What would you like to do?
- Build a wing onto your house without worrying about code bureaucrats.
- Grow industrial hemp on your land without being busted as a drug baron.
- Build a pond, fill one in. And don’t tremble before the EPA.
- Keep what you earn. Carry a gun without begging permission.
- Start a business without a government license.
- Decide for yourself whether to wear a seat belt.
- Keep your privacy.
- Breathe free in a state that would never steal your property, brainwash your children, or impose tyranny in exchange for federal bribery (bribery paid with your own money!).
Would you like to do such such simple, ordinary, reasonable American things? Today, if you try you’re often an outlaw, a common criminal, a threat to the established order. But for most of the country’s history, this was simply the way Americans expected to live. You could do what you wanted, as long as you didn’t use force or fraud to impose your will on others.
Those days are gone, of course. And the majority of your TV-numbed, subsidy-sucking, government-schooled, stop-us-before-we-take-a-risk neighbors are perfectly glad to have it that way.
But what if the people of one small state said, “The tyranny stops here”? What if they created a state government dedicated solely to protection of life, liberty, and property? And what if that government stood as a bulwark between you and federal abuses?
That state doesn’t exist. Yet. Maybe it never will. But if you knew of an intelligent plan to restore liberty in one state, would you take the risk, relocate there, and help make the dream a reality?
If so, the Free State Project wants you.
More than just another bright idea
The Free State Project (FSP) aims to get 20,000 freedom activists to move to a single state in a short period of time. The plan: to use political clout to reduce the scope and impact of government by at least two thirds.
To read the details of how a mere 20,000 individuals (that’s 20,000 activists, remember) could take over a state government, read “What Can 20,000 Liberty Activists Accomplish?” by the project’s founder, Yale Ph.D. candidate in political science, Jason P. Sorens. You’ll find it on the FSP Web site at http://www.freestateproject.org/strategies.htm.
But the rationale behind the Free State Project is simple: Trying to get Washington, D.C. to move toward freedom is a loser. The government gets bigger and more controlling whether the people in office call themselves Republicans, Democrats, or Little Green Men from Mars. Joseph P. Littlejohn, FSP board member and designer of the project’s porcupine logo, puts it well: “With the majority of the U.S. population now ‘dumbed down’ and dependent on some form of public subsidy, movements like the FSP may be the best hope for liberty.”
Why? Because they don’t try to move that immovable obstacle, the federal government. First the FSP aims to move one very heavy obstacle, a mass of libertarian and conservative activists. Then the relocated activists become a powerful lever to move a second object, a single small state government. If they succeed, that government dedicates itself to protecting liberty. It helps protects its citizens against federal intrusions and reminds the rest of the world how simple and beautiful freedom can be.
Sorens’ proposal first appeared in L. Neil Smith’s online magazine, The Libertarian Enterprise, in July 2001. Cynical old-timers probably groaned, “Oh no, not another one!” (Bright-eyed libertarians propose, “Gosh, let’s all move to [insert state here] and take over the government!” as often, and with as little thought, as actors babbled, “Hey, let’s put on a play!” in an old Mickey Rooney movie.)
But this was no harebrained notion, nor is the FSP a one-man band, as so many similar projects have been. By the end of August 2001, the FSP had 300 members, an informative professional Web site, working committees, and an active discussion group on Yahoo. September 11 derailed the momentum, but by early 2002, the FSP (now incorporated in Nevada) was forging ahead with about 450 signed members—each having given his or her word to move to a state eventually chosen by the group.
The FSP also has realistic interim goals and built-in reality checks. Its first big goal is to sign up 5,000 members. At that point, voting begins to determine which state will become the state of the free. If they don’t reach 5,000 signed members within three years, they disband.
Already, a research committee is gathering state-by-state data. Population statistics, federal expenditures, firearms laws, marijuana laws, “livability” ratings, political campaign spending, laws affecting homeschooling, voter registration figures, economics, employment trends—FSP members are studying and analyzing everything they can and will produce a spreadsheet to enable a thorough, side-by-side comparison of states.
Which will be the state of the free?
The first criterion for a free state is small population. Sorens estimates that a state must have fewer than 1.5 million people for the plan to work. That limits the choices to 11 states: Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. But ideally the chosen state should also have a prevailing pro-liberty culture, a seacoast or international border (for trade and underground railroads), a decent job market, and few federal lands (to discourage federal meddling).
In early discussions, New Hampshire has risen to the top, but a strong contingent of FSP members, like the group’s treasurer and webmaster, Debra Ricketts, is pushing hard for a Western state. Says Debra: “The states in the West have a lot fewer people per square mile and if you’re going to bring in more people you need more space. Plus, in the West, people who call themselves conservatives are often more liberty-minded than conservatives in the east or midwest—not so much thumping on the moral issues, but more concerned with independence. And then there’s the Sagebrush Rebellion, which has already set the stage for resistance to Washington.”
On the other hand, Elizabeth McKinstry, vice-president of the FSP, leans slightly toward New Hampshire. She cites its coastline, nearness to Boston’s job market, traditional values, history of independence, huge prominence in national elections, and a state legislative system that’s unusually accessible. But she adds, “I have stated repeatedly that I would go to the moon if it meant a chance of liberty in my lifetime—and I mean it!”
Two of the three FSP members I interviewed for this story turned out to be Backwoods Home subscribers, which tells you something about the attitudes of the group. McKinstry also points out that of the eleven states, nine (all but Delaware and Rhode Island) are rural havens—probably just the sort of places many of BHM’s readers are already hoping to relocate to.
When it’s time for the 5,000 FSP members to select their state, they’ll cast ballots not by “one person, one vote,” but by cumulative count. Each member will have a certain number of points—say 10—and may distribute those points among favored states—for instance, 4.5 points for Delaware because of its strong job market, coastal access, and relative independence from the federal government; 3.6 for Montana for its low population, international border, pro-liberty culture, and stunning beauty; and 1.9 for Alaska for its low population, native culture, and extensive seacoast (and in spite of its extreme dependence on the federal government).
When you sign the pledge to join the FSP, you also have the option of naming states you absolutely refuse to go to. Thus, you won’t be honor-bound to move to someplace you consider the left-armpit of the universe.
When 20,000 members have signed on, the great migration begins. Each member has agreed to move to the chosen state “as expeditiously as possible and absolutely within five years of the crossing of the 20,000-signer threshold.” If the project never attracts 20,000 signers, it’ll be aborted.
What the Free State Project is not
The FSP is not secessionist (although the original proposal considered secession and Sorens is writing his Ph.D. dissertation on The Political Economy of Secessionism: Regional Responses to Globalization). Secession would be a last-ditch effort if every form of working within the system failed.
It’s adamantly opposed to “shooting the bastards.” (If the plan succeeds, there’ll be no reason to.) The FSP is working strictly within the existing legislative and federal system.
It’s not interested in making common cause with white separatists—although group members support the right of private individuals to associate or not associate with whomever they wish.
And it’s not utopian. These are practical people who aim to increase freedom as much as possible, not to create heaven on earth.
Joining doesn’t require any money—in fact the bylaws forbid dues or contributions as a condition of membership (though voluntary contributions are welcome and may be tax-deductible, as the FSP anticipates receiving 501(c)3 status by the end of 2002).
The Free State Project requires something more difficult: a personal commitment to live and work for freedom. Every member signs a pledge that says in part:
I hereby state my solemn intent to move to a state of the United States designated by vote of the Free State Project ... Once this move occurs, I will exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the sole role of civil government is the protection of citizens’ life, liberty, and property ...
The definition of “fullest practical effort” is left to the individual. Those who object to voting (as many philosophical libertarians do, noting that it’s a form of coercion), could do other things, such as practicing (or teaching) non-violent resistance, speaking on behalf of liberty, ostracizing federal employees, starting liberty-oriented businesses, committing civil disobedience, running underground railroads, working to have regulatory agencies disbanded, educating people about the value of home schooling, and so on. (As a non-profit organization, the FSP can’t lobby or be involved with political parties. It exists solely to facilitate the relocation, not to take part in subsequent political action.)
But what if the government decides to fight back?
The targeted state’s entrenched political establishment could fight back with such tactics as tightening voter-registration requirements or placing high taxes on the transfer of property—that is, by making it difficult to move in or difficult for the new activists to be effective once they’ve arrived. But the fact that the state will be chosen at least in part for its liberty-friendly culture should mitigate against such counter-moves. Besides, under the Constitution, there are few things a state can do to discourage outsiders without also imposing the same burdens on existing residents.
The federal government could use any tactic from withdrawal of federal funds to stepped-up prosecutions to “Wacoizing” to protect itself against the imagined threat presented by one state full of independent “porcupine people.” (The FSP chose the porcupine as its mascot for its defensive nature. As an article by John T. Kennedy on the FSP site states, “The porcupine teaches that you don’t have to be strong enough to defeat a predator to avoid being that predator’s lunch. It suffices to be an expensive meal.”)
Without a doubt, the fedgov has enormous power to oppose independence that arises within the states. Washington might, for instance, threaten to withhold millions of dollars in highway subsidies, education funds, or welfare dollars from the uncooperative free state—a tactic that has worked tragically well so far to keep all 50 states in line with the grasping, heavy-handed federal government. The porcupine people of the FSP would consider such withholding of funds a plus, of course. And if they’d firmly gained political power, they could simply respond by saying, “Well, then, we’ll tell our citizens they don’t have to send their money to the IRS, since it’s their money you’re refusing to spend in our state.”
Another example: You probably wouldn’t immediately be able to grow that harmless and astonishingly useful crop, hemp, with any assurance of safety. We’ve all seen how the federal government responded to states’ attempts to decriminalize medical marijuana and otherwise bring sanity to the insane Drug War; they’ve stepped up prosecutions, even to the point of causing the death of marijuana activists like Peter McWilliams. There’s every reason to think that the DEA would be itching to get in and burn any free state hemp fields and imprison the farmers.
But if state and county authorities refuse to cooperate—if they refuse to allow federal agents to operate on their territory (which they have every right to do), and if the federales realize they’re just not going to get the state or its people to back down ... well, even federal bullies eventually figure out they can go pick on easier targets. And eventually, minds can and do change. Just as Americans now accept as “normal” federal programs and incursions they once knew to be socialistic and tyrannical, eventually the feisty independence of the Free State could become the new norm—and an inspiration to freedom lovers everywhere.
Some people have speculated that the government might simply kill anyone who tried to exercise their constitutional rights in this new and creative way. As the Weaver family, the Branch Davidians, the MOVE House residents of Philadelphia, and the Bonus Marchers of 1932 could testify, it happens. But the FSP’s online FAQ responds, “Whatever the evils of the modern welfare state, we are not living in Nazi Germany. In addition, it’s not clear why a belief in the U.S. government as some sort of totalitarian monster would be an argument for complacency and not participating in the Free State Project.”
Without doubt, some federal control and some state waste, busybodying, and welfare-stating will prevail, even if the FSP meets every one of its goals. It would be nearly impossible to carve pure liberty out of an existing legal and bureaucratic structure. To achieve pure liberty, you really would have to move to the moon and start all over again.
But what if government involvement in your life could be sliced in half or two thirds or more? Would you go? Would you pack up your family, your dog, and your old Chevy and head out like some 19th-century pioneer in search of freedom?
Would you do it even though you knew it would never be utopia? Even if you knew it might be risky? Even if you’d miss your extended family? Even if your friends all thought you were goofy? Even if it meant leaving a great job?
Debra Ricketts, Elizabeth McKinstry, and more than 400 others are ready. As Debra says, “I don’t know how much freedom the Free State Project will be able to achieve, ultimately. But more than we have now. At minimum we could come to a tacit agreement with the federal government—you keep your EPA and your DEA and the rest of your alphabet soup out and we’ll pretend to obey your laws.”
There are no guarantees it’ll work. But if we don’t try something innovative and intelligent soon, then it’s guaranteed we’ll all be sitting here 10 years from now a lot less free than we already are.
To learn more about the Free State Project or to sign up:
Web site: http://www.freestateproject.org
565 College Drive, C-160
Henderson, Nevada 89015
The FSP’s e-mail announcement list: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/freestate
E-mail discussion lists: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/freestateproject and http://www.free-market.net/forums/freestate0202/