A man of Lakota and Ojibwa nationality, and a US political prisoner (serving two life terms), one of many. He was convicted of the 1975 murders of two FBI agents at the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota. But he didn't do it. Really. And the justice system has somewhat willfully dropped the ball on the issue of giving the man a new (and fair) trial - this in the face of the international and domestic attention his plight has received over the years.

Peltier was not pardoned by William Jefferson Clinton. Afterwards, he wrote an open letter to his supporters which I quote in part here. Leonard Peltier wrote:
January 20, 2001, was a sad day for all of us. I know that this denial of clemency has affected many of you as much as it has affected both my family and myself.{...}

What Bill Clinton did to us was cruel. For eight years he ignored my clemency petition despite the major campaign that was waged. Then, just months before leaving office he publicly promised to make a decision on my case, one way or the other. {...} We were literally forced to get our hopes up because we did not want to be caught unprepared if I was suddenly set free. {...}

Although it feels like our sentiments were shooed away like an irritating fly by a president who did not want to face the the consequences of his own mistakes, I believe we put up a serious challenge. We can see who was granted clemency and why. The big donors to the president's campaign were able to buy justice, something we just couldn't afford. Meanwhile many political prisoners continue to languish unjustly, proof that this nation's tally about reconciliation is nothing but empty rhetoric.

Leonard Peltier wrote a book that was released in 1999 entitled Prison Writings: My Life Is My Sundance. It's written in Leonard's simple straight-forward language, and contains no self-pity or regret. Instead the book focuses on the struggle that the Native American people still face in the world today, and insights he has gained during his imprisonment. Leonard likens his life in prison to the Lakota ceremony, the Sundance, where the dancer offers his own body and pain to help his people and gain enlightenment.

Cut off all your hair
Sacrifice the loved ones
Who always stood by me
Stranded in the wasteland
Set my spirit free

My name is Leonard Peltier
I am a Lakota and Anishnabe
And I am living in the United States Penitentiary
Which is the fastest growing
Indian Reservation in the country

From a song edited and written by Robbie Robertson
from a taped interview with Leonard Peltier < br />and entitled Sacrifice...

Leonard Peltier was born on the Anishinabe (Chippewa) Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota in 1945. Like most from that time and place, poverty reigned. One of thirteen children, life was a process of assimilation, not only in his family but in his reservation, a process taken on by the U.S. government. Thanks to that same government, when Peltier was only eight, he was sent to a boarding school for Native Americans in order to rid them of the culture of the Native people and teach them the "proper" ways of the white; succinctly stated, acculturation.

When Peltier was a teen, he moved back on the reservation with his father and began to protest the new termination policy of the United States Government. Turtle Mountain was one of three chosen by the U.S. to serve as a testing ground for this policy, which would force Native families off the reservations and into the cities. This policy also withdrew federal assistance, including food, from those who refused to leave the reservation. It was here that Peltier began his avocation as an activist and organizer to help his people fight the repression now forced upon them.

Later, traveling with his father to other reservations while working as a migrant farmer, Peltier recognized the same conditions he faced at home, were endemic issues that faced all Native American tribes regardless of location. In 1965, he moved to Seattle and became involved with the founding of halfway houses for Native American ex-prisoners. While there he became active in protests involving Native American land preservation within the city of Seattle. Obviously, by this time Peltier's devotion to "the cause" was paramount.

Leaving Seattle in the late '60's, Peltier began visiting other reservations and became involved with the American Indian Movement (AIM). Temporarily settling in Denver, he worked as a community counselor helping Natives with alcohol and drug abuse as well as unemployment and housing. The traditional and spiritual side of "the movement" began to influence Peltier more and more and eventually led him to Washington, D.C., where he was a leader in the occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs building, protesting the "Trail of Broken Treaties" in 1972.

In his, then unknown, final days of freedom, Peltier encamped with the Oglala Lakota People of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota and worked diligently to overcome obstacles facing the community while "organizing security" for the people protesting the pro-assimilation tribal chairman and his "vigilantes." This was the scene of the 1975 shootout that has landed Peltier in prison for the murder of two FBI agents. Peltier and two others were charged, only Peltier was found guilty. Peltier states that "even the prosecuter admitted not knowing who killed their agents, but someone has to pay for the crime." Guilty or not, Peltier has been paying ever since. Sentenced to two consectutive life terms, Peltier's current home is the Federal Prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Peltier's pre-sentencing statement to the court in Fargo, North Dakota on June 1, 1977:
You are about to perform an act which will close one more chapter in the history of the failure of the United States courts and the failure of the people of the United States to do justice in the case of a Native American.

I was enthusiastically poised to vote for Kerry until Friday, when I spent no less than five hours poring over my state election material, determining how to vote. There were propositions about stem cells and DNA banks and child abuse, measures about marijuana and mass transportation, and even bonds for BART .... And then my eye fell on the list of Presidental candidates. What the hell? There was another option I hadn't even heard of before!

    President and Vice President
    Leonard Peltier
    for President
    Janice Jordan
    for Vice President

I was flabbergasted. Why had nobody told me about this? Why, when Nader wasn't even on the California ballot, had everyone I knew been limiting their arguments to "Kerry-or-Nader versus Bush"?

But there was no time for finger-pointing now! (That's for after election day!) I threw myself at the internet and began researching what this was all about.

Interviewing my friends turned up several political strategy sorts of reasons to vote for Peltier over Kerry, and vice versa, and I will cover those later on. But the internet was more concerned with facts (or, given Peltier's low profile as a candidate, less aware of the political ramifications of his impossible election) and I was able to turn up many reasons to elect him, of which I will present ten here. Please note that I have not yet decided for whom to vote; I am only presenting the information I found on that journey.

    1. To free Leonard Peltier. Leonard Peltier has been a political prisoner in the United States since our bicentennial. He was framed for the deaths of two FBI agents who had instigated a shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The trial was riddled with illegal government interventions, terrorizing witnesses, removing and creating evidence, and restricting crucial testimony. After his conviction, Peltier's attorneys uncovered FBI documents showing that the Bureau had intentionally concealed ballistics reports which would have proved Peltier's innocence. He has spent nearly thirty years fighting for his freedom as well as the freedom of all people.

    2. To support Native American sovereignty. As Thanksgiving approaches, we are reminded again of our country's origins and the unethical and violent ways in which much of our land was stolen from the nations dwelling here before. Electing Leonard Peltier would be a tremendous step toward making amends for the past and changing our still-abusive policies in the present.

    3. To support peace. Peltier supports withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and is one of extremely few Presidential candidates who do so. He has also been nominated for the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for his lifetime of work in organizing against war, co-founding The United Tribes of All Indians, and his prolific political writings. And of course, as a Peace and Freedom Party candidate, he can hardly do otherwise.

    4. To support the rights of linguistic and cultural minorities. Most candidates give only minor lip service to civil rights issues, based on little or no personal experience. Peltier's stand is quite the opposite: "All minorities must be allowed to maintain their languages and traditions with dignity. I personally suffered the indignity of being deprived of speaking my native tongue and following Lakota traditions. This country has engaged in genocidal policies to exterminate virtually every minority, especially those who express dissent and seek equal justice." Among other things, this would include recreating and strengthening bilingual education.

    5. To abolish the federal death penalty. Leonard Peltier has promised to do this, in so many words. He is intimately familiar with the justice system, in ways that might be more appropriate to some of the other candidates.

    6. To support and protect the environment. Peltier has pledged to prevent people selling off our natural resources to corporate interests for short-term gain, and to work for environmental protection through alternative energy sources, the development of public transportation, and outlawing clear-cutting.

    7. To restore civil liberties to all Americans. Over the past four years, we have seen our civil liberties shrink more and more. Many people know this, but fewer are aware of the selective ways in which our Constitutional freedoms have been parceled out historically. As a political prisoner, one of the many victims of the FBI's COINTELPRO, Peltier has a hands-on working knowledge of the flaws in our justice system and what needs to be done about it.

    8. To achieve a living wage, free healthcare, and improved access to higher education. These are only a few of the goals that Peltier's running mate, Janice Jordan, fights for every day. In fact, the first plank of the Peace and Freedom Party's platform is to "double the minimum wage, and index it to the cost of living." They also want to work (among many related goals) for "guaranteed dignified income for those who cannot work," for a secure social security program, for equal pay for equal and comparable work, and for "a 30-hour work week with no cut in weekly pay (and) longer paid vacations."

    9. To support same-sex marriage. Peltier and Jordan, alone and as representatives of their party, are in support of same-sex marriage as well as other civil rights issues.

    10. To improve our foreign policy. Both Peltier and Jordan have committed to using international diplomacy in ways that have fallen by the wayside or ignored completely here to date. Peltier himself has demonstrated this ability endlessly. As he says, "I've fought in a war that was waged against my people that's existed for over 200 years. And I'll continue." And for sixty years, he has found innovative and often successful non-violent ways of doing so.

Of course, our electoral system is set up as a zero-sum game, and so any vote carries the burden not only of electing a particular candidate but also of not electing all the others. That is, even if a candidate engages in wildly illegal fraud and cover-ups to steal an election, or another candidate barely fights such an attack and then gives up like a fool, it is the third-party voter who will be blamed. So I interviewed my friends, and asked: What happens if I vote for Peltier? What does it all mean?

The answers I received were many. In short:

    Pro-Kerry: While my state is assumed to be a shoo-in for Kerry, many people argued that it was crucial that Kerry score as many votes as possible. In the event of election fraud, they said, Kerry must have a great deal of the popular vote in order for the Democrats to fight and win. One person argued that in order for the electoral college to be abolished, we would have to endure several elections where the popular vote and the electoral vote were different, and that voting for Kerry was more likely to bring this about. Kerry, it was argued, needs the moral high ground of many many votes all over the country in order to beat the upcoming fraud of which we already have warning signs. One voter also expressed his expectation that Kerry would win by a landslide, and his desire to be part of the movement ousting Bush. To me, it seems that a vote for Peltier - above all since he literally cannot win, since he is not running in all states and may only be running in California - is the biggest possible rejection of the two-party system. Some of those polled suggested that that made it the ultimate form of throwing one's vote away.

    Pro-Peltier: According to the "safe state strategy," many progressives are saying that voters in swing states should vote Kerry but voters in solid Kerry and Bush states should vote for a peaceful third party candidate in order to send a message opposing Kerry and Bush's pro-war, pro-imperialism platforms. The idea was also put forth, as stated above, that a vote for Peltier would support Native American sovereignty - it would acknowledge that this is really their country, and put them back in power, in a manner of speaking.

Many voters, including myself, also find that we have to compromise much more on our beliefs and values when voting for a major-party candidate, and feel that any vote that is for something we truly want is not throwing that vote away, but is instead the truest engagement in the political process. However, only time will tell what decision these voters will make at the polls, and what effect it will have on the country.

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