My talk at the Leonard Peltier Rally,
by Peter Bohmer
May 21, 2012
I want to thank Arthur Miller and all of those who have organized this march and rally and worked so tirelessly and persistently for so many years for the freedom of Leonard Peltier.
Leonard Peltier is an inspiration for his strength and integrity for 40 years plus as a member of the American Indian Movement, as a defender of the people and resources at the Pine Ridge Reservation and for 35 long years as a political prisoner. He is in prison for us, for all people committed to environmental justice, to economic and social justice and for the right to self-determination for Native peoples. We are out here for him.
For Leonard Peltier’s membership and leadership in the American Indian Movement (AIM), he was, targeted by the FBI, and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1976 in a trial marked by continual misconduct by the judicial system. The 1960’s and early 1970’s was a period of mass movements and of hope that another world was possible. It was also a period of intense government repression, breaks-in into houses, causing divisions among people and groups, false arrests, infiltration of progressive and revolutionary groups, attempted and actual assassinations. The most intense repression was against Black, Latino/a and Native activists, and groups such as AIM and the Black Panther Party. Much of the repression was organized and carried out under the FBI’s counterintelligence or Cointelpro program, which officially ended in 1971 but never stopped.
Whites who stood up for justice were also targeted. For example, I lived in San Diego from 1970 through 1975 and was active in anti-Vietnam war organizing of GI’s and civilians, and community organizing against police brutality and developers from an anti-capitalist perspective. I was targeted by the FBI and San Diego Police Department and Nixon’s Watergate team by being shot at, many arrests for false charges, imprisonment, losing my job, heavy infiltration by various police agencies and the FBI in the groups I worked in. I was a victim of Cointelpro.
There are as many issues of injustice today as they were in the 1960’s and 1970’s. We are living in a period today of high unemployment, 25 million are unemployed; 1/8th of the white population is below the official and inadequate poverty line and the rate for Latinos, African-Americans and Native people in the United States is more than twice that—on many reservations such as Pine Ridge close to 50% are below the poverty line. . 1/3 of the world’s people are poor and undernourished although there is plenty of food.
More than two million people in the U.S. are in prison. Black and American Indians are more than five times more likely to be in prison than whites and we are supposed to believe that racism has ended. Who are you kidding? Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are deported from the United State or locked up at private prisons such as the Northwest detention Center at 16th and J in Tacoma for the “crime” of crossing the border to work.
Health care and public education are being gutted by state governments and the federal government who refuse to tax the wealthy but who have money for the military and prisons but not for human needs. In Washington State, higher education is being privatized as tuition rather than Washington covers the large majority of the costs. Corporations have rights but not poor and working people. The U.S. is involved in even more wars today than they were in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Climate change and environmental destruction are happening every day.
Some Christian fundamentalists said the world will end today, May 21st, 2011. It hasn’t and won’t. This belief, however, is no more crazy than those who act like and think our society can go on as we have been with a capitalist economic system that see human beings and the earth as things to be exploited for profits- a system based on war that is more and more dysfunctional for the great majority of people of the globe and the U.S.; where inequality of income and wealth is growing daily under Republicans and Democrats, a system unsustainable for the earth and its people. .
We need to build social movements that connect the issues of racism, of budget cutbacks, of mass incarceration, of climate injustice, of war and militarism, of women’s and immigrant rights, one that supports gay and lesbian and trans liberation, that struggles against poverty and housing foreclosures, and stops people from being displaced from their land, that targets capitalism as the cause of these interrelated forms of oppression. Let us fight the power and struggle in way small and big for a different society, what I would call participatory socialism, where human needs are put at the center, where everyone has meaningful work, healthy food, free education, quality medical care and housing, where cultural diversity and equality and self-determination are the reality not meaningless rhetoric– where people have the power and corporate and capitalist power is ended. It is not that complicated. We can do it. Let us take inspiration from the 2011 uprising in Tunisia , Egypt and Wisconsin and now Spain where people are saying no more to unemployment.
In struggling for revolutionary change and in building bold social movements, we must never forget our political prisoners. I am proud to say that Evergreen State College where I teach, as a result of student organizing selected Leonard Peltier as graduation speaker in 1993 and Mumia Abu-Jamal as graduation speaker in 2000. Leonard’s health is not good. I urge you to demand his clemency and get groups you know to support this righteous request, to ask your friends, neighbors, fellow students, co-workers to do the same. President Obama yesterday, May 20th, 2011, granted pardons to 8 people. Demand he give clemency to Leonard Peltier.
The word, solidarity, is meaningless unless we make as part of our daily lives and organizations, supporting political prisoners and working for their freedom, relatively well known ones such as Leonard Peltier and less well known ones such as Lumumba Ford, a Muslim grad student from Portland who was sentenced to 18 years in 2003 as part of the phony war on terror. He has committed no crime whatsoever. Many thousands are targeted today for being Arab, for being Muslim. Learn about Lumumba Ford’s case. Check out the Jericho movement, thejerichomovement.com to learn about other political prisoners and their campaign for freedom and amnesty.
End the incarceration of immigrants and most prisoners. Free Leonard, Free Mumia, Free all political prisoners.
Power to the People!
Photos of march and rally, provided by Elliot Stoller, http://www.flickr.com/photos/rebellion666/sets/72157626781346708/