Ralph Nader announced his selection of San Francisco lawyer and activist Matt Gonzalez as his running mate on February 28. Like Nader, Gonzalez–a former president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors who narrowly lost his 2003 bid to be the first Green Party mayor of a major US city–clearly wants to influence the political debate this election season. Given the chilly media climate for any independent run, that’s not going to be easy. The DC reporters at the National Press Club last week were predictably disdainful. The reception in the “alternative” media hasn’t been much warmer. In their first live interview together on talk radio, Gonzalez and Nader spoke with me for an hour on Air America Radio on February 29 and took listeners’ calls. Among the topics: organizing, parties and what the two men think of Obama/Clinton. Take a read.
Let’s start with you, Matt. Why are you running as Ralph Nader’s running mate?
I think it’s imperative that we not sit on the sideline when we are seeing the political parties struggling over what we think are fundamental issues. In my own personal experience I’ve been a crusader for election reform and I thought I could contribute to this campaign by talking about it and making it clear to people out there that we’ve fought for election reform, we’ve fought for ways to demand majority outcomes–you know, I’ve done it through legislation, I’ve visited members of Congress etc., etc. And that’s an important component of the campaign. But also the point that you’ve just been talking about, which is, I think we have to be careful that we not just accept some of the rhetoric of the candidates but look at what they’re saying and being very careful about. And I think the fact that Senator Obama, the Democratic frontrunner, is really talking about having a standing army in Iraq without giving us a timetable to have everybody out is troubling. And I think those who want to hear him be a candidate of withdrawal are not listening to some of the specifics that he points out about fighting Al Qaeda and striking Al Qaeda and keeping a force there for counterterrorism etc.
Ralph, to you. I voted for you twice. I don’t accept that you had anything to do with Gore’s “defeat” in 2000. (I think he won.) And I don’t think the way you’ve been treated by the Democratic Party is right. However, in connection with my last book Blue Grit, I’ve grown huge respect for the effective political organizing that is surging in the states, and this election I’ve been encouraged by the mobilization around Barack Obama. His voting record isn’t all that reassuring but I believe that he pushes open a door that movements can shove against, in part because he’s an organizer and he’s validated a lot of organizers around the country as well as training more. I was surprised to see you run this year. Talk about it?
Well, I take my charge not from the candidates of the major parties. I fought for years to deal with occupational disease and trauma and helped start OSHA in 1970. Under both Democrats and Republicans OSHA has been essentially turned into a consulting agency. And 58,000 people in this country die every year from work place related disease and trauma.
I take my charge from the almost 100,000 people who the Harvard School of Public Health say lose their lives due to malpractice in hospitals. The Democrats and Republicans have done nothing on that. The Republicans have been worse. They even want to block the courtroom door and the civil justice system under tort law to legitimate full days in court, opportunities for injured people. I take my charge from the millions of consumers that are ripped off by the oil companies, by the drug companies, by the banks, by the credit card companies that both parties in Congress have not done anything about. They leave people defenseless against these rapacious corporations. So you know I can give you chapter and verse and it’s on our website votenader.org.