Peter Miguel Camejo
December 31, 1939–September 13, 2008
Peter Camejo fervently fought for his ideas. A self-described “watermelon—green on the outside, red on the inside,” he had passionate views on social and political issues. Yet he understood the value in making friends and conducting the debate to make his points and to build bridges at the same time.
We first met on the picket lines at UC Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement in the mid-1960s. In those early days, he had comfortably positioned himself at the extreme, ultimately getting expelled from school for illegally using a microphone during a campus demonstration.
While we shared a common purpose during the demonstrations, sit-ins and picket lines, we were drifting apart on means and goals. While he was an avowed Socialist, I was evolving from a Kennedy Democrat into a Goldwater Republican. So I lost touch with Peter after those days.
The next time I saw him was in 2002, when he was the Green Party candidate for governor. I was the principal political consultant to the Republican candidate, Bill Simon. We didn’t recognize each other at first, as it had been almost 40 years since we had seen each other. We had definitely been traveling on different paths.
His radicalism had taken him to the Socialist Workers Party, a Trotskyite communist party, and he ran as its candidate for president in 1976—getting the most votes for president for his party ever, before or since. After a leadership dispute, he was expelled.
This expulsion had brought an end to his candidacies for a while, and he focused on socially responsible investing. He built the first major environmental fund on Wall Street called the Eco-Logical Trust. He became an adviser to public pension plans and was involved in dozens of projects to bring financing to environmental and social-justice causes.
So when we crossed paths at a candidate forum, it took us a while talking before we realized that we were the same kids on the picket lines from many decades before. We found a shared belief that Gray Davis was a disastrous governor, just like we still believed the students at UC Berkeley were right in protesting the ban on their political activities on campus.
While our political views were widely divergent, we found our goals were amazingly similar. We found there were common ideas we could agree on, and it is possible for people with vastly different ideologies to find common ground. We both looked forward to our frequent meetings on the campaign trail and occasional phone calls in between and since. I am sure he got the funny looks from his staff whenever I called, just as I did.
We agreed that political consensus is not a worthy goal in politics—watering every idea down to the lowest common denominator. It defies leadership. It is far better to let the battle of ideas occur until the best one prevails. As passionate as he was for his ideas, we would rather have someone else with strong ideas win an election than someone with no ideas.
He ran for governor again in 2003 and 2006, even running for vice president with Ralph Nader in 2004 on the Reform Party ticket. His passion for politics never ceased. He was a forceful voice for his ideas until cancer silenced him this month.