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Taking on Chevron and Pelosi

The Prospects for Progressive Politics

by RALPH NADER

San Francisco.

It was a packed house at the historic old Roxie Theatre in this city’s Mission District. A diverse group of citizens gathered here between Christmas and the New Year to listen and discuss the prospects of progressive politics following the Democrats’ victory in Congress and the election of a Green Party candidate as Mayor of the troubled nearby city of Richmond (population 102,000).

Gayle McLaughlin–the Mayor-elect–demonstrated why she defeated Chevron (which operates a refinery in Richmond) and other corporate interests, winning decisive votes from the African-American and Hispanic communities that make up a majority of the city’s population.

Going door-to-door since March, she and her volunteers conveyed specific improvements through a mobilized citizenry that hit home with the residents.

Matt Gonzalez, who narrowly missed winning the mayoralty of San Francisco in 2003 as a Green Party candidate, spoke of his decision to vote only for the candidates whose record and agenda he believes in, regardless of Party affiliation. Since leaving the Democratic Party in 2000, he would no longer be trapped into voting for the "least worst" major Party candidate. Mr. Gonzalez has a bright state-wide political future in California.

As an elected member of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors, Ross Mirkarimi–a long time Green Party leader–spoke of what it will take to create a new politics of sustaining vision with its feet in the neighborhoods and communities.

Introduced by Peter Gabel–former president of New College and a veteran leader in public interest law–I commented on the roles of citizens in the home district of the next Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi.

I urged the audience to constitute themselves as a non-partisan Congress Watchdog organization to leverage, through their newly empowered Speaker Pelosi, the start of important changes for our country, led by an end to the U.S. war-quagmire in Iraq and fundamental corporate reforms.

Clipboards were passed through the aisles for people to sign up and many did. It was an enthusiastic, uplifting gathering with more than a few seasoned citizen activists in attendance, as the discussion period showed.

One of them, Medea Benjamin, quickly took responsibility to get this watchdog effort off the ground. Known nationally as a demonstrative peace activist against the Iraq war, Ms. Benjamin is a cunning counterweight to the war-mongering and corporate pressures sure to come down on Speaker Pelosi.

If Medea Benjamin were to have a middle name, it would be Medea "here, there and everywhere" Benjamin. In 2004, she submarined the head of the California Green Party, Peter Camejo, splitting his delegation and providing the critical votes at the Green Party Convention to a nominee she supported precisely because he would receive only a few votes, while she urged Greens to vote for John Kerry in the close states.

She then played a shadowy role with the Democrats in this close state strategy, while still protesting inside the Democrats’ Nominating Convention in Boston against the war.

Speakers of the House almost never experience their districts’ organized in any way to watch their performance, much less to press them toward more progressive agendas. Speakers get the expected free ride and very easy re-elections.

This tradition will be up-ended if Medea Benjamin and her associates become responsible for a growing progressive "Pelosi Watchdog" group in her backyard.

Speaker Pelosi should welcome such pressure because starting in January, 2007 all kinds of grasping commercial lobbyists will be knocking on her door looking to retain or enlarge their unconscionable privileges and immunities.

She would be advised not to turn her back on Medea Benjamin who is "here, there and everywhere" in more ways than one.