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L. Neil Smith's
Number 535, September 6, 2009

"Void the Bill of Rights, you void the Constitution."

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It Was Forty Years Ago Today
by Donald Meinshausen, a banned leader

Attribute to The Libertarian Enterprise

Things aren't much different from forty years ago. We have an unpopular war, waged by an increasingly unpopular president. He is also destroying the economy and our civil liberties in his drive to expand the American state As well we see a huge growth in cultural creativity and greater questioning of authority. As Nietzsche once said "Great culture happens when Empires are in decline." There are differences, of course. Change comes in huge waves after deep seismic moves way below the surface reveal empty sea beds. That happened then and is happening now. We will internet surf a tsunami.

During this time of the 60's a raising of consciousness wave was happening within young libertarians. Many were wondering if they should remain a part of the conservative movement. Within the conservative cadre student group, Young Americans for Freedom, there were people who knew that the time for our birth was now. The conservatives in their program for the weekend were hammering at us that the anti-war movement and its draft card burning was evil. A few knew otherwise. How to show this to our friends?

So I had earlier introduced a motion to call for YAF to support draft resistance. YAF's symbol was a torch. So when the resolution failed on the floor as I expected something happened to make our resolution aflame in our hearts. I had arranged for a friend of mine from Princeton, David Schumacher, to become that Torch of Liberty He in one moment became the symbol of YAF as well as the symbol of the New Left. In the center of a crowd at a microphone he lit a draft card. A melee then ensued. Brian Doherty in his history of the libertarian movement Radicals for Capitalism describes this moment on the Labor Day weekend in 1969.

"Then a symbolic, flamboyant gesture was made on the convention floor that many who were energized by it mark as the beginning of the modern libertarian movement. Indeed, some drama-minded characters saw it as the moment when light first broke through the black iron prison and liberty began to peek..."

After that weekend hundreds of libertarians knew that the way of their ideals was outside the conservative movement. We became as a movement larger than what used to fit in a living room. Within weeks new movements and newsletters were started and the movement grew into what you see today. We may on occasion work with conservatives on an issue-by-issue basis, especially when Democrats are in power. But people know now that we are a separate breed with our own freely chosen values.

What we learned from the New Left as well as from Ayn Rand and other libertarian pioneers was that bravery and devotion to principle is necessary for freedom. It is important that in youth that a firm yet fiery identity is established as our imprint. It was shown in a dramatic ceremony that mere laws of the state, pragmatism or tradition were not to be an obstacle to the struggle for liberty. And this needs to be repeated often.

The important lesson from the New Left and from Thoreau and other libertarian writers is that non-violent civil disobedience works. It is necessary as a tool of great social change. This is true in fighting against all wars including the drug war. It is also valid in the economic front against the regulatory state, subsidies and coercive monopolies. We also need disobediences against the statist acts that funds all the other statist depredations, which is the income tax and the Federal Reserve.

We know that we are in unarmed struggle against an entrenched enemy that has large armed forces with the latest in military technology at its command. They also have control of huge economic forces along with legal counterfeiting of the banksters. The only times in recent history there have been liberating victories against such a state was when those oppressed people were non-violent. They put their cases to the media and the public at large in the streets in violation of the law. I am speaking of the great changes in Eastern Europe and South Africa in 1989, which swept away repressive regimes. In our own country there have also been smaller victories by labor unions, civil rights workers, anti-war activists and other groups. I am not saying that I agree with all that these groups espoused or did but they won great legislative victories. They also won with little loss of life or scarring the national soul with violence and force.

It is not just individual acts of civil disobedience that will make the change. They are in a sense, an educational tool like everything else that we do. These small, heroic dramas have incredible inspirational power. They can make headlines and landmark court decisions. And when they happen on a large scale there are massive illegal protests and sit-ins. Then many more people take notice. The media takes notice. Also the state in its interest for self-preservation takes notice. The state will then back off in at least in its most repressive measures.

Even irrational rulers that are known for repression and the massive shedding of blood have backed off in some situations such as in Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany. Rallies and parades without permits have brought down regimes all over the world. We must study these wonderful episodes as our inspiration and use them for roadmaps for times to come.

Remember that a small flame igniting a small draft card can light torches for generations to come.

This essay is devoted to the memory of David Scumacher, a fiery advocate of liberty and the ultimate train fan, who died in 2007.

Don Meinshausen is a libertarian founder, strategist, songwriter and humorist recently released from prison for his non-violent disobedience against the state. He is currently looking for work and donations. He can be reached at


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