I was enthusiastically poised to vote for Kerry
until Friday, when I spent no less than five hours poring over my state election material, determining how to vote. There were propositions about stem cells and DNA banks and child abuse, measures about marijuana and mass transportation, and even bonds for BART
.... And then my eye fell on the list of Presidental candidates. What the hell? There was another option I hadn't even heard of before!
President and Vice President
for Vice President
I was flabbergasted. Why had nobody told me about this? Why, when Nader wasn't even on the California ballot, had everyone I knew been limiting their arguments to "Kerry-or-Nader versus Bush"?
But there was no time for finger-pointing now! (That's for after election day!) I threw myself at the internet and began researching what this was all about.
Interviewing my friends turned up several political strategy sorts of reasons to vote for Peltier over Kerry, and vice versa, and I will cover those later on. But the internet was more concerned with facts (or, given Peltier's low profile as a candidate, less aware of the political ramifications of his impossible election) and I was able to turn up many reasons to elect him, of which I will present ten here. Please note that I have not yet decided for whom to vote; I am only presenting the information I found on that journey.
1. To free Leonard Peltier. Leonard Peltier has been a political prisoner in the United States since our bicentennial. He was framed for the deaths of two FBI agents who had instigated a shoot-out on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The trial was riddled with illegal government interventions, terrorizing witnesses, removing and creating evidence, and restricting crucial testimony. After his conviction, Peltier's attorneys uncovered FBI documents showing that the Bureau had intentionally concealed ballistics reports which would have proved Peltier's innocence. He has spent nearly thirty years fighting for his freedom as well as the freedom of all people.
2. To support Native American sovereignty. As Thanksgiving approaches, we are reminded again of our country's origins and the unethical and violent ways in which much of our land was stolen from the nations dwelling here before. Electing Leonard Peltier would be a tremendous step toward making amends for the past and changing our still-abusive policies in the present.
3. To support peace. Peltier supports withdrawal of troops from Iraq, and is one of extremely few Presidential candidates who do so. He has also been nominated for the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for his lifetime of work in organizing against war, co-founding The United Tribes of All Indians, and his prolific political writings. And of course, as a Peace and Freedom Party candidate, he can hardly do otherwise.
4. To support the rights of linguistic and cultural minorities. Most candidates give only minor lip service to civil rights issues, based on little or no personal experience. Peltier's stand is quite the opposite: "All minorities must be allowed to maintain their languages and traditions with dignity. I personally suffered the indignity of being deprived of speaking my native tongue and following Lakota traditions. This country has engaged in genocidal policies to exterminate virtually every minority, especially those who express dissent and seek equal justice." Among other things, this would include recreating and strengthening bilingual education.
5. To abolish the federal death penalty. Leonard Peltier has promised to do this, in so many words. He is intimately familiar with the justice system, in ways that might be more appropriate to some of the other candidates.
6. To support and protect the environment. Peltier has pledged to prevent people selling off our natural resources to corporate interests for short-term gain, and to work for environmental protection through alternative energy sources, the development of public transportation, and outlawing clear-cutting.
7. To restore civil liberties to all Americans. Over the past four years, we have seen our civil liberties shrink more and more. Many people know this, but fewer are aware of the selective ways in which our Constitutional freedoms have been parceled out historically. As a political prisoner, one of the many victims of the FBI's COINTELPRO, Peltier has a hands-on working knowledge of the flaws in our justice system and what needs to be done about it.
8. To achieve a living wage, free healthcare, and improved access to higher education. These are only a few of the goals that Peltier's running mate, Janice Jordan, fights for every day. In fact, the first plank of the Peace and Freedom Party's platform is to "double the minimum wage, and index it to the cost of living." They also want to work (among many related goals) for "guaranteed dignified income for those who cannot work," for a secure social security program, for equal pay for equal and comparable work, and for "a 30-hour work week with no cut in weekly pay (and) longer paid vacations."
9. To support same-sex marriage. Peltier and Jordan, alone and as representatives of their party, are in support of same-sex marriage as well as other civil rights issues.
10. To improve our foreign policy. Both Peltier and Jordan have committed to using international diplomacy in ways that have fallen by the wayside or ignored completely here to date. Peltier himself has demonstrated this ability endlessly. As he says, "I've fought in a war that was waged against my people that's existed for over 200 years. And I'll continue." And for sixty years, he has found innovative and often successful non-violent ways of doing so.
Of course, our electoral system is set up as a zero-sum game, and so any vote carries the burden not only of electing a particular candidate but also of not electing all the others. That is, even if a candidate engages in wildly illegal fraud and cover-ups to steal an election, or another candidate barely fights such an attack and then gives up like a fool, it is the third-party voter who will be blamed. So I interviewed my friends, and asked: What happens if I vote for Peltier? What does it all mean?
The answers I received were many. In short:
Pro-Kerry: While my state is assumed to be a shoo-in for Kerry, many people argued that it was crucial that Kerry score as many votes as possible. In the event of election fraud, they said, Kerry must have a great deal of the popular vote in order for the Democrats to fight and win. One person argued that in order for the electoral college to be abolished, we would have to endure several elections where the popular vote and the electoral vote were different, and that voting for Kerry was more likely to bring this about. Kerry, it was argued, needs the moral high ground of many many votes all over the country in order to beat the upcoming fraud of which we already have warning signs. One voter also expressed his expectation that Kerry would win by a landslide, and his desire to be part of the movement ousting Bush. To me, it seems that a vote for Peltier - above all since he literally cannot win, since he is not running in all states and may only be running in California - is the biggest possible rejection of the two-party system. Some of those polled suggested that that made it the ultimate form of throwing one's vote away.
Pro-Peltier: According to the "safe state strategy," many progressives are saying that voters in swing states should vote Kerry but voters in solid Kerry and Bush states should vote for a peaceful third party candidate in order to send a message opposing Kerry and Bush's pro-war, pro-imperialism platforms. The idea was also put forth, as stated above, that a vote for Peltier would support Native American sovereignty - it would acknowledge that this is really their country, and put them back in power, in a manner of speaking.
Many voters, including myself, also find that we have to compromise much more on our beliefs and values when voting for a major-party candidate, and feel that any vote that is for something we truly want is not throwing that vote away, but is instead the truest engagement in the political process. However, only time will tell what decision these voters will make at the polls, and what effect it will have on the country.