US: “Some kind of populist uprising needs to happen”

Anti-war activist challenges Nancy Pelosi, Democratic House Speaker, for Congress

When Cindy Sheehan’s son, Army Spec. Casey Sheehan, was killed in Iraq in 2004, she quickly became one of the country’s most high-profile antiwar activists. Sheehan camped out near George Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, demanding an explanation for her son’s death.

Now the 51-year-old mother of three is running for Congress against Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as an independent anti-war, pro-worker challenger. Justice, paper of Socialist Alternative (CWI US), spoke with Sheehan in her San Francisco campaign office, just days after her supporters turned in over 20,000 signatures to qualify her for the ballot.

“Some kind of populist uprising needs to happen”

Many anti-war activists have focused a lot of time and energy on electing Democratic Party candidates in the hope that they will challenge Bush’s policies. Why did you decide to take a different path and run as an independent?

The Democratic Party is not a vehicle for getting us out of Iraq. Since the Democrats have taken over Congress in January of 2007 the situation has gotten far worse and they’ve appropriated billions of dollars to continue to fund the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. They’ve always said redeploy, they’ve never said withdraw. Now they are redeploying troops from Iraq to Afghanistan.

The Democratic Party has been responsible for many of the major wars in our history.

Vietnam is one that comes right to mind. The first five years were waged under a Johnson presidency. The two party system inherently is a pro-war machine. The Pentagon and the military are very well funded, while programs to help people in communities, families, and the people out in the streets in front of my office are cut.

How has the Democratic Party leadership responded to your campaign?

A few of my friends who are very progressive Democratic activists have been warned by the party that if they’re caught helping my campaign they will be banished from the party.

Nancy Pelosi’s office just said she welcomes the challenge and has the highest amount of respect for me. But she’s been giving most of her money to other races. I think she arrogantly thinks she is entitled to this seat and doesn’t have to come to San Francisco and campaign. I believe she has to come here and answer to her record and give me and the Republican and Libertarian candidates a chance to publicly express our platforms and our ideologies.

Let’s talk about the presidential race. Do you think Barack Obama will end the war in Iraq if he is elected president? Should anti-war activists support him?

He has not said he will end the war in Iraq. He has the same exact position as the Bush administration: when conditions on the ground allow it, we are going to redeploy troops and put them in Afghanistan.

Many of my friends and people I respect greatly are saying it doesn’t matter if Obama appears to be selling out now. We hope that his actions won’t match his rhetoric because he just has to sell out to get elected. But there’s never been any evidence of that happening.

When you look at polls, every poll shows McCain and Obama in virtually a tie. McCain is a doddering old fool. What does Obama do? Instead of standing up and saying all of the Republican positions are wrong, we want no offshore drilling, we’re going to bring the troops out of Afghanistan, I’m against the death penalty and completely 100% for a woman’s right of choice over her own body…he moves closer to the Republican position. If they showed more daylight between their position and the Republican position, Obama would be at least 20 points ahead of McCain now.

If you want to support someone who wants to increase military spending, who wants to drill offshore, and who is not for universal healthcare, vote for McCain or Obama. But if you are truly a progressive and you want to see this country go in a different direction, you need to support and send your money to either Cynthia McKinney or Ralph Nader.

The mainstream media usually portrays you as a one-issue candidate. But you’re also talking about creating a national healthcare system, supporting immigrants’ rights, and repealing free trade agreements…

I support single-payer healthcare. I don’t want health insurance companies involved. The Democratic leadership will say they are for universal healthcare but they want to require every American to buy healthcare and that money goes to their donors, the health insurance companies. I believe in private delivery of healthcare but being paid by the government. Decisions should be made by patients and their doctors, not HMOs.

You also propose nationalizing the oil, gas, and energy companies.

They’re our resources and they belong to the people not to companies. The oil companies in our country get so many advantages—we wage wars for them, our children are killed for them, the geopolitical system all rests on these immoral profiteers. We are never going to have an energy policy that gives priority to wind, solar, geothermal or any other kind of clean renewable energy while the oil companies pull the strings of our politicians.

The energy bill that Nancy Pelosi is so proud of sets miles per gallon standards to 35 by 2019; that’s way too little, too late. We have to eliminate America’s dependence on fossil fuels, not just reduce it but eliminate it.

That begs an obvious question: if the profit motive has meant disaster for the majority of Americans when it comes to healthcare and energy, isn’t that true for the rest of society as well? Can we ever have an equitable society that supports human development under capitalism?

I think one of the main problems with our society happened back in 1886 when corporations were given the same 14th amendment protection as citizens. Our corporations get more from the federal government than people do. It’s capitalism in profits but socialism in bailouts.

I’ve traveled around the world and been in capitalist countries who have socialized medicine and education and see that those systems work very well. I think the crux of our problem here in America is the utter devotion that we have to the military-industrial complex.

We need to repeal free trade agreements, repeal the Taft-Hartley Act, drastically cut the money spent on the military-industrial complex, we need children to get affordable education, we need jobs programs, and we need to have apprenticeship programs that come with a strong union.

So you believe there is some role for the private sector along with extensive government programs the way some European countries have done it…

Absolutely. In the countries where there is a balance between capitalism and socialism, people are taken care of very adequately, but they also feel like they have autonomy in their lives.

Yours is the latest of several high-profile campaigns by Greens and independents like Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney, and Matt Gonzalez, who ran for San Francisco mayor in 2003. They’ve all endorsed you. What about joining forces to build a new political party, one that would unite the anti-war movement and other working people and be free from corporate influence?

That’s definitely my vision. No matter what happens in November, win or lose, I have an excellent relationship with the Nader-Gonzalez campaign and the McKinney-Clemente campaign. Both of them have an enormous amount of integrity, and they’re my role models of how one can do this and maintain one’s integrity. One day I was having a conversation with Matt Gonzalez and he said Cindy, once you sell out that’s it, it’s so much easier to do it the next time and the next time. So every day I guard against that.

Independent is the fastest-growing voter registration everywhere. My vision would be to unite these campaigns, all these disaffected Democrats and Republicans, and have somewhere for these people to channel their energies into. Some kind of populist uprising needs to happen and if there’s ever a time that we can do it, it’s now, when people are realizing that the abuses of the last 8 years don’t belong just to one party and don’t just belong to the last 8 years

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September 2008