This is a rough draft of an article I'm planning to submit to The Libertarian Enterprise. Suggestions welcome.
Plotting a Second TLE Revolution
In July of 2001, Yale doctoral student Jason Sorens wrote an article for TLE that
sparked a revolution in libertarian thought, more accurately a revolution in libertarian
*action.* That revolution is the Free State Project, a movement aimed at recruiting
20,000 liberty lovers to New Hampshire for the purpose of downsizing government
in one state. Events are now unfolding rapidly, with 6,300 pledged to move and
at least 70 fire-breathing activists relocated here.
Perhaps now is the time to spark yet another "TLE revolution," one I will
happily credit to L. Neil Smith should it come to fruition. In a recent edition,
"El Neil" makes the case for a new approach by the hitherto unsuccessful
Libertarian Party. He suggests they go into a presidential election more or less admitting
they will not win and turning that assumption into a liberating advantage.
As they say, the best army is sometimes the one with something to prove and nothing to lose. Along these lines, Smith argues LP presidential candidates
should speak the blunt truth of freedom, with such straight-talking abandon that
it shocks the nation into paying attention.
He is not wrong about this, but in fact no one is going to start watching an LP
candidate because she is *saying* new things. People will pay attention only when
she starts *doing* new things. Visual, risky, exciting things. Things that millions of Americans want to do but can't.
Imagine if we had an LP presidential candidate who would walk up to an IRS office
and spray paint the word "Unconstitutional" on its front door...who joins the Kentucky State Militia for a day of firearms training...who stands in front of the United Nations building with a shotgun in one hand and a burning blue flag in the other...all of these things witnessed and recorded by the press for our world to gape at.
Like Martin Luther King and his lunch counter demonstrators, any brave soul committing such civil disobedience would face jail time and draw the wrath
and scorn of millions. But for millions more he would be a shining example. He
would put a face on liberty and inspire thousands to action, setting them ablaze
for freedom. He would return liberty and Constitution to the national discourse.
Does the nation contain such a person? What are the practical problems associated
with this approach? Would it be possible or better to gain attention without violating
the law? What would be the precise goal of this "publicity stunt" approach?
What kind of limits or "rules of engagement" would be advisable?
I don't have all the answers, but I do have some experiences to draw on from the
libertarian experiment in New Hampshire. Here, where it is easy to get in the news
and where laws are relatively just, civil disobedience has not usually been a necessity.
Here, unlike most of America, libertarians have something to lose. But freedom
fans here have achieved some of their best results from potentially controversial
In December, for example, some of us decided to take advantage of the UN's recent PR woes. I and two friends announced we would torch a UN flag at a local park here
in Keene. We invited freedom lovers to attend and wear open-carried pistols (as
is legal in New Hampshire but opposed by the UN).
The decision to do this initially provoked sometimes bitter debate between freedom lovers
here...some folks who I respect a great deal felt it would result in bad press,
that we'd be portrayed as fringe wingnuts (as though that were a bad thing - heh heh). A local leftist group promised to counter-demonstrate,
and we were only able to find five people who would commit to attending on our side.
But, in the event, 23 people showed up: 17 freedom lovers, 3 journalists, 1 stopping
passerby, 2 reserved onlookers and zero counter-protestors. The blue flag blazed,
and the PR results were out of all proportion to the event. We earned a mention
on Matt Drudge's national show, a sympathetic one hour interview on local talk radio, dozens
of mentions and appearances on other radio programs, two local newspaper articles,
four letters-to-the editor. There was a huge discussion about us on FreeRepublic.com
and, most importantly, the creation of a wildly successful web forum dedicated to
"liberty actions" in New Hampshire (NHunderground.com).
In just one month it has become the most active web forum in the entire state, a
hub of planning for future and hopefully bigger freedom events.
This single, minor publicity stunt lit a fire that continues to spread around the
Free State. It resulted in mostly positive press and did not divide our movement
(our most vigorous opponents are now working with us via the new forum, and one of the potential counterdemonstrators has expressed interest in helping us protest the Patriot Act).
For all we know the next event will be a flop; maybe the one after that will too.
But each time we will learn and adapt. We proven we can gain attention on our terms. If we've done it once, we can do it again. And so can you.
As I say, to gain attention on a national scale, an LP frontman may have to go further
than we have gone. Maybe lawful protests will work for him, maybe they won't.
Perhaps one approach would be a 2008 campaign dominated initially by experimentation
with law-abiding publicity stunts, followed later by civil disobedience if appropriate.
Perhaps there should be a discussion regarding the types of stunts and "disobediences"
that are most likely to capture the public imagination. In any case, the Libertarian Party,
and freedom lovers in general, will never attain freedom for anyone by continuing
to pursue the failed, boring course of Debatertarian "pretend politics."
Freedom requires publicity-generating *action* and an understanding of how to stage
media-friendly, visual PR events.
Now, if I know the LP...they will simply ignore this advice and continue to blithely
wander down the path of ignorable candidacies and boring events. But who's to say
it has to be LP presidential candidates or even LP members who light these fires?
Anyone can do it...just like the three of us in Keene. Even the most average citizen
can capture the public's imagination if her stunts are interesting enough. Below
I've attached most of the information you need to start a revolution of your own.
So what's stopping *you?*
To learn more about staging effective publicity stunts, visit http://www.freestateproject.org/about/essay_archive/mediarelations.php
To learn more about the events we're organizing in New Hampshire, visit www.NHunderground.com
To discuss this article on an open forum frequented by the author, visit http://forum.freestateproject.org/index.php?board=6.0
See you at the Revolution!