Liberty Union co-founder dies at age 82

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BRATTLEBORO — Liberty Union co-founder Peter Diamondstone has run 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 for attorney general, lieutenant governor, governor, congressman and U.S. senator's nearly half-century ballot streak is ending — and only because Diamondstone, still talking politics even as his heart was failing, died at home Wednesday at age 82.

"I am a non-violent revolutionary socialist," he told Calais 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 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 from the University of Chicago Law School in 1960.

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.

Locally, Diamondstone was known for sharing his Brattleboro property 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 blaze in 2012.

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, "protecting 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, current U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

Diamondstone was unforgiving when his former colleague became an independent. Sanders, in a statement 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 Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the site of their old homestead at 787 Western Avenue. 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."

Kevin O'Connor is a Reformer contributor and VTDigger.org correspondent who can be contacted at kevinoconnorvt@gmail.com.

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