Porcupine Freedom Festival 2006 Review
Porc Fest 2006 Review
I'll be honest, Porc Fest 2006 went a lot better than I expected. In fact, I dare say a lot of things relating to the FSP are going a lot better than I expected.
I was expecting the fest to be a bit smaller than it was last year due to later promotion and a couple of scheduling problems. The data available before the start of the fest jived with what I was thinking. The 2005 We'll Be There List was just under 400 at the start of the Fest we actually had about 400-450 people attend. The 2006 We'll Be There List was around 300, so I predicted attendance around 300 or a little more for the 2006 Fest.
I was wrong: it wasn't smaller. It looks like we had at least 400 there, and possibly more. Though I don't know how many people didn't come because they didn't hear about it in time, I do know a number of people who didn't come because of the LP convention the following weekend (many people confirmed that with me at the LP convention). I suspect that with no conflicts and earlier promotion, we probably would have broken 500 without too much difficulty. The LP convention also had about 400 in attendance. That makes Porc Fest the largest libertarian gathering in America since last year's Porc Fest and likely roughly tied for the largest all year this year.
But raw numbers don't tell the whole story. There were oodles (that's a scientific term roughly equal to 'lots') of people there who had never been to Porc Fest before, some who had never even been to New Hampshire before. I kept hearing over and over again “we really want to move up here.” And that's what it's all about. I fully expect a repeat of the last two years: people come one year to Porc Fest with no plans to move, and the next year back to Porc Fest as residents of New Hampshire. Good stuff.
So what actually happened? Well, not being the 'Czar', I was significantly less plugged in this year. Instead of a 'run down' of what all did happen at the fest, I'll give you my personal Porc Fest story. It's certainly not exhaustive, but gives a flavor of my time at the Fest.
Liberty Summit – on the trail
It started with the Mt. Liberty hike on Friday, June 23rd. About a dozen of us scurried up the mountain. The weather was a repeat of two years ago. Rain at the campground had everyone questioning the decision to go. But I reminded them that it might not be that way on the trail. Much like our own pursuit of liberty, the hike to Mt. Liberty looked a little gloomy at first, but by the time we got going, things cleared up and it was beautiful. It was loads of fun to talk about all sorts of things on the trail. Where else can you dig into the details of marijuana decriminalization strategy, RFCs on encrypted emails, and the nature of God all on the same hike?
Volunteer meeting – Help wanted!
I had to rush back to the campground to make a 3 p.m. meeting for current and prospective volunteers for the FSP. I was hoping for more people, but realized that might be tough given the time (early Friday) and a scheduling conflict (another presentation at the same time elsewhere). It was a mixed blessing that the crowd was significantly comprised of people not currently volunteering for the FSP. Though I wanted more current volunteers to attend, I also wanted lots of new people to show up. Indeed there were some new volunteers, and I hope to introduce them all to you soon. We covered some history of the FSP, this year's areas of focus, the organization structure, and what our interests and talents are. Everyone seemed excited to do something to help us reach our goal of 20,000 libertarian activists in New Hampshire.
Welcome and dinner
A little after 5:00 p.m., I gave the welcome address to the crowd assembled for a free (yes, free!) dinner. It was well attended and the audience seemed to like the speech. It was a combination of good news and bad news. The bad news is twofold: things keep getting worse across America and even in New Hampshire, and the rate of FSP recruiting has slowed. The good news, though, gives us more hope than ever before that the FSP can and will work. We now know what we couldn't have known two years ago: people are actually moving to New Hampshire (that's good), and even better yet, they're having a measurable positive effect once they arrive. The FSP strategy is working... sooner than expected! There's hope for success, and that should make it easier to attract more pro-freedom activists to New Hampshire. You can read the whole speech in the essays section of the website.
Every night, there were campfires and other social gatherings until the wee hours (some ran all night) where people enjoyed being in the company of others who have a similar view of freedom. Again, great stuff!
Dad duty – a family affair
Saturday was packed with speakers which, unfortunately, I didn't get to see. I had dad duty. You see, behind all this theoretical thinking and idealism are real live families. I have a real wife who organized a real fun event and needed help with the real live kids. We had a great time playing in the playground with other children whose parents share our views on freedom. Then, in the afternoon we swam. I got to chat with libertarian activist parents while our kids tried their hardest to splash all the water out of the pool. We all played nicely together. That's how it works in New Hampshire.
Liberty Ladies cookoff – a taste of victory
That evening, my wife's real fun event became a reality. The Liberty Ladies hosted a cookoff. To say it was a success would be understating things quite a bit. Some were skeptical about having contestants serve from their campsites. The skeptics were converted, though. Sandy quipped “it's like a scavenger hunt with food!” The judges were the Festival attendees / dinner guests (they paid $7 to eat and judge) and the contestants were anyone who wanted to cook. Entry was free (contestants paid for their own food) and cash prizes were offered.
Now when it came time to award the prizes, I was a bit surprised at how big they were. Edi had discussed this at great length with me and when I heard $100 for third prize I was floored. Then, when they gave $200 for second prize, I was even more surprised. But the first prize really blew me away: $400 cashola! That's a lot of dough for a pot of meatballs!
And it couldn't have been a more storybook ending to a beautiful story. Jenn, one of the Liberty Ladies, had debated right up to the last minute about whether she should cook or help out with the event. She decided to cook right at the deadline which turned out to be a good decision!
Jenn and her husband, Billy, stayed in my tent last year at Porc Fest. They had just arrived in New Hampshire and came up to meet us all at the Fest. This year, they were celebrating their 1-year anniversary living in New Hampshire. What a way to celebrate! Jenn and Billy have lived an eventful first year here (if you know the rest of their story, you know what an understatement that is). Winning the grand prize in the cookoff was a wonderful treat for both of them. Oh, and her meatballs.... fabulous! Kudos to Carol and Ward for the 2nd and 3rd prizes, too!
Porc Fest brings new financial support
Cary March, who didn't make it to the Festival, decided to help the FSP raise some money earlier this year. He started a pledge at pledgebank.com that said he'd give $50 per month to the FSP from July through December ($300 total) if 39 other people (for a total of 40) would too. We started Porc Fest off without having completed that pledge and it was set to expire at the end of June. I wrote a letter asking for money which was included in the welcome folders, but I decided to take some time Saturday to ask people to join the pledge. Though I wanted to make sure we had 40 people by the end of the Fest, my real goal was 50 (an even $15,000 by the end of the year).
As I walked around and talked to people about the pledge, it was amazing to see the outpouring of support. When people come to New Hampshire and see what's really going on, they're almost immediately more interested in moving to New Hampshire, and contributing their time and money to help the fight for freedom. By the end of the cookoff, we had 40 people signed up for the pledge!
The 40th person was a guy by the name of Peter. Peter came to Porc Fest last year 'out of the blue'. He saw our ad in Reason Magazine and just showed up. He had never been to our website or even heard of the FSP before seeing that ad. Peter joined the FSP, signed the First 1000 pledge, and came back this year to Porc Fest as a New Hampshire resident (Porc Fest has a way of doing that for people)! So Peter knew the value of his own contributions since he was the beneficiary of similar contributions last year. Thanks to Peter for finishing up the pledge!
I have to take one other little detour to highlight the synergy of pro-freedom activism in NH. A guy named Shuvom (have you heard of him?) has demonstrated some serious self-starter activism skills in a very short period of time. I needed some paper and a pen as I walked around looking for $50/month pledge signers. He happened to be standing right in front of me and offered me his paper and pen. Instead of just taking the paper and pen he offered me, I took him with me. We wandered around showing off good work the PR firm has done (including a freshly signed First 1000 form) and telling stories about how donor dollars turns into new participants, First 1000 signers, early movers to NH and, ultimately, more freedom. After signing up about 4 or 5 people, my daughter (remember, this is a family affair) politely interrupted me to take her to the restroom. I handed the paper, pen, and First 1000 tri-fold to Shuvom and said “here, keep going!”
Now it's one thing to ask people for money. I don't mind hearing a “no” and I expect many people to say that. But I also know that some people will say “yes” when they're personally asked and given a clear explanation for how that money will be spent and what benefit it brings. Even so, I have to say, I have never before just spontaneously pawned that task off on someone else, essentially in my place. But when I came back, there was Shuvom, signing up more people! Kudos to Shuvom for being a super activist!
After hitting 40 signers, I decided to sweeten the pot. I'd sign Edi up (I was already on the list) and 'double dip' if we got to 50 that same day. By the end of the night, we had met our goal! Thanks to Tony for taking the big step to help us recruit more participants and get them moved sooner! Now I'm double poor! :)
A newcomers perspective
The campfire that night was extra enjoyable. Some friends of mine, non-libertarian / non-FSP types, came down to Porc Fest to visit from Montreal. We had quite a bit of time to talk about libertarianism, the FSP, and, of course, airplanes (we have lives, too)! By the end of the evening they said “if we were going to move to the U.S., it'd definitely be here!” You just never know what will happen if you invite your friends to Porc Fest.
New First 1000 signers!
I have to also take a moment to give kudos to Chris who, while I was relentlessly harassing people for money, was even more relentlessly harassing people to sign the First 1000 pledge. We had several on-site new signers of the First 1000 pledge, largely due to Chris's work. Thank you Chris! Oh, and thanks to Sandy for taking the lead on the First 1000 program, too!
Church??? History, too!
I finished off the night by inviting all the largely inebriated campfire goers to church in the morning. And some of them showed up! Sunday morning, we heard, for the third time, from Pastor Garett Lear. The crowd was about the same size as previous years (about 40 or so) but included some of the late night party crowd (what better place for them to be?) and one of the candidates for Governor this year! In fact, just prior to the service, another of the candidates for Governor showed up. One guess as to which one of the three candidates (Lynch, Coburn, and Kahn) didn't show up to Porc Fest...
The 'sermon' was an interesting mix of history and instruction from the Bible. On one hand, we were called with passages from the Bible to live right so we might be in a position of authority (not power, authority... there is a difference) to advocate freedom. On the other hand, we were given a truckload of NH and U.S. history to illustrate that principle in action, right here in NH. Pastor Lear is not only a good pastor, but maybe the best read NH historian I know personally. Christian or not, if you missed this one, you missed a good one. New Hampshire's foundation of freedom is second to none and he knows an awful lot about it. He'll be back, I'm sure!
Town info, lunch with the 'doc', and survey results
I heard a rumor that the NH towns information session was a big hit. I wound up missing it but talked to people and read feedback that it was very helpful in helping people determine just where in New Hampshire they'd like to call home. And this wasn't just theoretical stuff – these people are actually moving!
While that was going on, I had lunch with the guy who I squarely blame for all of this stuff, Dr. Jason Sorens. He's one example of the snowball effect that can come from doing something good (in his case, he keeps doing good things). It was his outline of the Free State Project in 2001 which led to what we see today – people committing to move and work for freedom and following through with those commitments by becoming effective libertarian activists in New Hampshire.
Then I met with a couple of other FSP Board members and our lead PR consultant at Positive Impact Consulting (psst... Porc Fest is rubbing off on him, too!). He reviewed preliminary survey results from well over 500 completed FSP surveys. Many thanks to all of you who have taken the survey. The survey remains open until July 15th so there's still time (as of this writing) to complete it. I don't want to spill the beans yet but some of the survey results are what we expected and some are quite surprising. These results will help us better market the FSP which, we hope, will result in increased response from our outreach.
2007 FSP Events – Porcupine Freedom Festival and New Hampshire Liberty Forum
For the last month, including at the Fest itself, I have been looking for people to take on the responsibility of planning next year's FSP events. Based on feedback from others, I thought we might be able to consider having two events if we were able to recruit enough people to lead both events. It turns out, we wound up with just the right mix of people! I had dinner with 4 people who will lead the teams for two FSP events in 2007: the New Hampshire Liberty Forum and the Porcupine Freedom Festival. They will share the same vision of showcasing New Hampshire, but they'll do so with two distinctly different styles at two different times of the year. More details on those events will be available on the FSP website, the forums, and elsewhere as they become available.
The spirit of Porc Fest lives on...
I have to take a moment and talk a bit about the Sunday night campfire. It illustrates the reason we do the Porcupine Freedom Festival. I wandered around after dinner and wound up sitting with some folks from TN who really wanted to move to NH. This was their first visit to Porc Fest and they're spending this week looking for jobs and a place to live. We had lots of time in a great casual environment to talk about all that.
But maybe more importantly, we talked about all kinds of 'other' stuff. We told jokes, talked about New Hampshire politics, rambled on about airplanes, enjoyed the campfire, and generally made friends. And, you see, that's an often unpublished part of the spirit of the people who move to NH because of the Free State Project. Not only do we get great things done in New Hampshire, but we do it together. We're not doing this alone, as isolated beacons of liberty in a sea of tyranny. We see each other regularly. We're friends. We're neighbors. We support each other. Casual meetings, ad-hoc gatherings, weddings, parties, recreational events, and all sorts of other things happen all year in New Hampshire. The campfire never goes out – Porc Fest is just a continuation of the year-around activites. Maybe it's the biggest gathering all year, but it's definitely not the only one. Liberty lives in NH, not just at Porc Fest. For that family from TN, they just got a sample. Come home to NH and you can live it year around.
Before blasting off on Monday, I
stopped by for yet another cozy gathering in the rain. Some of those
under the big white awning aren't so distant now, though. They just
moved to NH the week before Porc Fest. They came home, and it was my
honor and pleasure to welcome them, again. Saying good bye wasn't
really much of a good bye at all. We knew we'd see each other again
soon. In fact, they stopped by my hometown for dinner the other