L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 190, September 16, 2002
190 PROOF ISSUE
A History of the Free State Project [Excerpt]
Special to TLE
The Free State Project is one year old today - its official beginning was September 1st, 2001. On that day the Statement of Intent and Participation Guidelines (at that time we called them "bylaws") were presented to the public.
However, the origins of the Free State Project go back to a The Libertarian Enterprise article published on July 23. In this article I argued that libertarian political activism was failing miserably, and that we needed a new alternative. To carve out a sphere of liberty within our lifetimes, we need to take advantage of America's not-yet-dead federal system. States remain a locus of sovereignty and legislative power. I figured that if 20,000 freedom activists got together in a single state, they could make a major difference. Furthermore, there didn't seem to be any alternative strategy with nearly the same chance for success. The core idea that would make the Project work was that we would gather signatures before the move; by getting commitments from people we would solve the coordination dilemma (no one wants to move if he fears that others will not move with him), and by concentrating on membership rather than asking for huge investments we would avoid the pitfalls of failed "free nation" projects. I called for supporters of the idea to e-mail me and help with organising a "Free State Project." I summed up:
"It is exciting to me that we might have a real shot at true freedom in our lifetimes. Certainly, there will be inconveniences. We might have to move away from friends and family; there might be spells of unemployment; we might have to take careers that are not our first choice. But I can't believe that we've gone so soft that we won't tolerate these inconveniences for a possibility at attaining true liberty. Our forefathers bled and died - because of the Stamp Tax! The Free State Project requires nothing of that kind, and the stakes are so much higher. How much is liberty worth to you?" [...]
Within a week I received over 200 emails expressing support and variations on the theme, "It's about time someone came up with an idea like this!" I wrote a follow-up essay which was published two weeks later. It appeared we were already over 1% of the way toward our goal of 20,000. [..]
On August 28 we got some unexpected publicity when Brian Wilson, a libertarian radio talk show host in California, joined the Free State Project on the air. [...]
But when it came down to it, people were reluctant to sign up at first. We had over 300 people who had signed up for the email list, but only about 50 of them signed the Statement of Intent in the first 10 days of September. [...]
Several things helped us to begin getting out of the doldrums. Claire Wolfe wrote an article about us for the Sierra Times on September 15th, and we eventually reproduced a quote from the article at the top of our website - and there it has remained. We put the website on a dedicated server, eliminating the unreliability that had previously plagued it. Next, we changed the mission statement to an upbeat and positive one; it remains our mission statement, with a couple of tweaks, today:
"The Free State Project is a plan in which 20,000 or more liberty- oriented people will move to a single state of the U.S. to secure there a free society. We will accomplish this by first reforming state law, opting out of federal mandates, and finally negotiating directly with the federal government for appropriate political autonomy. We will be a community of freedom-loving individuals and families, and create a shining example of liberty for the rest of the nation and the world." [...]
In January we started a new partnership program with free-market.net. Under the terms of this agreement, we have placed banner ads on free- market.net and gotten our materials included in the FMN database, and sometimes also on Freedom Daily News. We are fortunate in that the editor assigned to cover us for free-market.net, Mary Lou Seymour, is also one of the longtime activists for the FSP. [...]
Our major publicity efforts to date have been banner ads in free- market.net, rationalreview.com, the Sierra Times website, the About.com civil liberties site, and anti-state.com, per-click ads on Google searches, several radio interviews, convention appearances, and a full-page ad in LP News. We will have a full-page ad on the back cover of Liberty in November, paid for by a single member's donation. Over the past few months, we have received favorable coverage in unsolicited essays on websites as diverse as lewrockwell.com, anti- state.com, enterstageright.com, The Libertarian Enterprise, and Backwoods Home Magazine (a second article by Claire Wolfe). Recently the Free State Project has begun to reach out to college students in a systematic way, with George Hale chairing a new "Students for the FSP" committee.
However, the biggest publicity bonus was something unlooked for: Walter Williams' endorsement of the Free State Project in a widely syndicated column and on the "Hannity and Colmes" TV program. On the day of Dr. Williams' column, August 7th, the website had over 7000 unique visitors, shattering the previous record. The next day we had over 3700 visitors. Before the column, we had 566 signed-up FSP participants; three weeks later, on August 28th, there were 976. The column and TV appearance were probably worth at least 300 signups. [...]
State research has grown by leaps and bounds since the beginning of July. The Research Committee has determined that "all states under 1.5 million population at the time of the membership vote will appear on the ballot, excepting Hawaii and Rhode Island, which have been eliminated outright due to their big-government tendencies." Currently, ten states meet this standard: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, North Dakota, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Delaware. Barring unforeseen circumstances, all these states should make it to the final vote. [...]
The question of "which state?" has dominated discussions among FSP members and prospectives since the very beginning, and that is to be expected. However, we should realize that any of these ten states would make an excellent candidate, and that no matter which state we pick, we should have a very good chance at developing a truly free society in at least one state, perhaps the best opportunity the freedom movement has enjoyed in America in a century.