Hello all! I was invited to deliver an Earth Day message to the
students at Cal State Northridge. I hope you enjoy my remarks:
Earth Day Celebration
California State University, Northridge
April 15, 2008
I would like to thank the students at Cal State University,
Northridge for inviting me to speak on campus today. I have just
returned from an exciting trip to Mexico City and I'd like to share
some of my observations with you this afternoon.
First of all, it is important to note and ask the question why is it
that the corporate press are not even touching the events playing out
right now in the capital city of our neighbor to the south and their
importance to us? Had I not actually been there myself, I would be
hard pressed to convince any audience that events of this magnitude
were actually taking place anywhere in the world, let alone in a
country as important and close to us as Mexico.
A quick review of today's press shows us that we are currently being
titillated by news of sex tapes featuring Marilyn Monroe and another
such tape featuring an unnamed British Royal. The top of the news
hour greets us with information of an intemperate statement made by a
former television executive about a current Presidential candidate;
video is plentiful of the contorted Presidential theatrics around the
Olympic Games Opening Ceremony in Beijing. We were treated today to
the visual of the Pope descending from the Alitalia jet. But, while
we have more television stations that feed us 24-hour news, we are
less informed. We have more and more political pundits feeding us,
what Fred Hampton described as "explanations that don't explain,
answers that don't answer, and conclusions that don't conclude."
CNN even tells us in a feature story who suffers as a result of a
choice made by our policy makers to emphasize ethanol as a preferred
method of weaning a hulking, overfed economy off its petroleum-based
consumption habit. But they forgot the other half of that equation:
who's winning? And it's the "who's winning" part that is just about
always the key piece of information, that could guide us, especially
when the choices of our elected leadership diverge from the core
values of the voters who elected them.
And yet, as we speak, the Mexican Senate Chamber has been occupied.
The massive rally held today has probably just ended, and some of the
opposition Members of the Mexican Congress are inside the building on
the dais and have announced a hunger strike. Days ago, one of the
leading papers in Mexico City had a photo of the Chamber of Deputies
of the Mexican Congress with an unfurled banner covering the Speaker's
Rostrum, proclaiming the Chamber "Closed." The banner was hung by
elected Members of the Mexican Congress who constitute the Frente
Amplio Progresista that has dared to draw a line in the sand against
U.S.-inspired legislation just introduced to allow foreign corporate
ownership of PEMEX, Mexico's state-owned oil company.
Mexican women are energized around the idea of nation. The idea of
patria. I wrote my Master's Thesis on the "Idea of Nation." And to
see the women, in their t-shirts and kerchiefs, so committed to their
country, their nation, their identity. To them, that's Mexico's oil,
natural gas, electricity, land, and water and it ought to be used by
the Mexican people first and foremost for their own national
development. But sadly, it's the public policy emanating from
Washington, D.C. that threatens that.
But to tell that story accurately, would also require that the U.S.
corporate press expose why this citizen outrage exists in the first
place. And to tell that story, they would have to expose the fact of
a stolen Presidential election, where a private U.S., Georgia,
corporation, possibly played a role in stripping citizens of their
right to vote and have their votes counted. Well, while that might
sound like what happened in the United States, centering in Florida,
in the U.S. 2000 Presidential election, I'm really talking about the
2006 Mexican Presidential election in which the popular candidate
didn't win because all the votes weren't counted.
According to Greg Palast, the U.S. corporation involved in the Mexican
move was none other than that now infamous Georgia-based company:
Choicepoint. We know that in Florida, Choicepoint, then doing
business as DataBase Technologies, constructed an illegal convicted
felons list of some 94,000 names, many of whom were neither convicted
nor felons. But if your name appeared on that list, you were stopped
from voting. Greg Palast tells us that for most of the names on that
list, their only crime was "Voting While Black."
Under a special "counter-terrorism" contract, the U.S. FBI obtained
Mexican and Venezuelan voter files. Palast learned later in his
investigation that the U.S. government had obtained, through
Choicepont, voter files of all the countries that have progressive
Presidents. Many Mexicans went to the polls to vote for their
President, only to find that their names had been scrubbed from the
voter list, and they were not allowed to vote. So now, not only in
the United States, but in Mexico, too, one can show up to vote and not
be sure that that vote was counted, or worse, one can show up duly
registered to vote, and not even be allowed to vote.
I guess this is the way we allow our country to now export democracy.
Unlike in the United States in 2000, Mexico City was shut down for 5
months when Lopez Obrador, Mexico's Al Gore, refused to concede and
instead, formed a shadow government.
The issue in the 2006 Mexican election was privatization of Mexico's
oil; it is the riveting issue taking place in Mexican politics today.
Teachers on strike at the same time as the Presidential elections in
Oaxaca, one of the poorest states in Mexico, began their political
movement as a call for increased teacher salaries and against
privatization of schools. Due to heavy-handed tactics used by the
government against the teachers, tens of thousands of citizens joined
them and took over the central city area of that state. Today, after
Mexico has added teachers and those who support teachers to its
growing ranks of "political prisoners," teachers are still protesting
their conditions, the reprisals taken against them for striking, and
now, the teachers' union is a committed part of the national
mobilization against privatization of PEMEX.
I was invited to participate in the Second Continental Workers
Conference. The first meeting was held in La Paz, Bolivia. And so,
people from all over Mexico and eight different countries told of
their struggles, their hopes, their ideals, their values, their
patriotism, their desire for peace—no more war.
Representatives from Chiapas, another one of Mexico's poorest states,
told us of the indigenous struggle for land and self-determination,
the low-intensity warfare waged against them, and how now they, too,
count themselves a part of the national mobilization against PEMEX
While I was there, mine workers had taken over the mines, and so,
could only send a handful of inspiring representatives. They are
pressing for the right to unionize, denied to them by the Government.
And the mine workers are a part of the solid front forming in Mexico
to protect this powerful idea of nation.
I participated in one of the many rallies organized by opponents of
the government's plan to offer up Mexico's patrimony to the insatiable
multiple U.S. addictions. One woman removed her brigadista t-shirt
and gave it to me—proud that a citizen of the United States came to
stand with them.
Today's front page of La Jornada says that the women, who marched
10,000 strong on the day that I was there, have renewed their protests
and civil disobedience. The threat of violence and bloodshed is very
Now, why should this massive social, political, and economic upheaval
in Mexico, aside from its human rights implications, be important to
us up here in the United States?
Because the sad truth of the matter is that, in many respects, it is
our military and economic policies that are causing it. Of course, I
recognize that all the way back to the practice of Manifest Destiny
and the declaration of the Monroe Doctrine, U.S. policy decisions have
at times sent shock waves to places outside our borders. You could
say that the modern version of that is NAFTA.
In 1993, the Democratic majority in the United States Congress
supported then-President Bill Clinton's push for passage of the North
American Free Trade Agreement. The stated purpose of the legislation
was to remove barriers to trade and investment that existed in North
America. The propaganda had it that the objective was to lift all
boats, in Canada, the United States, and Mexico through trade and
investment. The result is the stripping away and transfer of Mexico's
patrimony in terms of their natural and human resources. And the
Mexican people are taking a stand against it. They are taking the
same stand that the little people in Haiti, Venezuela, Brazil, Chile,
Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, and Argentina have taken. With the power
of the vote, the people of these countries dared to believe that they
could peacefully defeat the colossus to the north. And they did.
And so, in a way, now, I guess I understand why the corporate press
can't tell you and me the truth about the valiant stand for dignity
that's going on in Mexico, because to truly cover the story, they'd
have to uncover and point out some inconvenient truths.
One of those inconvenient truths particularly meaningful to me: There
comes a time when silence is betrayal.
We, the little--and yet so powerful--people in this country have been
way too silent for way too long on all the issues that mean so much.
Dr. King also said that our lives begin to end the day we become
silent about the things that matter.
On one of my early days in Congress, I was late for a vote. I looked
up on the board and only saw green votes; I presumed that the vote was
a non-controversial item on the calendar. Since I was among the last
to vote, there was no time to inquire. I pressed my green button.
Afterwards, I learned that the vote might have been what others would
have called an "easy" yes vote, but for my conscience it was a no
vote. Later that night, my heart sank as I watched the news. One man
of 78 years was so angered by that vote that he threw stones. Only
thing, he had a heart attack throwing stones, and died.
My heart sank. I felt personally responsible for that man's death and
vowed that I would never cast what they call easy votes, again. My
one vote would not have changed the outcome of the tally on the
resolution. But my one vote would have been true to my values and my
ideals that everyone is entitled to human rights that are to be
I got into trouble often after that, because I recognized my
responsibility to read the legislation, think analytically, question
critically, and vote independently.
That was while I was in Congress. But now that I'm not, does that
mean that the responsibility is gone? No.
I happened to vote against NAFTA, and I'm glad for that. But imagine
if the all the voters in the entire United States understood that
something as simple as a vote in a federal election might determine
who lives and who dies in another country. Imagine, if we in the
United States were as certain of the possibility of peaceful change
through the vote as were the people of Haiti, Mexico—despite having
their election stolen from them, Venezuela, and the rest. Then we
would vote Members of Congress out of office who support Plan
Colombia. We would vote Members of Congress out of office who support
Plan Mexico—which like its Colombian counterpart, is the military
answer to the cry of the people for dignity, self-determination, and
that idea of patria. We would not vote for any political party that
did not have as its agenda extending the same respect and love of life
to all others as we reserve for ourselves.
And so I come to the additional meaning of Earth Day, today. I met
people in Mexico City who are willing to die in this struggle—But they
shouldn't have to because the United States wants their oil. Let us
express our respect for the planet that sustains us by first showing
love to our brothers and sisters beside us. We voters in the United
States do have as much power as the voters in all those other
countries. All we have to do is believe in ourselves and use it.
Finally, I'd like to recognize the role of student activists in
promoting change. Of course, it was high school students who faced
the water hoses and the dogs in the civil rights movement. It was the
university students who faced the riot gear and the bullets in the
anti-war movement. The current anti-globalization, pro-peace rallies
are all organized and led by young people. Keep it up and don't ever
Remember that Bobby Kennedy always said "Some men dreams of things
that are and say why, I dream of things that never were and say why
"And advanced forms of biological warfare that can 'target' specific
genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to
a politically useful tool."
PNAC, Rebuilding America's Defenses, p. 60
The argument that the two parties should represent opposed ideals and
policies, one, perhaps, of the Right and the other of the Left, is a
foolish idea acceptable only to doctrinaire and academic thinkers.
Instead, the two parties should be almost identical, so that the
American people can "throw the rascals out" at any election without
leading to any profound or extensive shifts in policy.
-- Carroll Quigley, Tragedy and Hope: A History of the World in our Time