BERKELEY — Hundreds gathered Sunday to honor the memory of Peter Camejo, champion of the Green Party, at the university from which he was expelled years ago.
"Peter was expelled from Berkeley for unauthorized use of a bullhorn," Camejo's former running mate Ralph Nader said, to the laughter and applause of a 400-person crowd in the International House auditorium on the UC Berkeley campus. Nearly 20 of Camejo's friends, family members, collaborators and comrades spoke at the event, including Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, former San Francisco Supervisor Matt Gonzalez and Camejo's widow, Morella Camejo.
"You've all brought pieces of him with you," Camejo said to the crowd. Then she thanked them, "because I just can't imagine life without Peter. ... He couldn't stop coming up with new ideas. His mind was restless, forever making plans for the future."
Peter Camejo died in September after a second battle with cancer. He led a prominent public life as a major figure in the Green Party, an author and a spokesman for all manner of humanitarian and progressive causes.
Gus Horowitz, a colleague of Camejo's in the Socialist Workers Party, described attending MIT with Camejo 50 years ago, and taking physics class together. After a test one day, Horowitz and several other students stood together puzzling over a particularly difficult problem and consulting the textbook, which explained a complex solution.
"But Peter, it turned out, had completely bypassed the text and solved the problem by a simple appeal to symmetry," Horowitz said, adding that the experience was telling of Camejo's future efforts.
Horowitz went on to tell of a time Camejo convinced a group of friends to go skinny dipping. All went well until the police spotlight hit the group.
"And then it hit home that he was our candidate for the United States Senate," Horowitz said, as the crowd cheered and laughed again.
Many of the speakers praised Camejo for his passionate dedication to social justice issues of all kinds.
"He always fought for the rights of working people, minorities, women, immigrants, children and the elderly," McLaughlin said. "He spurred me to join the Green Party and to run for City Council and then for mayor. I was honored to have his support then, and his advice in my capacity as mayor. ... Peter's life left us with a profound foundation to build on."
Kalman Stein, CEO of the environmental organization EarthShare, said the memorial was like the story of the blind men and the elephant.
"The blind man holding its tail thought it was a thin rope, the man holding its side thought it was a huge wall, and so on," he said. "I'm amazed to find out I was only touching part of the elephant; it's a joy to find out about all the parts of Peter I didn't know."
Stein said Camejo played a crucial role in making the green movement more diverse."And he was so amused when Ronald Reagan named him one of the 10 most dangerous people in California," Stein said, to still more laughs from the crowd.
Antonio Camejo, Peter's brother, described his late brother as a fiery personality from childhood, an aggressive thinker who sometimes became so lost in thought, "he had absolutely no idea what clothes he was wearing. To him it was irrelevant. We used to joke, 'Peter would give you the shirt off his back, even if it wasn't a shirt.'"
Martin Sanchez, a spokesman from Camejo's native country of Venezuela, apologized for the absence of the Venezuelan ambassador, Bernardo Alvarez Herrera, who was expelled from the United States in September. He read a statement from Herrera.
Nader spoke at length about Camejo's different qualities, calling him "multidimensional ... a many splendored human being," as well as courageous, principled and resilient.
"He always renewed himself," Nader said. "Some people learn until they're about 30 and then run on the fumes for 30 or 40 years. Peter was always learning.''
"His public philosophy was not ideological, it wasn't dogmatic. It was a broad framework of what is fair and what isn't. To say we will miss Peter Camejo is to engage in a cliché. I hope by what we continue doing in his spirit, wherever he is, he will say to us, 'I miss you all, too.'"