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San Jose demands freedom for Leonard Peltier

By staff

San Jose rally demands the release of Leonard Peltier.  | Fight Back! News/staff

San Jose, CA – Over two dozen people gathered in San Jose to demand the freedom of political prisoner Leonard Peltier on the 49th anniversary of the shootout at Pine Ridge, June 26. Peltier is a leader of the American Indian Movement who has been wrongfully imprisoned since 1978 after being framed for the killing of two FBI agents during the shootout.

Donna Wallach of the Leonard Peltier Support Group Silicon Valley began the program by describing the details of Leonard Peltier’s story. She recounted the brutal oppression that the Oglala Lakota people of Pine Ridge faced during the “Reign of Terror,” a period of intense violence, exploitation and attempts at land privatization during the years before the shootout. She spoke about how Leonard Peltier, as a leader of the American Indian Movement, resisted such oppression and organized his people to fight for their liberation. As a result, the U.S. government targeted him with political repression, as it so often does to leaders of national liberation movements.

The program continued with a land acknowledgement by Julie Dominguez, Muwekma-Ohlone tribal ambassador. The Muwekma-Ohlone are the indigenous people native to San Jose and the surrounding areas. She spoke about the oppression that her people have faced, from missionization by the Spanish up through their present-day struggle for federal recognition by the U.S. government.

Brian Smith of the Leonard Peltier Support Group Silicon Valley next read the statement written by Leonard Peltier for this year’s commemoration of the shootout.

Peltier wrote, “Oppression is rising, running like black mold through every facet of society. We must stand together and let society know that Indigenous lives are not cheap. The lives of our oppressed brothers and sisters are not cheap. All people are worthy of basic human dignity,” and “Colonialism has all but destroyed us. We must do nothing less than transform society into a place where human beings are not disposable.”

The next speaker was Dolly Robideau, Peltier’s aunt. She spoke about the ongoing repression that Peltier faces within the criminal justice system, from denial of parole to the withholding of medical treatment. She said, “I may be naive, but it recently occurred to me and seems abundantly clear to me that this is all about revenge with a capital ‘R’. It seems quite evident that justice has very little, if anything, to do with the criminal justice system’s treatment of Leonard.”

Tim Matson from South Bay Indigenous Solidarity then read dozens of names of those killed during the Reign of Terror on the Pine Ridge reservation. Trujillo Miguel Angel Vazquez and Patricia Vazquez performed songs and poetry about Leonard Peltier and Wounded Knee. Sharat Lin performed a dance in honor of Leonard Peltier and indigenous resistance around the world.

Next, Salem Ajluni, local Palestinian American activist, spoke about the ongoing struggle of the Palestinian people for national liberation against brutal oppression by Israel and its U.S. backers. He drew parallels between the struggles of Palestinians and the indigenous peoples of the Americas, in facing land theft and genocide.

Drusie Kazanova of Freedom Road Socialist Organization then gave a speech about the political repression faced by national liberation movements and their leaders. “As the crisis of imperialism sharpens, the U.S. government and its proxies have responded by cracking down hard upon national liberation movements and their leaders, from Leonard Peltier, to former Black Panther Mumia Abu Jamal, to General Secretary of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine Ahmad Sadaat,” she continued, “Freedom Road Socialist Organization stands in solidarity with all peoples fighting for national liberation – both within the U.S. and abroad. We demand the release of all political prisoners that are part of the movements demanding self-determination for their peoples.”

Several members of Malaya South Bay also spoke about political repression within the Philippines, particularly targeting those resisting the Marcos-Duterte regime and fighting for Philippine national liberation against U.S. corporate and military interests.

On July 2, the United States Parole Commission announced that they once again failed to recommend Leonard Peltier, who is 79 years old, for release. In a statement released by Peltier’s lawyers, they pledged to appeal the decision, and quoted the words of Frederick Douglass: “What have those [that] I represent to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us?”

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