Rebuilding a party from the ashes

Amid the loss of his home and the history of the Liberty Union Party, Diamondstone again challenges Sanders for U.S. Senate

BRATTLEBORO — Candidates representing the Liberty Union Party have been on Vermont ballots since 1972.

But Liberty Union enters its fifth decade in electoral politics trying to rebuild itself after a fire on July 2 destroyed the home of one of the party's founders, Peter Diamondstone.

He and his wife of 55 years, Doris, escaped unharmed, but the Diamondstones not only lost all their personal possessions, but also the entire history of the Liberty Union Party.

“It really discombobulated us,” said Peter. “I don't have a single scrap of paper from the party. We lost everything.”

Having to reconstruct a political party's organization from scratch is tough, but the 77-year-old Diamondstone is used to trying to do the impossible.

That is why, once again, he is running against U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. Sanders is seeking re-election to his second term.

Diamondstone said Sanders 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,” said Diamondstone. “I saw it more as a way to build a new political party to run candidates for statewide office.”

The battle between what Diamonstone 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 (now the 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 would not 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,” said Diamondstone.

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

While Sanders has not been 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.

Sharp differences

This is Diamondstone's second run for Senate against Sanders. He challenged Sanders in 2006, and Sen. Patrick Leahy in 2010. He also ran for Congress in 1992, 1996, 1998, and 2000, and for governor in 2002, 2004, and 2008.

Diamondstone's policy stands contrast sharply with Sanders'.

Diamondstone opposes equipping the Vermont Air National Guard with the new F-35 fighter jet, and called the Air Guard base at Burlington International Airport “Bagram II,” after the massive U.S. Air Force base in Afghanistan.

He accused the Vermont Congressional delegation and Gov. Peter Shumlin of being part of the “military mafia,” and also faulted Sanders for voting for aid to Israel, and for continued funding of the Iraq and Afghan wars.

“The militarization of Vermont has driven me right over the edge,” he said. “I'm a secessionist now. Stopping the military mafia and its corporate partners is a big reason why Vermont needs to dissolve its ties with the United States.”

Independence is why Diamondstone said he believes Vermont should establish a state-owned bank and create its own currency “to avoid the funny money of the Federal Reserve, Treasury Department, and Wall Street.”

He also supports a state-run medical system where care is provided to Vermonters at cost, and all providers are on the state payroll.

He believes that patents and copyright law should be abolished, because they “lock in production, art, and literature to creation for money.” Instead, creation of goods, services, and ideas should be for “mutual benefit, while providing adequate compensation to all for their creation.”

Locally, the Liberty Union Party has come out against building a skatepark at the Crowell Lot in Brattleboro. Diamondstone said he is proud that his party is the only one that opposes the skatepark site.

While a variety of health ailments have slowed Peter Diamondstone down, he said that as long as there are elections, he will run for public office.

“Doris 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.”

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