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Freedom is for Everyone: Seattle Story

This is a chronicle of the 1987 Libertarian Party National Convention in Seattle, Washington from within the Russel Means campaign for the presidential nomination.

I spent the first week in September in Seattle at the Libertarian Party National convention. Perhaps we made history. Long before the convention it was clear that nothing like it had ever happened before to the LP. Both major contenders for the presidential nomination were far better known than any from previous years yet they couldn't have been more different.

First came Ron Paul, ex-republican congressman from Texas. A politician through and through who published a financial newsletter advocating free markets and received the highest rating ever by the National Taxpayer's Union. He wrote a blistering letter of resignation to the republican party and came to the Libertarians seeking to be our presidential candidate. He had the support of the LP establishment and promised to raise enough money to get us on the ballot in every state and buy enough TV ads so people would know who we were. Never had anyone who held such office come to us seeking to be our candidate. He had money, power, and agreed with everything on the party platform except abortion (Paul is pro-life, the platform isn't).

Then came Russell Means. It is impossible for me to conceal that he was my favorite although I promised to fully support whoever won the nomination. He is best remembered for the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee where he and a small band of followers held off federal agents for a couple of months. He had been around the globe attending international conferences and meeting with various leaders. He had been beat up, shot, stabbed, strafed, and bombed fighting for freedom. He had lots of charisma, lots of media appeal, and agreed with the entire party platform.

There was also Jim Lewis, a constitutional lawyer who was our vice-presidential candidate in 1984. His main emphasis was fighting the IRS. He may go to jail soon. There was also Harry Glenn, a true country boy with a bushy white beard and a home grown libertarian attitude who came 2,000 miles in a broken down car to run for president. He felt he would be the best candidate since there's a lot more bars than libraries and everybody listens to country music. As in any Libertarian Party election anywhere there was NOTA (none of the above).

The convention was in the Sheraton in the middle of downtown Seattle. I set up my trusty Macintosh (it traveled in two very heavy suitcases of checked baggage) in the room used for Russell Means headquarters. The first couple of nights I shared a hotel a few blocks away with a couple of other Florida libertarians. After that I was able to find places to crash in the Sheraton.

My intent from the start was to bury myself behind the scenes and be part of the machinery making Russell Means the next presidential candidate. Due to the restrictions on airline travel I arrived a few days early however and indulged in breakfast in the Space Needle. It's not as complex or expensive a building as it appears. I think Tampa Bay should have one just like it.

From the beginning the Means team had a different atmosphere than you would expect from campaigners at a convention. On the traditional night of wild partying in the respective hospitality suites the two cases of beer in the bathtub at the Means suite went largely unconsumed. Apples, on the other hand, were everywhere. The Ron Paul supporters generally had short hair and neckties, the Russell Means supporters looked like they came by bus.

We were terribly disorganized and underfunded compared to the Ron Paul team but remained dedicated, cheerful, and optimistic right up to the vote on Saturday morning, September 5. Ron Paul got 51% to win on the first ballot, Russell Means got over 30%, Jim Lewis, Harry Glenn, and NOTA got the rest. The next ten or twenty minutes were pandemonium with balloons popping, signs waving, and all four hundred or so of us laughing or crying from triumph or despair.

As calm gradually emerged from chaos the next order of business was to choose a vice-presidential candidate. Andre Marrou from Alaska was the only serious contender. He had announced very early and seemed unchallenged. Someone nominated Russell Means, although we all knew he wouldn't take it. During the nominating speech Russell himself walked in and took the podium.

The room exploded with cheering and applause that continued longer than any I have ever heard anywhere. Most of those present had just voted against him but they were all on their feet yelling and clapping until he waved for them to stop. I had not imagined that such unity and enthusiasm could ever come from such a collection of hard core individualists. He declined with good spirit, explaining that he knew Andre to be a freedom fighter and we should all support him. He explained that vice-president wasn't the office he was seeking and besides, he'd already done that with Larry Flynt. The only other contender for vice-president withdrew so Andre Marrou won it by a voice vote.

Later the Means team met in the hospitality suite. I had never imagined that a group of people who had just been defeated, some at considerable personal cost, could turn around so quickly. The only explanation was that although it appeared to be a goal oriented effort (to elect Russell Means as candidate) in fact it was process oriented (to reach the rest of society with libertarianism). Russell had plans of his own to run for the state legislature in Arizona as a Libertarian Party candidate and seek the presidential nomination again in 1991. He also has a project underway to establish a free nation on an Indian reservation in North America. Russell Means is still part of the Libertarian Party and is likely to remain so. (In all my years as a vocal libertarian I have yet to encounter a single genuine ex-libertarian, although I have met any number of ex-activists.)

We formed a new organization named FIFE, the acronym of "freedom is for everyone". The image of a fife is associated with the American Revolution and a fife is also an American Indian instrument. Naming the organization after a musical instrument emphasizes the process of nonthreatening communication so central to our aim. Our newsletter will be called "The Sound of the FIFE".

At the convention there were a lot of buttons with no words but only a picture of a feather. We chose this as a symbol of freedom to propagate libertarianism outward and downward. Suppose the wearing of a feather comes to express a belief that freedom is for everyone, a belief that we all need more freedom and less government, a belief that it's time to lighten up, a belief that government should touch our lives as lightly as a feather.

Feathers are free. Feathers are all different. Anyone can wear one, from the corporate executive to the drunken city panhandler; from the glittery rock star to the migrant laborer. Anyone can be a libertarian. The aim of FIFE is not just to reach those people who don't read books but those who can't read books, not just to reach the non-intellectuals but also anti-intellectuals, not just to reach all segments of society but also those outside society. FIFE exists to reach the people the Ron Paul for President campaign will miss.

It will be an exiting election year. The republican and democratic candidates are so dull that Ron Paul should draw good media attention. His resources should enable us to be on the ballot in all fifty states. There are enough radical elements in the platform to draw media attention away from the abortion issue and anyway Ron Paul has promised to distinguish between his personal viewpoint and the party platform. It's funny to think that the Republican and Democratic platforms are hardly an issue even within the parties yet the Libertarian platform is central to us and defines us. I have some concern that through Ron Paul's candidacy we may be labeled as ultra-conservative but it is easier to correct false ideas than to speak in a total vacuum.