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Longtime Vermont Political Figure Peter Diamondstone Dies

  • Peter Diamondstone campaigns as a Liberty Union Party candidate for the U.S. House in 1986. Diamondstone died on Aug. 30, 2017, at 82. (Valley News photograph) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



For the Valley News
Friday, September 01, 2017

Brattleboro, Vt. — Liberty Union co-founder Peter Diamondstone ran in every one of Vermont’s two dozen general elections since the third party’s start in 1970.

“I choose to be ‘the dandelion on the manicured lawn of the wealthy,’ ” he explained in 2014.

But the perennial candidate’s streak — his name was on the ballot for attorney general, lieutenant governor, governor, congressman or U.S. senator for nearly half a century — has ended, and only because Diamondstone, still talking politics even as his heart was failing, died on Wednesday at home in Dummerston, Vt., at age 82.

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

Peter Isaac Diamondstone, born on Dec. 19, 1934, grew up in New York City buoyed by leftist political influences beginning with his father, a dentist and 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 a degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1960.

He met Doris Lake on his 19th birthday and married 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.

Locally, Diamondstone was known for sharing his property along Route 9 in Brattleboro with several dozen aging vehicles — he went on to represent himself and win a legal challenge in the state Supreme Court — only to lose his house in a 2012 blaze.

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

“Numerous times,” his family notes in a remembrance, he protected “our constitutional rights.”

But that didn’t stop Diamondstone from appearing on Vermont ballots in 1970, 1972, 1974, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016.

The Liberty Union candidate never won. But his party offered a springboard to one ultimately successful member, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Diamondstone was unforgiving when his former colleague became an independent.

Diamondstone repeatedly criticized Sanders during a multi-candidate U.S. Senate debate in October 2006 at Vermont Law School in South Royalton, and at one point said the United States had been committing “war crimes” in Iraq since imposing economic sanctions more than a decade ago.

Diamondstone also used a profanity toward student panelists he thought weren’t giving him enough time to speak, refused to stop talking after his allotted time in the debate, and was escorted from the stage by Windsor County sheriff’s deputies at the request of student organizers.

Sanders, in a statement on Thursday, aimed to assuage past divisions by noting, “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.”

Diamondstone’s wife, four children, 14 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren will host a public celebration of his life today from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the site of their old homestead at 787 Western Ave. in Brattleboro. The family is directing memorial contributions to Vermont’s Liberty Union Party, the American Civil Liberties Union and Green Mountain Veterans for Peace.

“Peter dedicated his life to 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,” his family wrote in a remembrance.

“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.”

Added one Facebook follower in a public post: “Rest in peace, Peter Diamondstone. The revolution you helped start in Vermont will carry on and America will be socialist soon enough.”

The Valley News contributed to this report. Kevin O’Connor can be reached at kevinoconnorvt@gmail.com.