A Different Approach to Activism: An Interview with the Founder and President of the Free State Project

free state project

In the freedom index of all 50 states, the top five states are Missouri, Oklahoma, North and South Dakota, and New Hampshire.

Only one of them is being gradually taken over by libertarians and other freedom-loving Americans: New Hampshire.

Yes, New Hampshire is experiencing a migration of libertarians, purposely designed to alter the state’s political environment. All for the purpose of making the state a haven for freedom.

This is a takeover, but not an aggressive one.

By utilizing elections, voting, and grassroots movements, these freedom-lovers, known as The Free State Project are reforming New Hampshire’s laws.

Through grassroots activism, The Free State Project is jumping ahead of the social change cycle. They’re instigating change in New Hampshire for the cause of individual freedoms.

Their form of activism is an important one, specifically in the arena of local politics. It’s already been stated that local politics can make a bigger difference in the long run than the national level ever could.

As Stephen Perkins, the editor-in-chief of OUTSET Magazine, mentioned in a recent article

“National elections matter, but so do local elections. Your local city council or state representative race matters more than the race between Trump and Clinton. While the left believes that change happens from the top-down, starting with the federal government, conservatives know that real change starts at the local level. And luckily for us, the local level is the easiest place for one to make a difference.”

Activism is going to get more focus here at The Political Informer in the coming weeks. The Free State Project is a great example of the kind of out-of-the-box activism that we need, and that works.

What is The Free State Project & Why It Is Taking Over New Hampshire?

Not to be cliché, but Mahatma Gandhi wasn’t lying when he said to “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.” It’s exactly what started The Free State Project (FTP).

After the 2000 election, Jason Sorens (eventual founder of FTP) became disappointed with the lack of political accomplishment the libertarian movement had made. The libertarian party had been growing, but its political achievements were stagnate.

While a political science graduate at Yale, Sorens worked on his dissertation on secessionist movements in western democracies. During his research and writing process, Sorens learned about how many European nations had decentralized, opting to give more power to their regional governments.

Nations like the UK, Belgium, France, and Spain had given their regional governments more and more autonomy.

Belgium, for example had underwent more linguistic autonomy, decentralizing language and education policies to provinces. They turned themselves into a federal country, in 1995. Three regions, each with broad autonomy over taxation, economic policy, etc were established.

These examples, along with an understanding of why past “libertarian nation” and “free town” movements had failed, inspired Sorens to act.

He wrote an article in July of 2001 that became the foundation for the FTP. By September of that year, they had a functioning website, a “statement of intent,” and had started collecting signatures.

Once they reached 5,000 signatures in 2003, they held a vote on which state would be their target. Out of the ten states on the ballot, New Hampshire won the majority of the votes. The governor of the state at the time encouraged and welcomed the movement to the state.

New Hampshire was picked because of its large state legislature (i.e. easy representation), job market, livability, and existing culture of liberty.

Once the state was picked, it was just a matter of reaching the 20,000 signatures needed before making the move to New Hampshire. Many Free Staters had taken the initiative and moved to New Hampshire before the signature goal was reached. Counting both Free Staters and supporters, Sorens estimates there are around 4,000 liberty-lovers in the state.

Now that they’ve reached the goal (as of February 2016), the mass migration will take place over the next 5 years.

Matt Philips President Free State Project The Political Informer

The Free State Project’s Brand of Activism: Grassroots Activism

I reached out to Sorens, the founder of the Free State Project, and he was more than happy to answer questions about the movement. When I asked the founder of The Free State Project if he considers the project activism, he said…

“Simply by moving to New Hampshire you’re taking part in a movement that is trying to create a freer society, so you’re taking steps to make that happen. Most people once they move they get active in other ways as well, whether it’s political, educational, media, entrepreneurship.”

The FTP’s brand of activism is a unique one, and it’s accomplished a lot so far.

  • Nullified marijuana juries
  • Paying off parking meters so the town couldn’t get revenue from it (they also harassed some of the parking meter officers)
  • They have over 18 members in the state legislature
  • Challenged anti-ride share laws
  • Prevented several New Hampshire towns from acquiring armored urban warfare vehicles
  • They’ve won legal battles over tapping cops
  • Fought against the state’s definition of a religion for tax exempt status
  • Free Staters in the state legislature are pushing an anti-civil-forfeiture bill

Sorens mentioned how the most successful Free Staters are the ones who move beyond the “old Rothbard vs Friedman vs Hayek conversations” and connect with their neighbors on the issues that matter to them.

“…you need to engage with people who aren’t libertarians and think about what that is to them and how what we believe in can help them achieve their goals.” – Jason Sorens

The Free Stater pushing the anti-civil-forfeiture bill has made alliances with both sides of the aisle. He’s gotten support from the private property conservatives and the criminal justice reform democrats. Sorens made the point that “If you build a broad enough coalition, you can get it done.”

I also interviewed Matt Philips, the president of the Free State Project.  In our discourse, he mentioned how the “idea of a small group of people that are super passionate and super active can make a difference.” This is what the Free State Project is all about.

Instigating Social Change, Not Reacting to It

The Free State Project is unique not just because of their activism tactics, but because of its attitude toward social change.

They’re not waiting for society to see the benefits of their views or policy. No, they’ve taken a proactive approach to social change.

They’re instigating it. As Matt Philips puts it…

“We’re just trying to make the world a better place the way we think it can be done. Much the same way the socialists are trying to make the world a better place.”

What’s the easiest way to alter the political dynamics of a state? Get enough people to move there, creating a sizable demographic for change. Use that new demographic to elect libertarians into the legislature, then pass and remove bills to improve civil liberties.Jason Sorens founder of free state project The political informer

It’s all proactive.

They’re creating the change they want to see.

The Power of Local Wins Over National Loses

I think we underestimate the power of a local community of like-minded individuals hell-bent on making a difference.

As Margaret Mead once said…

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Never underestimate what a small group of determined people can do when united toward a common goal.

“You don’t need a lot of people to work really hard and to be at the right place at the right time to have an impact that’s much greater than you would think from a small number of people.” – Matt Philips, president of the Free State Project

The Free State Project exemplifies this lesson.

If You want to change the political environment, start local. It’s the bottom to top approach that wins out every time. Top to bottom strategies take too long and require too many resources and people.

It’s the individuals fighting in the local political trenches that will have your back.

“The reason we favor liberty is not just pure self-interest,” Jason Sorens said on the nature of their political movement, “…you need to engage with people who aren’t libertarians and think about what that is to them and how what we believe in can help them achieve their goals.”

“I don’t need all the libertarians here,” Matt Philip said, “I just need enough to actually prove that the model works.”

Ultimately, it’s about bringing more freedom to people’s lives. It’s not about freedom for you. It’s about Freedom for all.

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About John-Pierre Maeli

Keeping it simple and crystal clear, because anything else is useless. I'm here to not only inform you, but to also connect with you. That's what The Political Informer is all about. Feel free to follow me on either Twitter or Google+ Let's talk!

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