L. Neil Smith's
THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 306, February 13, 2005
Plotting a Second TLE Revolution
Exclusive to TLE
In July of 2001, Yale doctoral student Jason Sorens wrote an article for TLE that sparked a revolution in libertarian thought, more accurately a revolution in libertarian action. That revolution is the Free State Project, a movement aimed at recruiting 20,000 liberty lovers to New Hampshire for the purpose of downsizing government in one state. Events are now unfolding rapidly, with 6,300 pledged to move and at least 70 eager-beaver members already relocated and active here. But perhaps now is the time to spark yet another "TLE revolution," one I will happily credit to L. Neil Smith should it come to fruition.
In a fairly recent TLE edition, "El Neil" makes the case for a new approach by the hitherto unsuccessful Libertarian Party. He suggests they go into a presidential election more or less admitting they will not win and turning that assumption into a liberating advantage.
As they say, the best army is sometimes the one with something to prove and nothing to lose. Along these lines, Smith argues LP presidential candidates should speak the blunt truth of freedom, with such straight-talking abandon that it shocks the nation into paying attention.
He is not wrong about this, but in fact no one is going to start watching an LP candidate because she is saying new things. People will pay attention only when she starts doing new things. Visual, risky, exciting things. Things that millions of Americans want to do but feel they can't.
Imagine if we had an LP presidential candidate who was willing to walk up to an IRS office and spray paint the word "Unconstitutional" on its most visible wall. Who joins the Kentucky State Militia for a day of firearms training. Who stands in front of the United Nations building with a shotgun in one hand and a burning blue flag in the other...all of these things witnessed and recorded by the press for our world to gape at. What if this person were to simply grab the presidential race by the throat and turn it into a bully pulpit for freedom?
Like Martin Luther King and his gutsy demonstrators, any brave soul committing such civil disobedience would face jail time and draw the wrath and scorn of millions. But for millions more she would be a shining example. She would put a face on liberty and inspire thousands to action, setting them ablaze for freedom. She would return liberty and Constitution to the national discourse.
Does the nation contain such a person? What are the practical problems associated with this approach? Would it be possible or better to gain attention without violating the law? What would be the precise goal of this "publicity stunt" approach? What kind of limits or "rules of engagement" would be advisable?
I don't have all the answers, but I do have some experiences to draw on from the libertarian experiment in New Hampshire. Here, where it is easy to get in the news and where laws are relatively just, civil disobedience has not usually been a necessity. Here, unlike most of America, libertarians have something to lose. But freedom fans here have achieved some of their best results from simple yet potentially controversial publicity stunts.
In December, for example, some of us decided to take advantage of the UN's recent PR woes. A couple friends and I announced we would torch a UN flag at a local park here in Keene. We invited freedom lovers to attend and wear open-carried pistols (as is legal in New Hampshire but opposed by the UN).
At first, the decision to do this provoked bitter debate between freedom lovers here and a lot of uneasy shuffling. Some folks who I respect a great deal felt it would result in bad press, that we'd be portrayed as fringe wingnuts (as though that were a bad thingheh heh). A local leftist group promised to counter-demonstrate, and we were only able to find five people who would commit to attending on our side.
But, in the event, 23 people showed up: 17 freedom lovers, three journalists, one stopping passerby, two reserved onlookers and zero counter-protestors. The blue flag blazed, and the PR results were out of all proportion to the event. We earned a mention on Matt Drudge's national show, a one hour interview on local talk radio, dozens of mentions and appearances on other radio programs, two local newspaper articles, four letters to the editor from strangers. There was a huge discussion about us on FreeRepublic.com and, most importantly, the creation of a wildly successful web forum dedicated to "liberty actions" in New Hampshire (NHunderground.com). In just one month it has become the most active web forum in the state, a hub of planning for future and hopefully bigger freedom events.
The single, minor publicity stunt lit a fire that continues to spread around the Free State. It resulted in mostly positive press and ultimately did not divide our movement. Our most vigorous opponents are now working with us via the new forum, and one of the potential counterdemonstrators has expressed interest in helping us protest the Patriot Act. Within six weeks we had completed three more "liberty publicity" stunts which garnered us various positive coverage including the front page of the Portsmouth Herald and an equally positive story on Channel 9 in Manchester.
As I say, to gain attention on a national scale, an LP frontman may have to go further than we have gone. Maybe lawful protests will work for her; maybe they won't. Perhaps one approach would be a 2008 campaign dominated initially by experimentation with law-abiding publicity stunts, followed later by civil disobedience if appropriate. Perhaps there should be a discussion regarding the types of stunts and "disobediences" that are most likely to capture the public imagination. In any case, the Libertarian Party, and freedom lovers in general, will never attain freedom for anyone by continuing to pursue the failed, boring course of Debatertarian "pretend politics." Freedom requires publicity-generating action and an understanding of how to stage media-friendly, visual PR events.
Now, if I know the LP...they will simply ignore this advice and continue to stumble down the path of ignorable candidacies and boring events. But who's to say it has to be LP presidential candidates or even LP members who light these fires? Anyone can do it...just like the three of us in Keene. Even the most average citizen can capture the public's imagination if his stunts are interesting enough.
Below I've attached most of the information you need to start a revolution of your own, whether you're the latest LP non-sensation or just an average gun-toting freedom lover.
To learn more about staging effective publicity stunts, visit http://www.freestateproject.org/about/essay_archive/mediarelations.php To learn more about the events we're organizing in New Hampshire, visit www.NHunderground.com To discuss this article on an open forum frequented by the author, visit http://forum.freestateproject.org/index.php?topic=9093.0
See you on the road to freedom!
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