “petty bourgeois” leadership. This turn was accompanied by an increasingly undemocratic internal regime.

Camejo was one of many “dissidents” expelled and he wrote a devastating critique of the direction of the SWP in a 1983 piece entitled “Against Sectarianism”, which argued against a retreat from the outward looking orientation based on seeking to unite with and mobilise the greatest numbers of people in struggle — a perspective that had allowed the SWP to play a central role in the movement against the Vietnam War.

In the 1980s and early ’90s, he travelled to Australia and spoke around the country in tours organised by the socialist youth organisation Resistance and the Socialist Workers Party (now the Democratic Socialist Perspective.

Camejo ran at the Greens’ candidate for governor of California in 2002, in the 2003 recall vote and in 2006. He was Ralph Nader’s vice-presidential candidate in the 2004 election on an independent ticket after failing to win a battle with more right-wing pro-Democrat Greens leaders about the need for the Greens to endorse Nader as they had in 2000.

In an interview with Canadian socialist Ernest Tate published in Green Left Weekly, Camejo responded to the accusations in the 2004 race that Nader was “stealing votes” from the pro-war Democrat candidate John Kerry, and therefore a “vote for Nader is a vote for Bush” by pointing out that all of Bush’s hated policies of war and attacks on civil liberties that Kerry had supported, Nader opposed.

He turned the argument on its head: “We think a vote for Kerry is a vote for Bush; a vote for Bush is a vote for Bush, so we think it’s really Bush versus Nader … In reality, Kerry is stealing all of Nader’s votes.”

Camejo’s legacy outlives him. His brilliant pamphlet, How to Make a Revolution in the United States — a combination of two speeches given in 1969 and 1970 — is published by Resistance Books in Australia and is used by Resistance activists as a popular introduction into how social change can be achieved. The text has been published at Links.

In his many talks, Camejo’s sharp wit cut to the heart of the corporate system, exposing its hypocrisy and injustice with a healthy sense of the ludicrous.

He had the rare knack of taking seemingly complex concepts and making them simple. In a September 14 post on the Marxmail e-list, Tom O’Lincoln, who belonged to a rival US socialist organisation, recalled watching Camejo explain the concept of social class in a speech to students around 1970: “Want to know what social class you’re in? Simple. Take a six-month vacation in resorts in the Carribean and pay with a cheque. If the cheque bounces, you’re a member of the working class.”

Understanding, as he repeatedly argued, that all progressive change is won through the actions of ordinary people, Camejo constantly advocated the need to take advantage of, and searched tirelessly for, political openings that enabled radicals to reach out to working people and involve them in the struggle for a better world.

To the end, Camejo remained a powerful proponent both for the rights of the oppressed but also for the need, in order to advance those rights, to break with the corporate two-party system and create a political force that serves ordinary people.

His clarity, conviction and courage will be sorely missed by his comrades in the DSP, but will remain an inspiration to us all.

Dianne Feeley said...

Forty years ago I heard Peter Camejo give a talk on “How to Make a Revolution in the United States.” The previous week I’d heard Communist Party leader Gus Hall speak. The contrast between two radicals could not have been more striking. Hall gave a tired speech I don’t remember. The moderator wouldn’t take questions from the floor—they had to be written on an index card and it was obvious they were picking and choosing which were worthy of being addressed.

I remember Camejo’s speech, particularly the part where he talked about how you could tell the difference between a capitalist and a working person. If they both went to bed and never got up, the capitalist could survive quite well but the worker would quickly starve.

That was one of the hallmarks of Camejo’s style—to make a comparison that fit, but brought a smile, and even a laugh, to those listening. When he ran for president on the SWP ticket in 1976 he was an excellent and hilarious spokesperson for the radical left.

Like many others, I joined the Young Socialist Alliance after hearing Camejo project an effective critique of capitalism and explain why one ought to join in the project of making a revolution in the belly of the beast. It was 1967.

Within a year I was involved in a formation that supported a Third World strike at S.F. State. The small YSA chapter there worked in the strike committee with members of SDS, supporting students of color who raised 15 non-negotiable demands. These ranged from demanding that the college set up a School of Ethnic Studies to opposing the firing of George Murray, an instructor and Black Panther Party member.

At the beginning the college administration made a fatal mistake. They agreed to debate Black and Latino speakers, who won over the audience with testimony about how they had been recruited to come to S.F. State, which then failed to provide them with a relevant education. The debate concluded with the administration walking off the stage.

Having won over the majority of students and faculty in support of their issues, the various organizations and strike support committee then built an effective network of community support. Different people of color communities were featured at rallies and parents organized a support group. But in analyzing the strike’s dynamics, we in the YSA chapter didn’t see how it would be possible to win a victory on all the non-negotiable demands, although we thought it would be possible to win the majority.

We set up a meeting with Peter Camejo. He asked us to explain the strike’s demands and dynamics. When we laid out our analysis, we concluded by asking him what we could do to secure a victory of all the demands.

He said, but you’ve just explained how that will be impossible. All you can do is build the strike as broadly as possible, with the realization that unless something dramatically breaks, you won’t be able to win a complete victory.

We were stunned. We thought for sure he would have some magic formula that could somehow rescue the situation.

Most of the YSAers were arrested at least once during the strike, along with about 700 others. Officially the strike went from November through March, although the arrest of 456 of us at the end of January essentially ended the massive daily picket lines.

Our YSA chapter was also very active in the defense of the S.F. State strikers. Another member and I compiled a daily newsletter for the volunteer defense lawyers so that during the simultaneous trials they would know what the various witnesses were saying. We also researched the records of prospective jurors to make the voir dire process of questioning perspective jurors as favorable to the defense as possible.

We were not able to win the strike against the mass arrests and expulsions. We could have won seven or eight of the demands through a negotiated agreement and said this is the best we are able to do at this time, indicating that we intended to fight for the other demands. But the strike leadership would not consider that alternative.

In fact, the college (now a university) was forced to implement a number of the demands and probably in most people’s minds we won the strike. After all, S.F. State has the only School of Ethnic Studies in the country! They just celebrated the 40th anniversary of the strike with a series of events sponsored by the School of Ethnic Studies.

But the defeat meant that probably the majority of those involved, who were literally willing to lay down their lives in order to win those demands, never returned to the campus. All of us who were arrested were also expelled.

Those of us in the YSA chapter faced the police on horseback and the undercover cops every day. We were excited when trade unionists joined our picket line, and when our parents came to stand with us. But we also knew that the glorious struggle would probably end in a defeat. However we learned from Peter two essential lessons: that no outsider could analyze the situation better than the folks on the ground and that it isn’t possible to win all the time—even in the heady days of 1968!

I have had the opportunity to work with Peter other times over the years, most recently in the Green Party. I didn’t always agree with him, but he’s the one who gave me the confidence early on to analyze a situation and draw conclusions, even when they might not be the ones he’d draw. –Dianne Feeley, editor Against the Current