Remembering a ‘Dangerous Man,’ Peter Miguel Camejo 1939-2008

By Sharon Peterson
Wednesday November 26, 2008 - 10:36:00 AM

On Nov. 23, an unseasonably sunny Sunday afternoon, over 400 family members, friends, colleagues and occasional opponents packed UC Berkeley’s International House auditorium. They came to remember and celebrate the life of activist, politician, financial manager and family man, Peter Miguel Camejo, a man whom then-Gov. Ronald Reagan called one of the “10 most dangerous men in California.” Camejo died from a recurrence of lymphoma on Sept. 13, at the age of 68. 

It is deliciously ironic that Camejo would have been a UC Berkeley alumnus had he not been expelled for “unauthorized use of a bullhorn” during an anti-war demonstration in the 1960s. 

Upon learning that his lymphoma had returned, Camejo asked Claudette Begin to create and host his memorial. Begin and Camejo’s wife, Morella Camejo, began working together. Soon the team grew to include Camejo’s brother, Dan Ratner, Begin’s husband, Alex Chis, longtime friend Carol Reed and Mike Wyman, close friend and veteran Green. 

Claudette Begin opened the event, and served as host throughout. Peter Camejo’s family took the stage, then Morella Camejo and brother Antonio Camejo welcomed the crowd and shared their personal memories. Dan Ratner produced a slideshow of Peter Camejo’s life, which played against the stage backdrop. Mementos from political campaigns and copies of his books lined the back wall of the large Spanish-style hall. 

Morella Camejo said, “He couldn’t stop coming up with ideas. His mind was restless, forever making plans for the future.” 

Antonio Camejo said of his brother, “He firmly believed that we would rally the American people around just causes.” 

Peter Camejo was perhaps best known for his runs for president on the Socialist Workers Party, Green Party and independent tickets, and for Governor of California on the Green Party ticket. In the 2003 gubernatorial recall election campaign, Camejo’s incisive remarks during the debates received national attention and brought higher measures of visibility and respectability to progressive thought. 

He was a friend of Malcolm X, and he marched in Selma with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a pioneer advocate for immigrant rights and, after 9/11, worked for civil rights and freedom from hate for Muslim citizens. 

Camejo wrote books on political activism, American history and socially responsible investing. He founded or co-founded progressive political action groups such as the North Star Network (1983) and IDEA PAC (2005), and he sparked growth in many others, such as the Green Party. 

The family also remembered the devoted husband, father and grandfather. Colleagues remembered the financial planner who was obsessed with the stock market game, but left lucrative positions at Merrill Lynch, and then Prudential to create his own firm, Progressive Asset Management, because neither institution would promote socially-responsible investing. Everyone remembered the quick wit of a born comedian scholar. 

Among the speakers were such progressive political luminaries as Ralph Nader and his 2008 presidential running mate, former San Francisco Supervisor Matt Gonzalez, Cindy Sheehan, who ran against Rep. Nancy Pelosi in 2008 and plans to do so again in 2010, Donna Warren, Camejo’s running mate in his 2002 and 2004 gubernatorial bids, Mayor Gayle McLaughlin of Richmond, and Jo Chamberlain, former candidate for State Assembly and Camejo’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign manager. Jason West, former Green mayor of New Paltz, NY and brand-new Bay Area resident as of that day, was a surprise guest. 

Ralph Nader said that Camejo “always renewed himself. Some people learn until they’re about 30, and then run on fumes for 30 or 40 years. Peter was always learning.” 

Dr. Agha Saeed, of the American Muslim Alliance, and Miguel Araujo, leader of Centro Azteca, praised Camejo’s civil rights advocacy and urged progressives to keep on working. 

Kalman Stein, CEO of the environmental charity organization EarthShare, flew in from Washington, D.C. to speak. Visibly moved by previous speakers, Stein observed that “it’s a joy to find out about all the parts of Peter I didn’t know.” 

Peter Miguel Camejo was a first-generation American, born to Venezuelan parents in the Borough of Queens in New York City. Venezuelan Consul General Martin Sanchez read a statement from the Venezuelan Ambassador, Bernardo Alvarez Herrera. Sanchez apologized for Herrera’s absence, noting that the Ambassador had recently been expelled from the United States. 

In his final months, Camejo focused on writing his autobiography. He had barely enough time to finish it. His editor, Leslie Evans, reported that he is working on the final chapters and that the book, with the working title, “North Star,” has been approved for publication by Haymarket Publishing. 

All who attended the memorial came away with the same knowledge of great loss that brought them together. But they also took with them a strengthened determination to continue Peter Miguel Camejo’s work.