Monday, April 3, 2000 FULL SHOW | HEADLINES | PREVIOUS: Castro Says Elian’s Father Ready to Travel to...
2000-04-03

Medea Benjamin Runs for U.S. Senate On Green Party Line

download:   Audio Get CD/DVD More Formats
DONATE →
This is viewer supported news

Medea Benjamin is Founding Director of the San Francisco-based human rights organization Global Exchange. Her books, reports and articles have examined global issues of hunger and poverty at home and abroad. Medea worked for ten years as an economist and nutritionist in Latin America and Africa for the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, and the Swedish International Development Agency to develop more sustainable models of development. She was also a senior analyst with the Institute for Food and Development Policy (Food First) in California, working on poverty and agricultural policy in the United States. [includes rush transcript]

Medea’s most recent work has focused on improving the labor and environmental practices of US multinational corporations, and the policies of international institutions such as the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. During the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in December 1999, Medea’s organization, Global Exchange, helped galvanize world attention on the need to place labor and environmental concerns over corporate profits.

Medea has become a key figure in the anti-sweatshop campaigns to change the garment and shoe industry. When the Clinton Administration formed the Apparel Industry Partnership to come up with standards to eliminate sweatshops, Ms. Benjamin interceded by urging the Partnership to address the right of garment workers to earn wages that cover their basic needs. She has since become a leading national figure in the effort to pressure U.S.-companies to include a living wage provision in their corporate Codes of Conduct. These efforts prompted the Washington Post to credit Global Exchange as the group that has "put labor rights on the human rights agenda."

Medea spearheaded Global Exchange’s campaign against the giant sports shoe company Nike. The campaign put the national spotlight on factory conditions overseas, exposing the long hours, low pay, unhealthy environment, and physical abuse that young women workers endure in Indonesia, China and Vietnam. In 1999 Medea helped expose the problem of indentured servitude of garment workers in the U.S. territory of Saipan (the Marianas Islands). In January Global Exchange, along with several other groups, filed a billion-dollar lawsuit against 17 U.S. retailers profiting from the workers’ plight. She also launched a campaign focusing on the giant retailer Gap, exposing their abuses in Saipan and elsewhere around the world. Medea has also been a key advisor to the student anti-sweatshop movement, helping to shape a model university Code of Conduct and monitoring guidelines for the University of California system.

Her books include ??The Peace Corps and More: 175 Ways to Work, Study and Travel in the Third World and ??Bridging the Global Gap: A Handbook to Linking Citizens of the First and Third Worlds. Medea edited and translated the award-winning book ??Don’t Be Afraid, Gringo: A Honduran Woman Speaks from the Heart, the moving story of a campesina leader.

Guest:

  • Medea Benjamin, the founding director of the human rights organization Global Exchange, won the March 7 primary in California and is now the Green Party candidate in the November election for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Dianne Feinstein. Call Medea for Senate campaign: 415.905.4212.

Related links:

??
????
????
????
??

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This weekend in New York, the Socialists Scholars Conference took place. Hundreds of people gather from around the country every year for this annual meeting. And on Sunday afternoon, I had gone over to see Howard Zinn’s play, Marx in Soho, and I bumped into Medea Benjamin. She’s the co-founder of Global Exchange in San Francisco. She had just come out of a session that she was participating in on the World Trade Organization, as well as the World Bank and the IMF, with preparations for the big protests that are going to be taking place in Washington the week leading up to April 16th and 17th.

And she handed me a flyer. It said, "There is a choice: Medea Susan Benjamin for US Senate." Inside, it says, "In the aftermath of the Seattle protest against the corporate-biased World Trade Organization, I’m more convinced than ever the majority of Americans agree that we need a society that puts human needs and the environment before corporate profits." Medea Benjamin is running for Senate against Dianne Feinstein, the Democratic incumbent, heavily favored to win, and Tom Campbell, California Congress member, the Republican.

I sat down with Medea at the event, and I talked to her about how she came to this decision.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: It really was a post-Seattle decision. Coming out of Seattle, we just felt this kind of sense of, you know, we’ve got to keep this momentum going, and where are these discussions about these critical trade issues happening in the political scene? When I looked in California, and I saw Dianne Feinstein’s record, it’s just appalling. She’s been a fervent supporter of every free trade agreement, from NAFTA to NAFTA for Africa. She helped clinch the deal with China to help get China into the WTO, and she’s the only Democrat in the entire Senate that took a stand against the state of Burma for not wanting to do business with Burma. So you — against the State of Massachusetts for not wanting to do business with Burma. So when you look at her record, it’s absolutely appalling. And, you know, is this what we want representing us in California?

So I felt, after Seattle, we’ve got the momentum. We’re putting it together in terms of the new protest that we’re organizing in Washington around the IMF/World Bank, around the conventions in the Democrat and Republican Party in the summer, but we have to have a positive alternative, too.

And I think Ralph Nader is an amazing candidate for the Green Party. And to be able to go around the state as a Green Party candidate in California with a message of fair trade, living wage, let’s not put our money into prisons but put them into the schools. Let’s have — not have GMO foods, but safe, healthy organic foods and support family farmers. These are positive issues that we want to get out into the public, and this is one way to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: So what is the process that you went through?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I was approached by the Green Party and asked to run, including by Ralph Nader. And so, we had a primary, March 7th, between me and another Green Party candidate. I won that primary. And so, as of March 7th, I am the Green Party’s candidate and now focusing my attention on Dianne Feinstein and her opponent, the Republican, Tom Campbell.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you on the ballot?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes, I’m on the ballot, definitely.

AMY GOODMAN: And did you have to gather signatures? Do you have to raise money? What are you doing?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: We gathered the signatures we needed to get on the ballot, so that’s already done. And now, in terms of raising money, we’ve got to raise a lot of money, because I think, as people know who followed Ralph Nader’s campaign last time, you can’t do a serious campaign and not raise money. So we want to raise a couple of hundred thousands dollars, and we’ve already hired staff. I have staff in Northern California. We want to hire staff in Southern California.

In the short time that I’ve been campaigning, I’ve been going all around the state. I’m back and forth to the LA area just about every week now. Just went to Fresno, Modesto, Sacramento. It’s been exciting, and we’re going to make this a real campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Medea Benjamin, who is a Green Party candidate for the Senate in California, and she is running against Dianne Feinstein. You know, a lot of people have wanted to see change in national politics, but I don’t think most people understand the mechanisms to get there. On the issue of raising money, what are your limits? I mean, what are the rules that you have set?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, obviously, I won’t take any PAC money, won’t take any corporate money, not that they would want to give it to me. It’s individual money, and according to the rules, $1,000 is the limit. We need to get lots of donations, and we are getting $1,000 donations coming in, actually even unsolicited $1,000 donations, unsolicited $500 donations, and lots of $25 donations.

We have a website; it’s www.medeaforsenate, all written out, medeaforsenate.org, and we are now getting ready to take credit card donations over the web. So this is serious, and I think the fact that we’re getting in these already unsolicited donations means that people are excited about this campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: Does this mean you’ll be in debates?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, it’s very interesting. I just met Dianne Feinstein yesterday at the Feminist Expo in Washington and went up and gave her one of my flyers and said, "I’m running against you on the Green Party ticket, and I hope we’ll have a chance to debate," and her mouth dropped open and said, "Well, good luck," and walked away. I am meeting with Tom Campbell, the Republican, actually this week to talk to him about a series of debates, which is in his interest, actually, because he is so far behind her.

So we’re thinking of all kinds of creative ways where we can challenge both the Republicans and Democrats to debates, and if the Republican will agree to debate, which is quite probable, Dianne Feinstein will only look terrible by having an empty seat there.

AMY GOODMAN: Who decides in California who is in the official debates?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, it depends. Sometimes the debates are organized by the Los Angeles Times, for example. Sometimes it’s the League of Women Voters. So we have to talk to both the people who have traditionally organize debates, as well as get other groups that haven’t traditionally organized debates and ask them to organize and invite all of the candidates.

AMY GOODMAN: You were just on a panel on the World Trade Organization. You’re headed to Washington for the big events that are planned for the 16th and the 17th to close down the annual meetings of the World Bank and the IMF. Can you talk about how you’re organizing in California and around the country?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, there’s tremendous excitement in California and around the country. In fact, there’s caravans from California that are moving across the country, as we speak right now. Post-Seattle, when we have planning meetings for things, we used to have maybe ten people; now we have sixty people. When we used to have discussions around the World Trade Organization, we’d have fifty, and now we have four hundred. There’s a tremendous amount of organizing going on, and people are seeing mass mobilizations as, you know, a renewal of public participation on these issues.

So we have the same kind of affinity groups that we had around the World Trade Organization. We have the same kind of decentralized structure. We have the same kind of creativity that comes out of the decentralization. And this kind of mass movement, I think, is the most frustrating for our opponents, because there is no head. It’s multi-headed. And you’ll see the same kind of thing in Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about why the protest goes from the World Trade Organization, as we saw in Seattle, to the World Bank and the IMF, how that fits in and also what you’re going to be saying about it in your Senate race.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, this is the unholy trinity of the three organizations that set the rules for the global economy, and they’re the exact same rules that say focus your economy on exports, not on production for local consumption. Cut down your budgets, you’re spending too much on education, you’re spending too much on healthcare. This kind of thing that we see going on with structural adjustment around the world, we see in California.

California is the richest state in the richest nation in this world. We are awash in money. There are more and more billionaires in California every single day. And yet, we have a horrendous public school system. We have 38,000 people a month in California alone that are losing their healthcare, more than any other state in the country. We have a public transportation system that is absolutely horrendous. We have a corporate agriculture that is wiping out small farmers.

So we need land reform in California. We need money put into basics of universal healthcare, the public school system, public transportation. The same kind of issues that we were fighting around the World Bank and the IMF are the same kind of policies that we need to fight in California. There’s no reason there should be one person in the State of California going hungry or not having healthcare.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin, you recently went to China. What is your feeling about China and the World Trade Organization? In the week that will start with the big April 9th rally for debt relief that Jubilee 2000 is going to be putting on, to the ALF-CIO will be leading their march against allowing China into World Trade Organization, talk about what you saw in China.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I think the focus of the movement should be on US corporations in China, because it really is appalling to see that US corporations are bringing standards down. I was looking into the shoe factories. The kind of chemicals that are not allowed to be used in the United States in factories, like Benzene and Toluene, are being used liberally in China. And the amazing thing is that decades ago in the state factories, these were not allowed, and it’s because of the foreign companies coming in that standards in China are actually getting lower than they were before. So, we have to focus not so much on bashing the Chinese government, but the US corporations that are really in the forefront and the ones that are gaining most from the race to the bottom.

AMY GOODMAN: What do you think having China in the WTO would mean?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I think China in the WTO is actually a very contradictory thing. I think we should fight against China having most-favored nation status and against China in the WTO, because it would only strengthen the WTO. But I think it should be in the context of trying to weaken the WTO, in general. In fact, I think, we should have a movement to get the US out of the WTO. So anything we can do to weaken the WTO is a good thing. And, of course, keeping the largest country in the world out would help to weaken the WTO.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about your credentials to run for the US Senate against Dianne Feinstein?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Biggest credential is that I’ve never been a politician. I think the credentials are, is that I’ve been a grassroots organizer for twenty-five years trying to build a movement for social justice, and I feel that we are on the wave of a new kind of mobilizing, and it’s very exciting, and that we have to have it in all levels of our activism.

We have to build these organizations, like my own organization, Global Exchange, has been growing tremendously, and we have to build our voice in the political realm. So I think that we want to have politicians who are grassroots activists, who have dedicated their lives to social justice, whose first priority is to bring more equality into our system. That’s what politicians should be about, not hands in the pockets of corporations.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m looking at your flyer, "Green Party. There is a choice: Medea Susan Benjamin for US Senate." People may know that you’re founding director of the San Francisco-based human rights group, Global Exchange, and that you’re a well-known community activist. What about your other background and your involvement in academics? I didn’t know you were a nutritionist, for example.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I have several graduate degrees in economics and in public health nutrition. I used to work for the United Nations. I spent about ten years in Africa and Latin America and went back to the US looking at food and farming issues in the United States, always with the idea of how do you build more sustainable models of development. So my focus has always been, how do you put priority on the family farm? How do you put priority on micro credit, on small business? How do you build up local and regional communities? Of course, that’s the opposite that everything like the WTO stands for.

But I think, more and more, as we look for creative solutions to the problems that we have both locally and globally, it comes down to building more sustainable models of development, both ecologically sustainable and ones that are — that bring up the bottom.

AMY GOODMAN: You lived in Cuba. The big story dominating the headlines is the story of Elián Gonzalez, the six-year-old who is being held by his distant relatives in Florida. We will see if his father does come up into the United States. We have an interesting national presidential race breakdown on this, and that is that the two leading candidates are on the same side: Al Gore and George W. Bush saying he should stay in the United States. And then you have, it looks like, President Clinton and Fidel Castro on the other side, saying that he should go back to Cuba. Can you talk about your feelings about this?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, of course, this kid is a pawn. This kid should obviously go back with his biological father and his entire extended family that is waiting for him in Cuba.

But I think bringing it in the broader context, we should be talking about the need to end the embargo in Cuba. We should be talking about the need to end the embargo against Iraq, that when you have a policy where you kill 5,000 children a month as part of a, quote, "legitimate foreign policy," that something is wrong with that. So as part of my campaign, I want to talk about foreign policy issues and not just focus on the case of one boy, but focus on the case of entire peoples and thousands of children who are being hurt by US policy.

AMY GOODMAN: Immigration is certainly a big issue in California, and it’s interesting to see people like Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the brother of George W. Bush, said that he’s for this going through the court system, Elián’s case. It’s interesting, considering he’s part of a movement that is increasingly cutting down on the rights of immigrants. They don’t have a right to go to court. It’s not clear. It’s almost as if they’re saying the INS has no place in this. What about the rights of immigrants in California, and what is your attitude on the issue of immigration?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I think there’s been a really positive change in the feeling about immigrants in California, since we had the horrendous propositions to cut services to immigrants. There is now a feeling that with the AFL-CIO’s change in policy towards talking about a blanket amnesty for immigrants, that this is a time to really start projecting the need for amnesty, the need for when we talk about labor rights, that if immigrants don’t have the right to organize within the workplace, then that brings down the rights of all workers.

So I think it’s a positive atmosphere, because there is supposedly this low level of unemployment, that we can start talking about how much immigrant communities contribute to the economy. And certainly in California, were if not for the immigrants, we wouldn’t have food on our tables. But it is a much better atmosphere than it was just a couple of years ago to talk about the need for amnesty, the need for immigrant rights.

AMY GOODMAN: Have you heard about the CIA report on slave labor in the United States?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Oh, yes. I heard that there is a new report talking about tens of thousands of immigrants coming to the United States in all kinds of capacities, used as slave labor. We have been focusing on the island of Saipan, where the indentured servitude is rampant, not only in the garment industry, but also in the sex trade.

And most recently, we had a very important victory last week, in that we had seventeen companies that we have a lawsuit against, because of the use of indentured servitude on the island of Saipan, which is a US territory. We settled with seventeen companies, bringing us $8 million to use to monitor the situation, so that women aren’t brought into the United States with bonds over their heads of $10,000 that they have to repay and work for an entire year just to pay that back. So that is one example where we’ve done something positive to end slavery on the island of Saipan.

AMY GOODMAN: What are some of the companies that have settled, and how were they gotten to settle?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, it’s part of this grassroots movement. You know, the lawsuit is one thing, but they would have easily just let it go for years and years through the court system had it not been for a grassroots anti-sweatshop movement, and the fact that we get out on the streets and protest against these companies really puts the heat on them. So we had all kinds of companies settling, from Nordstrom’s to Calvin Klein to Ralph Lauren and Liz Claiborne. The largest company that is still producing on the island of Saipan and has refused to settle is the Gap. So we are actually redoubling our efforts. We used to have a monthly day of demonstrations against the Gap. I think we’ve got to ramp that up to probably weekly demonstrations.

AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned that these corporations are going to pour money into your opponents’ campaigns, given how well known you are for being one of the leaders of the anti-sweatshop movement?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I don’t think they need to do that, because they’ve already done it. In fact, when I look at Dianne Feinstein’s campaign contributions, the Gap is right up there. Chevron, Texaco, Oxy Petroleum, all the oil companies that we’ve been fighting against are right up there. The mining companies, like Freeport McMoRan, that have the most horrendous reputation in places like Indonesia, are among her campaign contributors. So certainly it won’t take my entering the race to have her be in bed with some of the worst corporations that exist.

AMY GOODMAN: And what is your response to those who say you will be taking votes away from the Democrat if you enter the race? You’re running against Tom Campbell. Among the national issues he’s known for is opposing the bombing of Yugoslavia. In fact, he was one of the leaders in a lawsuit against the US government for that.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes, it’s quite amazing in this race. He’s actually more progressive on a lot of issues than Dianne Feinstein is. On foreign policy issues, he was — he’s against the embargo in Iraq. He has — came out against Proposition 21, which was the proposition that was — is to treat youth offenders as adults, and Dianne Feinstein would not come out against that. He’s pro-choice.

He is exactly like she is, in terms of fair trade. He prides himself on being a fiscal conservative. So on those issues, they are quite alike.

In terms of the old argument of taking votes away from the Democrats, you know, it’s time we got ourselves out of the box and started looking at a larger framework, because when I look around and I travel around the world and I find really interesting debates and discussions and real popular participation in the political process, it’s countries that have a real multi-party system in countries that have proportional representations, so that if there’s ten seats open and you get 20% of the votes, you’re going to get two seats.

It’s been shown that where there is proportional representation and multi-party systems, the number of people that come out for votes gets into the seventies, sometimes in the 80%. So I think the only way we’re going to get a really dynamic, interesting political system in which the majority of people feel it’s worth their while to participate is if we break out of the box of these Democrats and Republicans.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin, running for the US Senate. We’re going to come back to this conversation with her, a candidate for the California Senate seat of Dianne Feinstein, when we come back, here on Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: We continue our conversation with well-known human rights activist, Medea Benjamin. She is co-founder of the San Francisco-based human rights group, Global Exchange, and now she’s running for the US Senate in California for the seat of Dianne Feinstein. I got a chance to speak with her yesterday at the Socialists Scholars Conference in New York.

AMY GOODMAN: You know Errol Maitland, because you’ve been on Democracy Now! a number of times. He’s the technical director. He was out in Seattle with all of us, out on the streets covering the police crackdown on the protest and the protesters raising their voice against the World Trade Organization and closing it down. He was taken down by police last Saturday, remains in coronary intensive care in New York. As he was telling them he was live on WBAI and asking the police questions, they struck him down.

You’ve got the Los Angeles Police Department and the continuing unfolding of the scandal around police brutality and corruption there. What are your recommendations for the issue of police brutality and misconduct?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I think it’s gotten to the point where we have to recognize we live in a police state, and this police state is horrendous. And the kind of police brutality that’s happening in New York City, Los Angeles and all around the country is absolutely unacceptable. We have to fight it, not only the police brutality, but the prison-industrial complex — I mean, the fact that we have two million people behind bars, the majority of them people of color.

We know that the kind of leveling of — the kind of focus put on incarcerating youth in California has brought the youth out into the streets like never before, just like the issues around police brutality are getting people in New York and Los Angeles out on the street like never before. So this is an issue that we have to see as part of a corporate agenda, part of an agenda to put away those who protest against the system. I think in the case of Errol, it brings it down home so closely and certainly is part of my campaign.

I will focus my energy on talking about what kind of society do we want to live in. Do you want a society where we allow the police to commit acts of brutality against us for protesting their police brutality? Do we want a society that puts our money into educating our youth or to throwing our youth in jail? Do we want a society that’s turning into one where we put more money into prisons than higher education? I mean, it’s absolutely insanity at this point, and certainly it will be a major issue that I bring up everywhere I go on the campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve got a powerful lobby against you, and it is the prison guard lobby of California, which I believe is something like the second most powerful lobby in the state.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes. On the other hand, we have a powerful movement that, although we did not win Proposition 21, which is the proposition that was to put youth — to treat youth as adults and incarcerate our young people at a greater rate than they’re being incarcerated now — there’s a tremendous amount of mobilizing and organizing that came out of that. And I feel, as part of my candidacy, to keep that mobilizing going and to make it part of the broader movement of where do we want to put our tax dollars. It costs more to send somebody to prison than it does to send them to Stanford University, to say nothing of our public school system in California.

So we have to talk about changing priorities. We have to talk about why we are number forty-one in the State of California, when it comes to putting money into schools, and number one, when it comes to putting money into prisons. So there is a powerful movement against the prison-industrial complex, and we’re going to keep working against it.

AMY GOODMAN: As you made your decision about whether or not to run for Senate, what were the cons?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: The cons are, one, my life is totally full with the activism I’m doing and the family I have. And I have two kids, so, certainly, getting time to be with the family. The other is putting yourself out there as a public figure. And I think we tend, in our movements, to want to build our movements, not want to build ourselves individually, and I certainly don’t like having to build myself individually. It doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel good.

But yet, on the other hand, you think, you know, we’ve got to speak out, we’ve got to keep pushing these issues, and that we have to push ourselves to do it. So it’s uncomfortable. When I talked about the great thing about the protests that are going on now, it’s that there isn’t a figure. There are so many of us. When you get into politics, you have to start saying, "Vote for me." It starts to become a "me, me, me" kind of thing. I don’t want it to be that.

And I certainly am pushing the Green Party, because I think we have to build parties. And I’m excited that one of the best things my campaign can do in California is build the Green Party in California to be less of a white male party. Diversity is a very important issue to me and the people that I’m working with in this campaign, and I think we can use the campaign to really build the Greens.

AMY GOODMAN: On the issue of money, Medea Benjamin, EMILY’s List. Early Money Is Like Yeast, that supports women, what have they told you?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I’ve been told by people at EMILY’s List that they only support Democrats and that they are supporters of Dianne Feinstein, because we have so few women in the Senate, we need to support those who are there. I’m going to still try, among other people in EMILY’s List, because I think there are many progressives within that group who wouldn’t see Dianne Feinstein as the kind of woman that they would want representing them. So I certainly am going to keep trying.

But it does become evident, the more you start looking around for support, that we have to create more ways for progressive women to have access to money you need to run campaigns, because you need money. You know, without money, you can’t have staff. Without staff, you don’t have a campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about the National Women’s Political Caucus?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I’ve been told that they support Republicans and Democrats and are not open to third parties. I think we have to challenge all of this, and certainly we will be challenging it at the local level. There are women’s groups in California that might be more open to us than, let’s say, nationally. But it seems, just on the kind of superficial discussions we’ve had, that they’re really locked into the two mainstream parties.

AMY GOODMAN: And, finally, ads. Will you be taking out ads in California?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, we’re already thinking of all kinds of creative ads that we can do. We want to do radio ads, because they’re certainly doable. They’re cheaper. I’ve talked to people who said, "You’ve got to have like one TV ad," that Wellstone and his campaign had one great TV ad, and that then that ad becomes a press issue in and of itself. So depending upon how much money we raise, I’d love to do some ads.

We also have friends who are artists, who want to do creative billboards and all kinds of things that we can do that don’t require lots of money. You know, when you do a grassroots campaign, which is what a Green campaign should and must be, you have to have ways to counter the traditional way of throwing lots of money into TV ads, because we don’t have it.

AMY GOODMAN: And is the press paying attention?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: The press has been terrible. The press has been terrible about Ralph Nader’s campaign. You know, when he announced his campaign, all the major TV stations were there, and none of it — none of them carried it in the news. Wherever he goes, it’s really hard to treat him like the true presidential material that he is. And I think the same is true for me.

We had — I’ve had great meetings — the alternative — the largest alternative weeklies in California have endorsed me in a resounding fashion, in terms of the L.A. Weekly. The L.A. Weekly said that I’ve done more for social justice than ninety-seven of the Senators already in Senate. And the San Francisco Bay Guardian has been very supportive. We also had a great support from the Sacramento Bee. I met last week with the Fresno Bee, had a very good meeting. So we’re trying to get meetings with the Los Angeles Times.

The mainstream media so far is ignoring me, which means to us that we have to do two things. One, we have to get people who are interested in the campaign to really be bugging the media, calling them, protesting when they keep talking about this Senate race as only Dianne Feinstein and Tom Campbell, and keep reminding them there is a third party candidate, a Green Party candidate, we want to hear her voice. And the other thing is finding more creative ways of creating debates. For example, we’re thinking of doing a — using the high-tech road and creating a debate over the internet, where we would try to get Tom Campbell and Dianne Feinstein to be a part of that and getting one of the Silicon Valley companies to sponsor that. We’re looking at ways that we can get mass-based organizations in California to organize debates, then get — push to get the candidates to come and push to get the press. But it’s going to be an uphill battle to get the mainstream press to take us seriously.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the possibility of Dianne Feinstein being named as a vice presidential running mate for Al Gore?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, that’s the wild card in this whole thing, which actually makes it so interesting, because then another Democrat will have to come in to take her seat, and who knows who that would be?

And it’s interesting. In the case of Dianne Feinstein, she’s seen as such a shoo-in in this race, not because people like her or because she’s done anything great for the state in terms of policies; it’s because she has so much money. She has $15 million for a race where she is way ahead of the Republican. So I think if she were named as a vice presidential candidate, it would open up the whole ball of wax, and we’d have a very interesting campaign on our hands.

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, a conversation that I was having with Lori — with Susan — sorry, with Medea Benjamin yesterday.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: — this campaign to take issues where Dianne Feinstein is awful, everything from her support of the death penalty, her support of this prison-industrial complex, her lack of support for universal healthcare, her support of the — and her support of all the free trade agreements, and use these issues in the campaign in a creative fashion.

For example, when the issue of the Massachusetts right to not buy goods from Burma came up to the Supreme Court on March 22nd, we did an action at Dianne Feinstein’s office in San Francisco, and they had the police out there in full force, would not let us up to her office. And so, we did our rally downstairs. We have Supervisor Tom Ammiano, who is the one who actually brought the legislation to San Francisco to not do business with Burma. We had him there, and we had such a crowd that her chief of staff had to come down and address the crowd. And he said, "Well, we couldn’t bring you upstairs, because there were so many of you, but we had to come out here and address the masses," his words. And so, we actually got onto the local television stations around that.

So during the campaign, I think there will — unfortunately, because she is so bad on so many issues, there will be many chances for us to use this as a way to show the need for an alternative.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, if people want to get in touch with you, either to voice their criticism or their support, where can they call? Where can they go on the web?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: And, of course, if they want to get in touch to be a financial contributor and help us run a really strong campaign, please contact www.medeaforsenate.org, www.medeaforsenate.org.

AMY GOODMAN: And is there a phone number?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Yes. You can call us at (415) 901 — no, (415) 701-7090.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is it. You’re full-scale in the race right now.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Off running, visiting all of California. If you’re listening and want to invite me to your community, please do so. It’s going to be a lot of fun.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin. Medea Susan Benjamin. There is a choice. She’s running for the US Senate. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: And that conversation took place yesterday at the Socialist Scholars Conference in New York. Medea Benjamin then flew back to California. Today, she meets with her Republican rival, California Congressmember Tom Campbell.

Show Full Transcript ›
‹ Hide Full Transcript

Creative Commons License The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.