Vermont's Liberty Union Party renames itself to preempt right-wing flag waving – Valley News
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Since its start in 1970, Vermont’s Liberty Union Party has sought to offer voters an alternative to the status quo.
“We have to explore topics the Democratic and Republican parties, the Green Party, the Reform Party, the capitalist parties no matter how big or small will never explore,” said co-founder Peter Diamondstone, who carried the group’s banner as a candidate in every state election until his death in 2017.
The launchpad of now independent U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Liberty Union Party once was widely recognized as a wellspring of nonviolent socialist thought. But in the current political climate of right-wing flag-waving, its newest leaders worry many Vermonters believe the moniker stands for something else.
“Instead of connecting ‘Liberty Union’ with human rights, an end to bigotry, democracy in all aspects of society and owning the profits of our own labor, people have come to associate these words with white supremacy and the notion that freedom is synonymous with entitlement of the rich to exploit the working class and the earth’s resources,” said Jessica Diamondstone, Peter’s daughter and the party’s current chair.
That’s why the group is entering its second half-century with a new name: The Green Mountain Peace and Justice Party.
“A lot of people hear about us when they’re looking at the ballot,” Jessica Diamondstone said. “ ‘Liberty Union’ isn’t as clear about what we stand for as ‘Green Mountain Peace and Justice Party.’ ”
The party began in 1970 when William Meyer, the first Democrat to win a Vermont congressional seat, found many of his peers increasingly frowning on his left-leaning positions. He invited a group of like-minded activists to his West Rupert home.
“The more than 20 people that gathered,” the Liberty Union’s official history recounts, “came to found a new political party that would boldly address their issues: the war in Vietnam, the militarization of society, the problems of the poor and the destruction of the environment.”
The party’s name came when Peter Diamondstone noted the word “union” brought to mind both the trade union movement and the former Marlboro College’s student anti-war group, the Green Mountain Union.
Fellow activist Dennis Morrisseau, for his part, suggested adding an adjective that reflected a desire to return to the original beliefs of the nation’s founders.
The Liberty Union was born.
The group reaped 5% of the vote in 1974, giving it major party status under a state law that brought the right to hold primary elections rather than selecting candidates at a convention.
The Liberty Union has given up and gained back that designation several times since, racking up a historic high 13% of the vote for its secretary of state candidate, Mary Alice Herbert, in 2012.
But the party — now holding minor status — has never won a statewide race. Sanders, its candidate for U.S. senator in 1974 and governor in 1972 and 1976, scored his four-decade string of victories only after leaving in 1977.
“A serious political party cannot maintain the respect of people if it simply pops up every two years for elections,” Sanders said of his departure at the time.
In response, Liberty Union leaders say their party isn’t about “running for” but instead “standing for” — in its case for “environmental protection, advocating for collectively owned and democratically run workplaces, an end to racism and any other forms of bigotry, an end to unfettered corporate greed and the freedom of all people to pursue their dreams,” the group says on their website.
(Sanders, seeking to assuage past divisions, responded to Peter Diamondstone’s death in 2017: “Peter was a very independent thinker, unafraid to express his (often controversial) point of view on any subject. As a result, he forced people to examine and defend their own positions. No small thing. In his own way, Peter played an important role in Vermont politics for many decades.”)
Peter Diamondstone may no longer be alive, but his wife, children and grandchildren are continuing his work, be it through a Brattleboro Community TV oral history series Democracy With Diamondstone and Friends or a recent fundraising concert for indigenous people in the family’s Dummerston backyard.
“My siblings and I were helping to collate leaflets back when Peter’s fingers were inky from running the mimeograph machine in our living room,” Jessica Diamondstone said. “We were raised to understand that as long as one sister or brother is without a roof over their head, we have work to do.”
As such, the party is promoting its platform and ways to participate on its website.
“Young people are becoming fiercely engaged in social change on many levels, but a focus on single issues without a systemic framework to address the root causes keeps society on a treadmill,” Jessica Diamondstone said. “The Green Mountain Peace and Justice Party, standing on the solid foundation of Liberty Union’s 51-year legacy, sees democratic socialism as a systemic framework for change.”
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