Merle Woo’s dramatic run for the California statehouse

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The following interview is reprinted from San Diego’s Gay and Lesbian Nation newspaper.

During a recent phone conversation with Merle Woo, candidate for Governor of California in the Peace and Freedom Party’s June primary, I was impressed not only by her assessment of the issues, but by her quiet optimism and conviction that change can occur. It was also apparent to me that this campaign, within the Peace and Freedom Party and without it, is not about or for Merle Woo — a politician hungry for personal power — for in her there is no such person.

Neither is it a campaign based on the need for one person’s ego-appeasement. What makes Merle Woo run is her determination that the leadership in this state be replaced by a visible coalition of leadership of those traditionally excluded: women, people of color, gays and lesbians, the poor and the underpaid and so on. Even should she not win in the primary, she will have made this point and delivered the message about this state’s leadership.

“In talking to people, I see that people are feeling less demoralized, less cynical,” Woo said. “They see that, with this campaign, they have a chance to lodge not only a protest vote against the current leadership, but to also see something building … a movement for change from the bottom up.”

“The issues are: unemployment; education; nationalized health care, including funding for full reproductive rights and abortions on demand; elimination of forced sterilization, which mostly affects Native American women and other women of color; and a focus on full AIDS resources and funding for research and education.”

When the Peace and Freedom Party, in deciding that someone from the Freedom Socialist Party should run for governor, decided that someone ought to be Merle Woo because of her activism and abilities, and also because of her visibility in connection with her lawsuit of UC-Berkeley, Woo says she laughed at the idea. Gradually, however, she says she recognized that if they could focus on an educational campaign around socialist-feminist issues, they could offer a real alternative to the other parties.

“But it’s clear to me that it’s not just one person in office that’s going to make a difference,” she said. “We need to talk about what it means to build a large anti-capitalist movement and get a movement into office.

“The other part of my running, and what I think I bring to this campaign, is that, as a lesbian of color, my presence unites the movement. The clearest message here is that as a lesbian of color, I know I will not get my rights under capitalism. My presence also helps people to know that it is their level of participation that determines their success. I’ve learned that it is not enough to be a lesbian, but that you must also be an advocate for lesbian rights.”

I listened to Merle Woo speak. For eight years she has fought her arbitrary and discriminatory firing as a UC-Berkeley lecturer brought about because of her so-called radical views. And she has persevered because, as she says, “the university is deliberately trying to create a chilling effect on the campus,” and this simply won’t do for Woo. If she quits, others will have second thoughts about pursuing their own cases of discrimination. So she goes on with the fight. It makes me believe that whatever the fight Woo becomes engaged in, she will go on slugging away until there is a clear victor or loser.

“The goal for me is to have a socialist feminist revolution — that, or we face our destruction,” she said. “I have not been by myself in this struggle. I have had lots of support…

“More of us need to come together. Sometimes I think there’s no brotherhood and sisterhood in the lesbian/gay community. If we come together, we could face that common enemy. This divide-and-conquer between male and female, among colors and races, comes from the top level of government.

“Lesbians of color are on the front lines. We are the leadership of the future, and our leadership is invaluable.”

Woo thinks her chances of winning in her primary are good. But she may never need our vote in order to be considered successful or a winner, although, of course, votes are always crucial. Beyond that, however, she wins if we learn how to come together, if we learn to examine the system and expose its wrongs; if we learn the value of our visibility and our leadership; and if we join her on the front lines.

She wins if we work collectively and become integral components in the struggle against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, and all other forms of discrimination. She wins, but then, we win, too.

M. Corinne Makey writes a weekly column for Gay and Lesbian Nation and is a founder of the San Diego group Lesbians and Gays of African Descent United.

Editor’s note: Merle Woo was diagnosed with breast cancer during her gubernatorial campaign. In June she underwent surgery to remove the cancer.

Merle’s spirits are high. FSP and Radical Women, with Merle’s family and friends, are providing loving support and insisting on the best medical care available.

Merle is recovering well — but she is angry: “Cancer, like AIDS, is disproportionately found among people who receive the lousiest health care, work the unsafest jobs, live in the worst housing, are the most cruelly exploited and discriminated-against. And I am convinced that we will not conquer these diseases until we get rid of the biggest disease of all, and that’s capitalism.”

Well-wishers can send messages to Merle at Valencia Hall, 523-A Valencia St., San Francisco, California 94110.

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