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The Commons
Photo 1

Courtesy of Brattleboro Historical Society

Peter Diamondstone stands in front of his yard on Western Avenue in West Brattleboro. When the town claimed he had an illegal junkyard at his home, he challenged the case all the way to the state Supreme Court, and won.


Lion of the left

Peter Diamondstone remembered as a 'nonviolent revolutionary socialist,' a big-hearted gadfly, and a perennial candidate for the Liberty Union party

With additional reporting by Commons editor Randolph T. Holhut.

Originally published in The Commons issue #424 (Wednesday, September 6, 2017). This story appeared on page A1.

BRATTLEBORO—Liberty Union Party co-founder Peter Diamondstone ran in every one of Vermont’s two dozen general elections since the party’s start in 1970 through 2016.

Even when a variety of health ailments began to slow him down, Diamondstone told The Commons in 2012 that as long as there were elections, he would run for public office.

“Doris [Lake, his wife of 60 years] says it’s hopeless, but I never had hope anyway,” he said. “I have to do what I have to do the best that I can.”

Diamondstone, who died on Aug. 30 at the age of 82, was a tireless advocate for what his family described in his obituary as “the vision of a fair and just society where all people have equal access to the resources necessary to actualize their full potential, a classless society where people own the goods of their labor and no one has the right to profit from another’s labor.”

The perennial candidate, who campaigned for attorney general, lieutenant governor, governor, congressman, and U.S. senator in nearly a half-century of electoral politics, never wavered in what he and the party he co-founded stood for.

“I am a nonviolent revolutionary socialist,” he told Calais writer Dirk Van Susteren three years ago while hospitalized with a life-threatening infection that added to the challenges of his pacemaker and artificial hip. “My belief in socialism is unshakable!”

Beginnings in the Bronx

Peter Isaac Diamondstone, born Dec. 19, 1934, grew up in New York City buoyed by leftist political influences beginning with his father, who was a dentist and a friend of Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas.

“My father would give free dental care in keeping with [the Marxist maxim] ‘from each according to ability; to each according to need,’” he recalled in 2014. “I went to ‘commie-camp,’ a place called Camp Woodland in the Catskills at age 10, and I had Pete Seeger as a music counselor.”

That same year, Diamondstone earned 25 cents an hour distributing campaign leaflets for President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Serving in the Army from 1954 to 1956, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Queens College in 1957 and from the University of Chicago Law School in 1960.

After meeting Doris Lake on his 19th birthday and marrying her in 1957, Diamondstone moved to Brattleboro in 1968 to work for Vermont Legal Aid — only to be fired twice for speaking out against the political establishment.

Two years later, Diamondstone helped form the Liberty Union Party with fellow activists frustrated that neither Democrats nor Republicans appeared able to end the Vietnam War, conserve the environment, or change the economic system.

Founding a party

Diamondstone said Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.,was involved in the early days of Liberty Union, when they were among the two dozen people who gathered at the home of former Congressman William Meyer and his wife, Bertha, in West Rupert in June 1970 to discuss founding a new political party.

Meyer, who in 1958 was the first Democratic member of Congress elected in Vermont, was at the time considering a run for the U.S. Senate as a third party candidate.

“Meyer and others wanted to start a third party to move the Democrats more to the left,” Diamondstone told The Commons in 2012. “I saw it more as a way to build a new political party to run candidates for statewide office.”

The battle between what Diamondstone called “the Social Democrats versus the Socialists and Anarchists” was present from the beginning of Liberty Union, but it was the 1976 election that saw a split of the party.

He said party members such as Sanders, Martha Abbott (former head of the Vermont Progressive Party), and others in the Social Democrat faction were afraid that Liberty Union would take votes away from the Democratic presidential nominee, Jimmy Carter.

Diamondstone, who was in the Socialist/Anarchist faction, said he believed Liberty Union wouldn’t succeed as a stand-alone political party if it backed Democratic candidates.

Most of the Social Democrats left Liberty Union the following year, including Sanders, who in four elections for Liberty Union — running for U.S. Senate in 1972 and 1974, and governor in 1972 and 1976 — never got more than 6 percent of the vote.

Sanders and Diamondstone remained friends, though.

“I’d visit his house and we’d stay up all night arguing,” Diamondstone said.

But Diamondstone said their friendship ended in 1984 “when Bernie became a Democrat and campaigned for [presidential nominee Walter] Mondale.”

While Sanders hasn’t been a member of the Democratic Party, and ran as an independent in his successful campaigns for mayor in Burlington and eight terms in the U.S. House, as far as Diamondstone is concerned, Sanders was just another politician from that point on.

When Sanders ran as a Democrat for president during the 2016 primaries, Diamondstone didn’t support him.

“He’s carrying the message and raising issues that nobody raises, and that’s all right,” Diamondstone said of Sanders in a 2015 interview with Seven Days. “I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if he became the candidate. He’s talking to the people. But it’s not a message of socialism. People call him that. You can’t be socialist and talk about rebuilding the middle class. Socialists want to destroy all the classes.”

Sanders, in a statement issued on Aug. 31, aimed to assuage past divisions by saying, “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.”

Fiery, yet beloved

Locally, Diamondstone was known for sharing his Brattleboro property with several dozen aging vehicles. In 1975, the town accused Diamondstone of running an illegal junkyard at his home on Western Avenue. Representing himself, he would eventually win a legal challenge in the Vermont Supreme Court.

When not denouncing banks, big business, the military, major political parties and “capitalist health care,” Diamondstone occasionally was arrested for disrupting electoral debates.

But Diamondstone was also big-hearted and generous.

His family wrote that Diamondstone “keenly felt the pain in the world; he served with compassion to ease suffering wherever it showed. He shared his home with the homeless, shared family holidays with strangers from halfway houses, and bartered legal advice for firewood and garden vegetables. He and Doris loved animals and rescued all sorts of critters from hurt pigeons to cats, dogs, even turtles.”

That might explain why, after a fire in 2012 destroyed the Diamondstone home and all the archives and records of the Liberty Union party, scores of people came to West Brattleboro to help Doris and Peter clean up the site.

Diamondstone’s wife, four children, 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren held a public celebration of his life at the site of their former homestead on Sept. 2.

The family is directing memorial contributions to Vermont’s Liberty Union Party, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Green Mountain Veterans for Peace.

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