Would You Move
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.
Would You Move to the State of the Free?
by Claire Wolfe
"Hey, Dora! Looks like a Yalie finally did something to make up for your alma mater having spewed out all those Clintons."
Bob the Nerd glanced up from his notebook computer and -- with typical diplomacy and tact -- greeted Hardyville's one, lone exile from Connecticut as she walked through the door of the Hog Trough Grill and Feed. It's not Dora's fault Yale has produced so many politicians, but that doesn't stop anybody from giving her a hard time about it.
"What are you talking about now?" she sighed.
"This guy." Bob poked a finger at the computer screen, where his browser displayed the Web site of something called the Free State Project. (Bob has recently talked the Hog Trough into installing a wireless link for all of Hardyville's many unwired computer users -- namely Bob.)
"Jason P. Sorens," Bob continued. "A Yalie. A grad student, working on his phud in political science. But he's got an idea for how we can turn one small state of the union into a freedom haven."
"You liberteens are such dreamers," Janelle-the-waitress snipped as she came over to pour Dora some of what passes for coffee at the Hog Trough. "Haven't about a hundred people come up with stuff like that -- floating islands where all the free people are going to go live and whole countries no bigger than a tower in the ocean and all? Never comes to anything."
"Yeah," scoffed Marty Harbibi from his usual table off to the side. "The one time somebody got as far as building an island, didn't it get conquered by the King of Tonga and a bunch of guys in outrigger canoes? Something like that?"
"And a four-piece band to play the Tongan national anthem. Really." People nodded and laughed over their chicken-fried steak.
"Yeah," Bob agreed. "Sealand's still out there in the North Sea, going on 35 years, but most of the rest of the free-land ideas have turned out to be pretty hairbrained. Or scams. Or dreams. But Sorens decided against trying for a country."
"What's he trying to do, exactly?" Dora asked.
"Well, lessee," said Bob, consulting his computer. He got this idea back in late July that if a critical mass of freedom lovers all got together and moved to an 'underpopulated state,' they could 'not only eradicate authoritarian state laws, but slowly wean ourselves off federal control, until we reach a satisfactory level of autonomy, whether independence or something less.' He thinks they could make a huge impact with as few as 20,000 people in a state with less than 1.5 million people or 600,000 voters. In just a few weeks, he's already got more than 300 people signed up. And there's a big discussion group on Yahoo!, where people are already talking some pretty serious strategy."
"Are they talking about seceding from the union?" Dora queried. "You remember what happened last time somebody tried that. And don't blame Yale for Lincoln and Grant."
"Maybe, maybe." Bob said. "But not necessarily. Just moving and using that 'critical mass' to increase the state's level of freedom at first."
"What, you gonna get 20,000 people to move to Wyoming and work on ? what, sagebrush harvesting? Wind farming? Water witching?" Marty scoffed. "Comon, other people have come up with that notion and it's a loser from the get-go."
"That's where it gets interesting." Bob maneuvered the screen around for Marty's inspection. "It's not just another one of those, 'Hey, everybody! X-Land looks empty! Let's all go there!' things. Look here at all the things they're already thinking about... state employment profiles, gun laws, marijuana laws, ratio of federal handouts per state, livability, campaign spending ? And they haven't picked some desolate hellhole, either. They've targeted a bunch of potential locations -- Delaware, South Dakota, New Hampshire, and some others that are pretty decent. Eventually they'll all vote on where to go."
"Would you let a bunch of other people vote on where you were going to live?" Marty asked the world in general.
"It's an iffy thing," Bob said. "A compromise. But if I really thought these guys had a chance of pulling it off, I might. Anyway, the main thing is -- this is worth taking a serious look at if, like Sorens says , you want liberty in your lifetime instead of just talk-talk. These people are seriously working to make it happen."
"So what kind of chance do you give it?"
Everybody threw around a lot of percentages, from "snowball in hell" to "pretty good, given that they're actually thinking about what the problems are." Somebody pointed out that lefties quietly converted the state of Vermont to their purposes a couple of decades ago and are still hanging in there.
All this time, I was saying nothing. Frankly, when I first saw the proposal for this project, back in August, I dismissed it as one more hairbrained Bright Idea. You coulda knocked me over with Bill Clinton?s mini-willie when I found out from Sierra Times ranchhand Debra Ricketts that there was an actual movement going on. Even now, it's hard for me to picture it working. (The one time I tried to organize about eight people for something like this, it was such a disaster I still apologize to ? well, to the few participants who are still speaking to me.)
And even if the Free State Project did succeed it involves (gasp) voting. And government. And possibly living east of the Mississippi River. And a whole host of other things that are against my religion.
And yet ? and yet ? The mere fact that this is being done with serious brains and organization, not just typical libertarian gee-whizery ? well, it makes me want to root for Jason Sorens, his Web partner Robert Vroman, and their entire Merrie Band. Unlike the skeptics at the Hog Trough, I've actually talked with Sorens. And I walked away impressed.
Sorens gives the project five years and a fifty-fifty chance to reach that critical mass of 20,000. And when you talk with him it's clear he's not skating into this with starry eyes. Whatever else, this guy talks sense. And these Free State folks do their homework.
Another thing that keeps nagging at me is this: However we get it, the one thing freedom lovers need is real community. Not just the community of Web yakking. Not just the community of common ideas and ideals. But a web of institutions that serve freedom's goals, not tyranny's goals -- things like banking systems, private security, and truly free markets in all the things that matter in life. Institutions that that promote freedom, not slavish, spying, subservient sucking on the state. Institutions that serve individuals, rather than expecting individuals to serve them, if such a thing is possible.
A free state might just give free people enough protection to establish such things and show the rest of the world what can be done when you quit assuming that you've got to make people do anything some politician decides is good for them.
I've been (and plan to go on being) a great one for individual declarations of independence and quiet little acts of rebellion and "creative disregard" for stupid laws. Without independence in our hearts and sassy, active contempt toward all things and all people tyrannical, I really do believe, we're lost.
But with freedom only in our hearts (we lonely few) and only in our private little lives, we'll always be struggling against forces that can crush us like a bug. We need both private rebellion and institutional support for liberty.
Would you move to god-forbid Delaware or Wyoming if there was a hope of real freedom there? Leave job and mom and your favorite climate or favorite restaurants and your pleasant, familiar settled life? I don't think most of us would. And even I'm just sitting here saying, "I'll wait and see." I have a million reasons to like where I am and to doubt where the Free Staters will end up. I'm not rushing to sign on.
But Jason, if it even looked like you had a chance to pull this off, I'd cross the Mississippi, going in the wrong direction. And that's an undertaking as serious as the day my great-great-great grandmother got on the potato boat from Ireland seeking survival or the day my great-great-great-wayback grandpa on the other side came here from Germany before the Revolutionary War, seeking freedom from religious tyranny.
"Well," said Dora, looking over Bob's shoulder at the FSP's just-chosen logo -- a cute, but unmistakably prickly porcupine. "They've sure got that part right. That's you all over."
A whole state full of porcupine people? Wow. Don't tread on them. Or should that be, Don't tread on us? I'm not sure. But let's think seriously about this.
Originally published in The Sierra Times Sept. 15, 2001; reprinted by permission of the author.