Speech to the Wyoming 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 Wyoming Libertarian Party
Debra Ricketts May 2003
Good morning and thank you 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.
The 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 in America, 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.
Ask 10 random people what should be done about a particular cause or social problem whether it's second-hand smoke, 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 50 caliber?"
At one time, that was the prevailing attitude in the US. A man or a woman minded his own business and took care of his own. Things have changed. And while there may not be enough of us to preserve that streak of independence throughout the country, maybe just maybe there are enough to preserve it in a single small state. And that's what Jason proposed in his article. Moving freedom-seekers to a single state where we can work to preserve the freedom that was the foundation of this country.
The idea hit home with a number of us. Jason received emails from people who were interested, 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 re-born as part of ISIL].
We've been mentioned in Newsweek, the Boston Globe, the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle, the Billings Gazette, Reno News & Review, and the Associated Press. We've been interviewed on dozens of talk-radio shows, and spoken at numerous conferences. And just a few weeks ago, our vice-president was interviewed on MSNBC.
We've been endorsed by celebrities like economist Walter Williams, Sierra Times editor JJ Johnson, authors Claire Wolfe, Boston T. Party, and 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.
The interest and publicity that has been shown seems to indicate that this is an idea whose time has come. Not that it's original, by any stretch. There's been any number of freedom projects, including the Fort Collins project, the Sealand project, the Limon Real Project, the Freedom Ship, and Oceania, among others.
So how is the Free State any different? There are a number of ways:
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.
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. While donations are appreciated, there are no dues or other monetary investments required in order to join; in fact, that's in our bylaws. 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. For those interested, we post our finances quarterly on our website.
We have a definite timeline. The plan is to wait until we have 5,000 members before voting on which state; we had to have those 5,000 signatures no later than 3 years from the start of the project. That's September of 2004, and we currently anticipate reach 5,000 by September of 2003. Once the state has been chosen, we will wait until we have 20,000 members before initiating the move; if we don't have 20,000 signatures in 5 years (that's September of 2006), we close up shop. Finally, members have 5 years from the time the 20,000 mark is reached to move. The reason for these deadlines is so this won't turn into an unattainable pipedream endlessly sucking away the time and resources of our members.
We are purposely getting these commitments ahead of time in order to limit 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.
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.
In addition, our members are encouraged to form local groups, distribute handouts, participate in interviews, and otherwise get involved in publicizing the organization, which they do on a regular basis.
But even with 20,000 new activists, could much be accomplished? Many people are skeptical of the potential results, saying that it's just a single state. What impact could we have?
A considerable one, we think. Despite growing federalization, states still have a great deal of power in some areas.
Homeschooling regulations? Local
Gun registration? Local
Helmet laws? Child support laws? Marriage laws? All local.
To illustrate, the Nevada Revised Statutes are 51 volumes in length. And this in a state most people think of as laissez faire. So there is considerable internal latitude for states, 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? 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. I should note for the record, however, that Wyoming was the last to do so, and didn't institute zero tolerance laws until 1998. Good job!
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 autonomy.
Well, then what about drug laws? Look at Ed Rosenthal, 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.
Can it work? As a precedent, 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.
So what does this all mean to the state that is chosen? Quite a bit, and it's either good or bad depending on your point of view.
Probably the first reaction people have when they hear about us is, "I don't want you invading my state and taking over." Well, good. Even if we wanted to, we couldn't. 20,000 people is only about 13% of the voting population of Wyoming, if I recall correctly. That leaves 87% of the public who could easily send us packing if they don't like what we have to offer. So fears (or hopes) of creating an anarchy are unjustified at best.
But more importantly, our candidate states are those that already carry a history of independence and support for individual freedoms. 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. Delaware and Wyoming have some of the loosest incorporation laws in the country, and just recently Wyoming very publicly relieved the Feds of their "responsibility" for local wolves. In other words, the very things that make these states your state special and unique are the same things we want to help preserve against an ever-encroaching federal government, bureaucrats, and social nannies who believe that the average American citizen doesn't have the common sense God gave a gopher. Our goal is not to "take over" but to make politicians more accountable and put more decisions back in the hands of the citizens of our state.
Does Wyoming need our help? Perhaps not. But here's something to think about: Jackson Hole is getting to be a pretty popular vacation spot for the monied crowd. Yellowstone of course gets plenty of attention from the environmental lobby. The growing population and influence of these very small but wealthy groups can affect legislation for the entire state. This is what happened in Colorado which became a liberal state only after it first turned into a yuppie playground.
20,000 libertarian-leaning activists could be a very valuable asset in fighting this sort of thing.
So what impact would 20,000 Free Staters have on Wyoming?
As I mentioned, the move would take place within 5 years of reaching our 20,000 mark. And some members have announced that they intend to move as soon as the vote takes place. So it's not going to be an abrupt influx; rather a slow trickle taking place over several years. All else being equal, this would approximately double Wyoming's projected rate of growth during that time.
Obviously the construction and real estate industries would feel the initial impact, as Free Staters would need homes. Services would also experience an increase in demand, stimulating the local economy.
One real concern is that the new residents would be competing with long-time residents for jobs. While this is a possibility, it should be noted that many of our members are self-employed entrepreneurs. So we would be bringing in jobs and not necessarily taking them away. Additionally, because many of our Free Staters are urbanites, they would tend to gravitate to larger towns, such as Cheyenne, or commute to nearby Colorado.
So once we move in, then what?
There are several strategies open to us, and we haven't chosen a particular one. This is due to a number of factors: first, the FSP's goal in and of itself is only to move 20,000 members to the chosen state. What happens then is up to the members. Secondly, we've been more concerned with gathering data about the candidate states so we can make an informed vote. Once the vote takes place, I'm sure post-move strategy will become the primary topic of discussion. Finally, the end result will in all likelihood be a combination of strategies.
The most immediate strategy would be forming an endorsement group to rate candidates and issues, and keep the membership informed. Jason is a vocal supporter of this particular strategy.
We could form an activist group along the lines of the ACLU, one that actually supports the entire Bill of Rights. This group could organize grassroots political activity, such as initiating referendums for elections, submitting petitions, and so forth.
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 of the 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.
The most popular idea is for individuals sponsored or otherwise promoted by the FSP 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 Free Staters 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.
In closing, I'd like to quote Jason Sorens, who said, "The federal government continues to usurp powers from the states; more and more decisions are being made by supranational entities like the UN, the OECD, and the EU [as well as non-government organizations like the Sierra Club and Green Peace International]. The window of opportunity for effecting real change through the political system is gradually closing. If we do not do something now, our children and grand-children may be locked into a system that they can do nothing to change. States still have significant legislative powers and are the fundamental units of our American polity; therefore, we should make use of the federal system to achieve [and maintain] liberty in at least one place."