Students Demonstrate to Demand Clemency for Political Prisoner

Lisa Putkey, Peace Studies Teacher
Tuesday, March 8, 2016

On Saturday, Feb 27th, Wounded Knee Liberation Day, Woolman students took action in solidarity with students across the country to demand clemency for American Indian Movement hero Leonard Peltier. Earlier this semester, a dear friend of mine in Albuquerque invited me to take up this national call to action. I was excited to learn about the National Student Day of Action for healing and justice and brought the proposal to the students who enthusiastically took up the call. 


Leonard Peltier was active in the American Indian Movement (AIM) and fought against oppression and injustice of Indigenous People in the United States. Over 40 years ago, he was wrongfully convicted in the death of two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Peltier is a political prisoner and a victim of the FBIs COINTELPRO program, which used imprisonment as a tool to silence radical movement leaders. Peltier’s health is currently failing and he does not have adequate access to healthcare. Peltier’s critical health issue paired with it being Obama’s last year in office makes now the time for Peltier to finally be granted clemency.

To prepare for the action we watched videos, read articles and letters, and discussed the importance of Leonard Peltier’s freedom.  Organizing started with a group of 6 of us one evening around a table in the dining hall. We decided to go to the state’s capitol of Sacramento to march with "Clemency Now for Peltier" banners, chants, signs, flyers, and postcards to Obama.  Some of us organized an art party to make signs and banners and listened to Free Leonard Peltier: Hip Hop's Contribution to the Freedom Campaign.

Thanks to a Woolman alumni, we learned of another Indigenous solidarity action happening in Sacramento that same day so we started the day by joining them. The Apache Stronghold organized a powerful Save Oak Flat march and rally in solidarity with the San Carlos Apache to protect their sacred ancestral homeland that is being threatened by an international copper mining company. After marching to the capitol and many powerful conversations with Save Oak Flat protesters, students headed to the Farmers Market to start demonstrating for clemency.  They then marched up J street with chanting: “One: We want justice. Two: for Leonard Peltier. Three: Clemency Now!” Check out this photo album from the day’s events.

At the end of the day we had collected nearly 60 postcards for Obama! In reflecting on the action, students were grateful for the opportunity to take action and learned a lot about themselves. They gained skills and experience with writing press releases, contacting news outlets, creating banners and signs, doing social media outreach, leading chants, and engaging people on the street to comment and take action.  I asked them to make connections between colonization at home and US imperialism abroad and to critically consider their own role as a group of mainly settlers taking action for indigenous rights.

One of the powerful observations students made was in their comparison of how they were received by different groups of people.  At the farmers market, people were generally not very interested in what students had to say.  At Cesar Chavez Plaza, however, students met many people without homes who were not only interested in what students had to say but appreciative for their action and offered material support for the cause. 

In organizing and taking action, students were able to directly apply the concepts of peace, justice, power, privilege, systemic oppression, violence, allyship, and collective liberation that we have learned about in Peace Studies class. The students are currently organizing their own actions around issues that they are passionate about and/or directly affected by such as mental health, justice for queer and undocumented people, and reproductive rights – stay tuned for updates on those projects. 

If you are reading this, please take the time to email, call 202-456-1111, or write President Obama at The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500 to demand clemency now!  For more information about organizing for Peltier's freedom visit: and watch Incident at Oglala: The Leonard Peltier Story.

Author Type: