1200 Rally for Leonard Peltier
Revolutionary Worker #934, November 30, 1997
On Sunday, November 16, over 1,200 people crowded into the auditorium of Mission High School in San Francisco to demand clemency for Native American political prisoner Leonard Peltier. Many people at the rally were not even born when Leonard Peltier was first imprisoned nearly 22 years ago. Student groups at 20 campuses endorsed the rally or sponsored programs on the case at their schools. People came to the rally from Germany, Alaska, Colorado, South Dakota as well as from all across California. Some activists from Fresno told the RW that they had driven all night to be at the rally after organizing a demonstration at Fresno State against the Ku Klux Klan the day before. Rally organizers said that over 30 tribes were represented at the gathering. Quite a few people were wearing the berets and red windbreakers of the American Indian Movement.
The rally was initiated by the National People's Campaign, American Indian Movement, and the Bring Peltier Home Campaign. Endorsers included Alice Walker, Casey Kasem, Ani DiFranco, Professor Howard Zinn, Pastors for Peace, National Lawyers Guild, National Association of Letter Carriers Br. 214, Workers World Party, Jericho 98, California Prison Focus, League of Filipino Students, BAYAN International USA, and many others.
One of the first speakers was Bear Lincoln, a Native American man from the Round Valley Indian Reservation in Mendocino County in Northern California. Bear was recently freed after a jury found him not guilty of murdering a Mendocino County Sheriff's Deputy. He spoke about the police brutality and repression against Native Peoples that links his case and that of Leonard Peltier. He said, "Leonard Peltier's case and my case were very similar--there was police cover-up, there was corruption.... Through my case and Leonard Peltier's case law enforcement has been exposed, the covers have been pulled off. They really don't care if the public knows how corrupt they are. They continue to break their own laws to put people away." Bear described how police tried to kill him after they ambushed and murdered his close friend Leonard "Acorn" Peters. He told how, when they were unsuccessful in killing him, they tried to frame him with false murder charges. "But they lost and we won," Bear told the rally. "I believe that the time has come for the people to continue to win against a government that has too much power. Law enforcement and the government has shown disrespect for people of all races and poor people. It's them against us."
Irish activist Bernadette Devlin McAliskey sent a message to the rally. Her daughter, Roisin McAliskey, has been imprisoned by the British without trial. She was pregnant when arrested and the authorities threatened to force her to give birth while chained to the delivery table. McAliskey's statement said, "My own daughter, Mumia, Leonard Peltier, these individuals have had to bear a terrible burden of injustice.... But we know the laws and the biased courts that opened up the way for victimizing them are aimed at all of us. They are designed to punish us for demanding our rights, for expressing our aspirations for a better world.... When the British troops raided nationalist ghettos in Northern Ireland in August 1991 and arbitrarily arrested hundreds of people, we said then that we would all stand together and stand behind the men and the women behind the wire. We have to stand together now and stand behind all the victims of political repression. Free Leonard Peltier! Free Roisin McAliskey!"
Message from Texas Death Row
One of the most moving points in the rally came as a statement was read which had been faxed for the rally from a group of inmates on Texas death row: "We, Panthers United for Revolutionary Education, a group of politicized Texas death row prisoners, come in spirit today in solidarity with our Native brother, Leonard Peltier, and to assume our place on the right side of history. For 22 years now this great Native leader has been unjustly locked away but our hope and faith that he will one day be free has not whittled one iota across time and space. The basis of our undying hope and faith is as solid and material as the highest rocks. Our faith is in the power of the people, their ability and willingness to come together and demand without compromise that it be done.... You, the people, are our rock, our hope and our faith. Long live the people!"
Native American singer/poet John Trudell also spoke. A former national AIM chair, Trudell was an AIM activist in the period when Peltier was framed up. On February 11, 1979, Trudell burned an upside-down American flag on the steps of the FBI building in Washington, DC during a vigil for Leonard Peltier. Twelve hours later, his wife, Tina Trudell, her mother, and his three children were killed in an arson attack on their house on the Duck Valley Reservation in Nevada. "America waged political, paramilitary and slanderous struggle against us because there was a time when more people in this country supported the Native struggle than supported the government sitting in power," Trudell said, talking about the period in the 1970s when Peltier was imprisoned. Trudell went on to talk about how when a jury acquitted other AIM activists of the murder of the FBI agents this further terrified the government, leading them to fabricate evidence against Leonard Peltier. "So that [the acquittal] meant that the Indians had to die and the Indians had to pay because if the Indians got away with this then maybe the rest of the citizens would want to have some more rights and recognition. So Peltier is in prison because each and every one of us have our aspirations and our dreams, this is why he is in prison."
From Baghdad to
Ramsey Clark is the lead attorney for Leonard Peltier. Clark, a former U.S. Attorney General, had just returned from a trip to Iraq and said that "Leonard would be pretty upset" if he didn't talk about the crisis in Iraq. He then went on to expose the murderous crimes of the U.S. against the people of Iraq (see quote in article on Iraq, page 5.)
Ramsey Clark also talked about Leonard's case, including the conditions on the Pine Ridge reservation when Leonard and other AIM activists went there: "As a young man Leonard was recruited with five others by Dennis Banks here. He went to Pine Ridge to protect the traditional people. There had been 48 people killed by violence in less than two years, since Wounded Knee in 1973. And the violence was getting worse. There were seven killed in March alone. And by June of that year it was worse than ever. And Leonard was there prepared to do his duty as a human being and as an American Indian Movement warrior--to defend them, and he did."
A statement from Leonard Peltier was read at the rally. Leonard began by thanking the people who worked so hard for the event to happen and then called on the youth to continue the struggle: "On the Pine Ridge Reservation the FBI supported the Goon Squad which killed 64 Native People between 1973 to 1975. All of the victims were members or supporters of the American Indian Movement. Today we still face issues that threaten our way of life, our environment, our youth and the future of this planet.... I call upon young America to stand in the struggle and exercise your heritage to take back the streets, take back the nights, take back this country from those who are destroying it. Ask yourself: what is more important, bottled water or naturally pure water? Productive soil, or soil in which nothing grows? Clear cutting or reforestation? To think of only this generation or to think for the seven generations to come? Stand up America. Stand up and move to action. Let our generations to come be proud of our stand. Let them be proud of who we were. Let them say they knew what was wrong and moved ahead on to bring change. Thank you. In the spirit of Crazy Horse. --Leonard Peltier"
The rally concluded with a speech by American Indian Movement leader Dennis Banks. Over the last year Banks has traveled around the country speaking out for Leonard Peltier.
The rally also featured drumming by the All Nations Drums and Friendship House Sobriety Drums, cultural performers, Floyd Red Crow Westerman and Irish band Raglan Road. Other speakers included prison activist Dorsey Nunn, Reverend Dorsey Blake, Walter Johnson, Secretary-treasurer of the San Francisco Labor Council, attorney Dennis Cunningham and Gloria La Riva.
Kathleen Christian of the Leonard Peltier Defense Committee told the RW that the next major actions for Leonard Peltier would be rallies at Federal Buildings across the country on February 6 and the March 27 Jericho 98 rally in Washington, DC which will demand freedom for all U.S. political prisoners.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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