By Peter Maiden
Gloria La Riva is a longtime social activist. She is a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation. La Riva retired as a printer at the San Francisco Chronicle, where she worked for more than 36 years, and where she was a unionist. She is now running for governor on the Peace and Freedom Party ticket, after being its candidate for president in 2016. I spoke with La Riva by phone from San Francisco. The interview is edited for length and clarity.
How did the Peace and Freedom Party qualify for the California ballot?
It’s a lot of work and it’s more difficult than before. The requirement is that every candidate must collect 7,000 signatures or pay some $3,000 to be on the ballot. All of us qualified by a combination of signatures and the fee.
Is California the only state where the Peace and Freedom Party is on the ballot this year?
Yes. It’s been on the ballot here since 1967. You need 2% of the vote [to stay on the ballot]. I think there was one time when we were off for about a year, but we got back on the ballot. It’s very difficult for people to know of you when you get no media coverage. Ours is quite a remarkable achievement, to be on the ballot all these years, to remain as a party.
What are the key issues for the Peace and Freedom Party in this election?
I think one of the primary issues is housing, the cost of housing and homelessness. There’s a crisis of hundreds of thousands of evictions in the state because of skyrocketing rents.
Another is the issue of healthcare, and that’s why we call for the immediate passage of [SB] 562, that the Democrats, the super-majority in the state legislature, killed. We’re calling for its revival and passage, which would give us single payer, as a first step for healthcare.
Another is militarism, the cost of war spending. Here in California there are hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks that the state gives to corporations like Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and Northrup Grumman. The taxpayers’ money goes into a trillion-dollar military budget every year. It’s outrageous and mind-boggling how much money that is, how much we could achieve if that money was turned into civilian purposes. All the problems would be resolved in this country if the military budget were instead converted into housing and jobs and healthcare and education.
If you were governor what would you do to oppose the regime in Washington, D.C.?
The other day I was in a debate at San Jose State University, and we were asked about the issue of Palestine. One of the other candidates said it’s not a California issue. But I said yes, it is. Because Governor Brown signed AB 2844 to ban any state contracts with companies and entities that are engaged in boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel. Anything affecting the federal affects California, too.
The governor has certain powers, and there are many things the state can do to influence other states and other movements in the country. For example, while an initiative in 2016 unfortunately passed to speed up the death penalty, I say that the governor should commute all death sentences to begin to move this state toward a policy of no death penalty. That’s something the governor can do, that’s what I would do, as well as a massive prison reform.
I’ve been thinking about something lately: the tragedy for women who have suffered sexual abuse, rape and sexual violence. There is not enough emphasis on the fact that hundreds of thousands of cases of rape in the country have not been passed through a DNA database. Who knows how many women could have been saved if there had been patterns shown, if violators had been identified beforehand. I know that was the case in New Mexico where 11 women were found buried who were victims of the same killer. And the same was true of the Golden State killer here. Women need protection by the state. There could be an executive order by the governor, which would have national implications, too.
On the issue of housing, the governor can do many things. All our candidates have been campaigning actively, calling for overturning the Costa-Hawkins law, the state law that greatly limits rent control and bans vacancy control. The Ellis Act is the weapon used to evict. Costa-Hawkins and the Ellis Act are the reasons why there’s been so many evictions and massive increases of rent. It is a national crisis.
If you were elected, what would you do for the San Joaquin Valley?
I would push for a policy that really restricts what agribusiness can do in terms of overuse of water resources. When Governor Brown issued the restrictions on water use, he did very little regarding agribusiness water use, which is 85% of all state water use in California. While agribusiness has unlimited rights to water, the people of the Valley, in many towns, have been denied the right to clean water in their homes. They get poisonous water that contains insecticides and pesticides and fertilizers that are used inordinately by agribusiness. That’s one big problem for the communities.
There are executive orders that the governor can issue on the matter of water use, safe drinking water and workers’ rights. The rights won by organized farmworkers have been weakened.
I’m also against high speed rail in its current concept. It’s going to rip through towns like Fresno, for example, and with little benefit. It’s not a transport that people can afford. And Fresno is No. 2 in the country in extreme poverty. The No. 1 city for extreme poverty is Bakersfield.
Extreme poverty means neighborhoods have 40% of families in poverty. The poorest 25% of residents of California pay 67% of their income on rent. And in Fresno, it’s 75%. Towns are isolated; they don’t have inter-town transport. This bullet train is just for the top 5% of the population who can zip back and forth to Sacramento and LA and San Francisco, and maybe Oakland; it’s just part of gentrification. What’s really needed is mass public transport and jobs, more teachers, better schools.
Governor Brown says that there is a $9 billion surplus, but rather than using that for urgent needs today he said it’s going to the rainy-day fund. I say there is a rainy day right now. Homeless and housing activists are calling for billions to be used to resolve the crisis in the state, and he’s only putting forward $350 million. That’s not enough.
Do you think the Peace and Freedom Party could ever scale up to win statewide office?
I do think it’s entirely possible, and especially since the 2016 race, we’re seeing much bigger interest in the country for alternative parties. The campaign of Bernie Sanders was a major indicator of that. 2016 was a great indicator of the desire of people for a new party. The Greens with Jill Stein did well.
As the Peace and Freedom candidate and Party for Socialism and Liberation candidate [for President], I got the highest vote as a Socialist of any candidate in the last 40 years. Out of 30 candidates I was seventh, which is pretty damn good! I think that shows we can definitely win a state race and local races too.
There’s increasing interest in socialism. We’ve seen it in the Peace and Freedom Party and in the Party for Socialism and Liberation. Our growth has been remarkable.
If Bernie Sanders were to run in 2020, might the Peace and Freedom Party back his candidacy?
I can’t venture to say. We believe as a party we have to keep our independence and advocate socialism. We’ll see what happens; it’s really too early to say.
How would you characterize the Peace and Freedom campaign; is it a protest vote or an educational program? What is it to you?
It’s a meaningful vote. It’s a vote you will not regret. I have been an activist for 40 years, and I have been a candidate several times, for mayor [of San Francisco], for governor, for vice president and for president, and I think the most common comment was “I can’t throw away my vote,” or “I have to vote for the lesser of two evils.” I did not hear that this year. What people asked was, “What is socialism?”
Peter Maiden is a staff photographer for the Community Alliance newspaper. He studied media at UC Berkeley. Contact him at email@example.com.
Peace and Freedom Candidates in California
U.S. Senate: John Thompson Parker
Governor: Gloria La Riva
Secretary of State: C.T. Weber
Treasurer: Kevin Akin
Controller: Mary Lou Finley
Insurance Commissioner: Nathalie Hrizi
The Peace and Freedom Party also endorses former Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin for Lieutenant Governor.
Peace and Freedom Party Gubernatorial Candidate Gloria La Riva