As the major party vice presidential candidates were debating in Virginia on Tuesday night, over one hundred students and activists came to the University Union to listen to Dennis Banks, the vice presidential nominee of the socialist Peace and Freedom Party.
Banks is running alongside Gloria La Riva, who has gained ballot access in eight states, including California.
Banks said that the 2016 race may be remembered as “the worst presidential election in U.S. history.”
“We’re a sick county, and we’re voting in 34 days from now for somebody that is hated,” Banks said. “So if you elect Hillary Clinton, it’s because you hated Trump, and if you elect Trump, it’s because you hated Hillary. That’s not a very good platform to win: ‘I won because I was the least hated.’ What do you say to your children and grandchildren?”
Banks said that the focus of his candidacy is to bring attention to issues affecting the American Indian community.
“Of course, I’m not running to accept the vice presidential office,” Banks said. “I’m running because there’s a forum that has to be made in this country, an ongoing forum and I’ve decided to use this to get on that forum.”
Banks’ record as an activist goes back to 1968, when he founded the American Indian Movement (AIM), a group focused on the problems Native Americans face in urban areas.
Subsequently, Banks participated in the 1969-71 American Indian occupation of Alcatraz Island and an armed occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota, which pitted AIM against U.S. Marshals and the FBI in 1973.
Much of Banks’ speech focused on an ongoing protest at the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, where thousands of demonstrators have amassed to prevent the construction of an oil pipeline that American Indians say will destroy sites sacred to them and hurt drinking water.
“Right now the count is 6,500 (people) that are there and we announced a week ago we’re gonna make a winter camp,” Banks said. “I’m hoping for a good winter. I’d hate to have a winter go by and not use all these long underwear.”
Banks said he is moved by the outpouring of support he sees for the protesters from around the country.
“As soon as we made the announcement that we’re looking for some wood, logs, by the end of the week four tractor trailers … were bringing wood to us,” Banks said. “I don’t know what’s happening in America but somehow Standing Rock Nation is needed. It’s needed by all of us to show that no matter the color of our skin, we know that we have to pull together.”
Estevan Hernandez, a Sacramento State alum and a member of the Peace and Freedom Party State Central Committee, said that Banks is one part of a larger movement against the American status quo.
“Today we have the Black Lives Matter movement, and we have Standing Rock, and now we have (Colin) Kaepernick refusing to abide by that national anthem,” said Hernandez. “I think the point of this campaign is that there’s an alternative. There’s an alternative to capitalism. We don’t have to go to the two same old things over and over and over again.”
Banks seemed to agree with Hernandez’ sentiment, saying that not only was he related to nature but that he was also “part Palestinian, part white, part black, part Asian.”
CT Weber, the chair of the Sacramento chapter of the Peace and Freedom Party, said that he hopes people who supported Bernie Sanders during the Democratic presidential primary earlier this year will consider the La Riva-Banks ticket.
“Unfortunately, Bernie is telling his supporters to vote for Hillary Clinton and we don’t think that’s the way to build an independent political force in this country,” Weber said.