Speech to the Clark County LP
NOTE: The opinions and commentary expressed in this essay are those of the author and are an exercise of free speech. They do not necessarily represent the views of Free State Project Inc., its Directors, its Officers, or its Participants.
Speech to the Clark County Libertarian PartyDebra Ricketts May 2003
Thanks for having me here. My name is Debra Ricketts, and I'm with the Free State Project
How many of you are familiar with us?
For those of you who are not, the Free State Project is an ambitious but practical plan to move 20,000 libertarian activists to a single state of the US. Once there, those activists will work together toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of civil government is the protection of citizens' rights to life, liberty, and property.
Just looking at your faces, I can see objections. There are a lot of them, and they aren't unreasonable. I want to go into them, but first, I want to tell you a little bit about our Project's beginnings, its evolution, and its status.
The Free State Project is the brainchild of Jason Sorens, a Yale graduate student majoring in (not surprisingly) Political Science. He wrote an article for the Libertarian Enterprise in July of 2001, noting the lack of progress the Libertarian Party has made in politics on a national level. While there are a number of factors at play, it can be argued that it isn't working for a reason few of us like to admit: there just aren't that many people who really want to be free.
Although it is inimical to those of us in this room, most people, I'm sure you'll agree, like laws. They like regulations. They like order, and control, and telling other people what they can and can't do. As we've seen since 9-11, they like to be "safe", even at the cost of their own freedom.
One of our members, a Libertarian city council member in Leadville Colorado, astutely observed:
The majority [of the public] want government to provide for them and their pet programs. They want "publicly funded" employment security, health care, transportation systems, education, recreation, water supplies sewer systems and garbage collection. The majority want laws against their neighbors doing anything with their property that might be "unsightly", "lower property values", or "be unsafe". They want building, planning and zoning codes. They want government to prove that people are qualified to be a driver, teacher, health care provider, day care provider, and a myriad of other professions. They want the government to inspect and certify their meat, vegetables, fruit, medications, water, buses, planes, and toys. Their all-to-frequent plaint is "there ought to be a law".
He's right, of course. Ask 10 random people what should be done about a particular cause or social problem whether it's crack babies, kids on skateboards, or rude drivers with cell phones and at least 9 will respond, "There ought to be a law". We may not like that, but it's the truth.
But what about those of us who do want to be free? Who look at a prostitute and shrug, "It's a living"? Who bitch about the mess in their neighbor's yard, but never consider calling the cops over it? Who, upon noticing a gun strapped to their coworker's hip, say, "Hey, is that the new Ruger semi-auto?"
Well, maybe there aren't enough of us to change the world, or even a country, but maybe...just maybe...there are enough to change a small state. And that's what Jason proposed in his article. Moving freedom-seekers to a single state where we can work to remove those immoral, unethical, aggression-based laws.
The idea hit home with a number of us, particularly those of us who just aren't willing (for whatever the reason) to shoot the bastards. Working within the system, to bring down the system, though, was something else. Jason received a number of emails from people who were interested myself included, formed a group on Yahoo, and the Free State Project was born.
In the year and a half since its inception, the FSP has grown to over 3,500 members, 1,000 of those just in the last few months. We've run ads in the LP News, Reason magazine, and Liberty magazine. We've also advertised in the online venues of Sierra Times, Doing Freedom, The Libertarian Enterprise, and the late, great Free-market.Net [now back in business, as part of ISIL].
We've been mentioned in Newsweek, the Boston Globe, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, Reno News & Review, and the Associated Press. We've been interviewed on dozens of talk-radio shows, and spoken at numerous conferences. And just last week our vice-president was interviewed on MSNBC.
We've been endorsed by celebrities like economist Walter Williams, authors Claire Wolfe and Boston T. Party, Sierra Times editor JJ Johnson and Las Vegas' own Vin Suprynowicz, who unexpectedly joined up during the New Hampshire Libertarian convention. The Maine, Delaware, Alaska, and New Hampshire Libertarian parties have endorsed us as well.
We've gotten interest. And we've gotten noticed.
Claire Wolfe once stated "Bright-eyed libertarians propose, 'Gosh, let's all move to a state and take over the government!' as often and with as little thought as actors babbled, 'Hey, let's put on a play!' in an old Mickey Rooney movie."
That's true. There's been the Fort Collins project, the Sealand project, the Limon Real Project, the Freedom Ship, and Oceania, among others. And, of course, let's not forget the granddaddy of all leave-me-alone attempts, the War Between the States. So how is the Free State Project any different?
From the beginning, our project has been based on pragmatism. First, we've chosen our candidate states based not on where we already live, or want to live, but on where we think we can actually pull this off. For example, a bloc of 20,000 people isn't a drop in the bucket in California. But it's 5% of the entire population of Wyoming. So we've limited our candidates to just ten states, none of which have a population over 1.5 million. The states, if you're interested, are New Hampshire, Delaware, Maine, Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Alaska.
Not that population is the only criteria. If you visit our website, www.freestateproject.org, you'll find comparison tables on everything under the sun: schooling laws, midwifery laws, voting patterns, tax rates, federal control of land, population density, crime rates, median income, even the percent of residents born in-state. You get the idea we're trying to take into account every possible factor that might be relevant to our goal. We think that armed with these data, our membership will be able to select the very best possible state for our project.
We're also looking at the native culture of the candidate states. Even if we had 50,000 activists, it's unrealistic to expect that we could effect change in, say, Massachusetts. Why? The local culture would not be amenable to our proposed changes. So our candidate states are those with a history of independence and support for individual freedoms. Delaware and Wyoming, for example, have some of the loosest incorporation laws in the country. Vermont doesn't require a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Alaska and Idaho don't require notification if you choose to homeschool your child, and so on. This is one of the reasons that the terms "take over the government" or "invade the state" are somewhat misleading. We want to work with the locals to implement a freer society, not work against them. If we don't have the support of the local populace, we won't succeed.
Next, we don't ask for money. Like any other movement, the freedom movement has been the target of scam artists who propose wonderful, magical plans, demand investment money, and then disappear, never to be heard from again. That's not the Free State Project. Oh, don't get me wrong. Donations are *always* appreciated. But there are no dues or other monetary investments required in order to join; in fact, that's in our bylaws. For that matter, why would we need it? We have no offices and no paid staff. Our only expenses are for advertising the project, which can be increased or decreased based on our donations.
We don't ask our membership to join a particular political party. While we tend to have a large number of Libertarians, our members' propensities include classical liberals, anarchists, constitutionalists, conservatives and independents. As we've seen with Democrats and Republicans, labels mean little. As long as you're working toward minimal (or no) government, you can call yourself whatever you'd like.
We have a definite timeline. If we don't have 20,000 signatures in 5 years (that's September of 2006), we close up shop. So this won't turn into an unattainable pipedream endlessly sucking away the time and resources of our members.
We get commitments ahead of time, limiting the risk to our members. I don't want to sign onto a project and move across the country, only to discover that I'm the only one who did. So we're ensuring that a large number of people people whose word is their bond commit prior to the move.
We allow opt-outs. There are many freedom lovers who simply won't move to Alaska. Or east of the Mississippi. Or west of the Mississippi. So when they sign up, we allow members to designate states that they would not be willing to move to. The only caveat to this is that we don't allow someone to opt out of all states, or out of every state except the one they live in. If they do this, we consider them to be friends of the Project, rather than members. The only difference between friends and members is that members get to vote on which state, and count toward our goal of 20,000.
We're not asking you to go to jail. Many movements suggest that the participant do something illegal, whether it be smoking pot on the county courthouse steps or refusing to fill out a tax form. Now believe me, I have the utmost respect for those people who have the guts to do that sort of thing. But not everyone is cut out for it. This project is for them. Everything we're doing is both peaceful and legal.
We're sensitive to our members' privacy. We don't ask for demographic information, much to the dismay of many journalists, pundits, and academics. So we have no idea what percentage of our membership is male or female, no figures on our ethnic diversity, no list of religious or political affiliations. We don't sell, rent, or give away our membership list. We don't even insist on having your "real" name. Why? Well, we don't care. If you want freedom for others as well as for yourself we want you. Besides, the last thing we plan to do is start demanding ID and notarized affidavits to prove who you are!
Now, for those of you who are really curious, we have anecdotal evidence, of course. Visit our online web forum and you'll find members who are gay, straight, polyamorous, Christian, pagan, atheist, ethnic backgrounds of every hue, and from every state in the union, as well as from other countries.
Finally, one of the really unique and gratifying attributes of our membership is that they are active, not passive. For example, in the next two months, two FSP conferences are taking place, one in New Hampshire and one in Missoula, Montana. These gatherings were created in order to promote their respective states to other members. A kind of "get to know us" event, to encourage other members to take a look at their locale as a possible Free State. These gatherings were organized entirely by members of the FSP, without input or direction from the FSP board.
The Missoula gathering called The Grand Western Conference has lined up many of our celebrity endorsers as speakers. In addition to Jason Sorens, speakers include Vin Suprynowicz, JJ Johnson, and Claire Wolfe, as well as Montana State Senator Jerry O'Neil.
The New Hampshire Meeting referred to as "Welcome to the Granite State Event" has arranged a meeting with NH Governor Craig Benson. Governor Benson was recently in the news for establishing a "Tax Me More" account to accept donations from people within the state who kept complaining that taxes ought to be raised. Sounds like our kind of guy.
Another activity our members undertake is handing out flyers and pamphlets at local events, such as LP meetings like this one or other freedom-related events. This particular activity recently backfired for our Director of Member Services, Tim Condon. He was arrested for "trespassing" while handing out FSP flyers on public property outside the NRA's National Convention in Florida, apparently at the behest of the NRA itself. What's interesting is that Tim is an attorney, a two-tour Marine Vietnam Veteran and a member of the NRA.
He's contesting the charges, of course, and we're all waiting to see the results. In the meantime, it's produced some fun publicity for us.
So the Free State Project is different. So what? It's still just a single state. Aren't most laws federal?
Yes, and no, but not really. Let me clarify. First, there are a great number of local or state laws that affect everything you do more than federal laws.
Homeschooling regulations? Local
Gun registration? Local
Election laws? Child support laws? Marriage laws? Local, local, local.
To illustrate, the Nevada Revised Statutes are 51 volumes in length. 51 volumes! And those are just local laws and regulations. So there are a lot of changes we can effect without ever coming into the slightest conflict with the federal government.
But what about things like drug laws, speed limits, and driver's license requirements?
Well, this is where the fun comes in. Some of you may know that many of these laws are actually the results of federal blackmail. Take, for instance, the drinking age of 21. This is the law in all fifty states. But is it a federal law? Surprisingly, no.
In 1984, under President Reagan, the federal government enacted the Uniform Drinking Age Act, which reduced federal transportation funding to those states that did not raise the minimum legal drinking age to 21. If a state refused, the state received no highway funds. Naturally state legislators practitioners of the world's oldest profession who are far less honorable than their colleagues in Nevada's brothels couldn't institute the laws fast enough. By 1988, every state in the union had implemented a minimum legal drinking age of 21.
But what if there was a state that refused to comply? They'd lose the blood-money, sure. But that state and its citizens could determine for themselves the age at which its citizens could drink alcohol.
This same blackmail scheme has been used to implement many of the pseudo-federal laws currently in place. Refuse the money, keep your soul. And your autonomy.
Well, then what about drug laws? Look at Ed Rosenthal, after all, convicted under federal drug laws for something that was perfectly legal authorized, even in his state. How could the Free State combat that? The Federal government, as we know, has no constitutional authority to prohibit the use of any drugs. So in addition to state officials refusing to cooperate with federal agents, the state itself could file Tenth Amendment suits against the federal government. We may lose the first one, and the second, and the third. And the tenth. But we only need to win one to get a chink in the wall, and eventually bring it tumbling to the ground.
So a single state can do quite a bit. But how realistic is it that 20,000 people can trigger those kinds of changes?
First, you must remember that these 20,000 people are likely going to be activists, not just voters. For every activist you get several voters. How many? It's difficult to say, but one way to quantify it is to look at campaign expenditures. In 2000 during a four-year election cycle the Libertarian Party had 40,000 members and spent $5 million. So a party with an equally dedicated membership of 20,000 could expect to spend $5 million over any two-year election cycle. There are several states in which $5 million would be enough to outspend the Democrats and Republicans put together.
In other words, with dedicated activists, we can easily ensure liberty-minded people are elected to every office from governor down to dog-catcher...presuming we even *want* a state-employed dog-catcher in the first place, of course.
Probably the most common objection to the concept of the Free State Project is that the feds will never let it happen they'll Waco the Free State.
Mmmmm. Maybe, but highly unlikely. To the best of our knowledge, no modern, democratic government has used force to prevent secession since 1933, when Australia used fiscal appeasement to forestall Western Australia's secession.
This scenario appeasement is the most probable response of the US to the Free State. While they may in fact never "allow" the Free State to secede (and we may never want to do so), the federal government may be forced to offer many concessions in exchange. A very good example of this phenomenon is Quebec. Although they've never seceded from Canada, they are nearly politically autonomous.
But how about closer to home? What about the Branch Davidians?
In addition to being a very small group to begin with, the Branch Davidians made the fatal mistake of openly thumbing their noses at the establishment. As you know, the State's response to the challenge of "Liberty or Death!" has traditionally been, "Um the second one."
Now does the Davidians' non-aggressive defiance justify their murder? Of course not. But the sad fact is that it permitted the federal government to marginalize them easily, justifying their slaughter under the guise of "keeping the peace". The average American, carefully manipulated with images of gun-carrying weirdos, fell hook, line and sinker for the government's propaganda, and chose to believe that the Davidians brought their destruction upon themselves.
In contrast, look at the Amish, who enjoy unusual freedom from laws governing such things as child-labor, compulsory schooling, taxes, and social security. No Amish enclave has been firebombed for its lawlessness. Why not? Primarily because the freedoms the Amish enjoy were gained by going through the system, utilizing their First Amendment right to petition the government through the courts. In addition, while their practices are considered odd by many, the Amish just aren't scary. No amount of spin control would be able to contain the public outcry that would arise from the wanton state-sponsored killing of these peaceful folk.
The Free State Project, like the Amish, is peacefully operating within the law, and we have representatives from every strata of society. In short, we will not be perceived as threatening by the average American. We'll be as respectable as the Cato Institute.
This desire for respectability and to avoid frightening the populace is one of the reasons we selected the Porcupine as our mascot. While the Gadsen flag aptly depicts our "Don't Tread on Me" attitude, using it would allow us to easily be dismissed as "one-a them militia groups". The porcupine however a peaceful herbivore that is uniquely American symbolizes the same philosophy without the aggression-based overtones. As John T. Kennedy wrote, "The lesson the porcupine teaches is that you don't have to be strong enough to defeat a predator to avoid being that predator's lunch. It suffices to be an expensive meal. Predators tend not to dine on porcupines because a serving of porcupine tends not to be worth the mouthful of quill that it costs."
So we've established that we're viable and that we have a good shot at making some significant changes. But how, exactly? The plan is to vote on which state, at 5,000 members, and after reaching 20,000 members we move. Then what?
To quote Jason Sorens, "One of the roles of the FSP will be to help build a genuine local culture of liberty, without which our gains will never be secure. Protecting this culture will involve appeals to the state's particularism and its rights vis-à-vis the federal government."
Consequently, there are several strategies open to us. The most immediate strategy would be forming an endorsement group to rate candidates and issues, and keep the membership informed. We could work collectively on particular issues, such as initiating referendums for elections, submitting petitions, and so forth. All of our members would be encouraged to proselytize to friends, neighbors, coworkers, and business associates on all the issues that we support.
Alternately, each of our members could join a cause or group that they favor, like NORML, GOA, FIJA, whatever, and then work for that cause within the state. The activists keep the FSP informed of their progress, and the FSP keeps the rest membership informed. As you can imagine, this might work better than attempting to centrally control the activism efforts of our members, which with Libertarians would be like herding cats.
A third idea and the most popular is for individual FSP members to run for office school board, county commission, state senate and such. This could be done under a newly created Free State Party or in conjunction with the state and local Libertarian party. One interesting and amusing suggestion has been to have FSP members join both the Democratic and Republican parties and run against each other in the same race. While running candidates for office is probably the most effective long-term strategy, successful runs are unlikely until we as residents have integrated into the community.
Anyway, those are just a few ideas on how we can begin to use the system to reduce laws and regulations; I'm sure there are many others. What I'd like to do now is open the floor for questions and answers. I'll try to answer them as best as I can, but remember that our website has a wealth of data for you to look at as well.
[Open for questions]
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