Means No Stranger to Controversy
by Ari Armstrong
[The following article originally appeared in the March/April 2001 edition of Colorado Liberty.]
Michele Poague was a young girl living in South Dakota when she and her sister saw a police car drive through town. The girls arrived at the court house just as a chair came smashing through the window.
It was 1974. Inside, a fight had erupted between Russell Means' supporters and the police. The skirmish was precipitated by the Indians' refusal to stand as a sign of respect to the judge (see page 318 in Means' autobiography, Where White Men Fear to Tread). Means was on trial for the Wounded Knee standoff.
Poague went on to become chair of the Libertarian Party of Colorado and a supporter of Means.
Poague's sister BetteRose Smith serves as current chair. She addressed the recent controversy involving Means' protest of the Columbus Day Parade: "What Russell Means said was that Italians have a right to parade, and he has a right to protest. Never once did he talk about doing anything violent. We're the party that believes in the First Amendment, even if we disagree with what you say. He's taking a libertarian approach."
Some have blasted the American Indian Movement for protesting the parade by blocking the street. However, libertarians point out that the problem is inherent in a system of poorly defined property rights. The roads are "public," aren't they? Then how can some members of the "public" be excluded? Libertarians see the solution to such paradoxes in transferring political property to private individuals and groups.
Criticizing Columbus is not the same thing as criticizing Western society. Means makes clear that he has a problem with Columbus' specific harmful actions, not with Italian culture: "[B]y honoring the first transatlantic slave trader, the city [of Denver] was affirming and supporting genocide... [C]elebrate Leonardo da Vinci or Sophia Loren or Joe DiMaggio -- anyone except Columbus" (519).
At first glance, the alliance between Means and the Libertarian party might seem unlikely. He has criticized American "materialism," he wants "free markets, but not the kind of unbridled free enterprise that leads inevitably to corporate socialism" (480), and he scoffs at "Eurocentric logic" (302).
Misunderstandings arise partly from semantics. While libertarians advocate material progress and increased wealth, they generally join Means in criticizing a crass or empty materialism disconnected from deeper spiritual values.
Means sees our "country speeding toward right-wing socialism, its corporations in collusion with government to dictate economic policy and protect their own interests by eliminating opportunity" (486). All libertarians blast this sort of "corporate socialism."
Libertarians tend to argue that logic and the principles of science are valid across cultures; one can uphold their legitimacy without falling into strains of European rationalism.
No one doubts Means' authenticity. He describes his 1998 bid to become the Libertarian candidate for President: "My message was different from [Ron] Paul's because it was sincere, delivered in plain English and without resorting to the euphemisms and false facades of white man's politics, or the dull, dry rhetoric of economics" (485).
Means writes, "What the [Libertarian] party stood for -- free-market economics and no government interference in people's lives -- sounded just right to me... I was thrilled to learn that it is a party of principle... Libertarians do not compromise. They do not sell out" (482).
Means supports the right to bear arms, opposes government welfare and political schools, and wants to repeal drug prohibition.
Means will attend Colorado's LP convention in May (see pages 4-5) and may run for President in 2004. Boulder LP member Ron Bain said, "He's got an iron grip of a handshake, I'll tell you that. I'd like to be his Colorado coordinator, that's how much I support him. Anybody with his ability to demand attention and press has got to be good for the party."