[Previous entry: "My Web hosting service has an OOOPS"] [Main Index] [Next entry: "Alan Bock on living a principled life"]

06/02/2003 Archived Entry: "FSP Grand Western Confernece Part II (Recreated after server crash)"

(This is my second report on the Grand Western Conference -- re-created and re-posted after Friday's original was lost after a server hack.)

OPTIMISM. If I were to describe in one word what I brought home from the Grand Western Conference of the Free State Project "optimism" would be it.

If you know me, you understand what a big deal that is. I'm a born pessimist and a made cynic. I simply don't do optimism. My attitude toward life (and especially toward the future of freedom) is that of a suffering patient pluckily, but not often successfully, determined to make the best of terminal cancer. So when I feel optimistic -- which I still do, a week after the conference -- it's a small miracle.

Why optimism? Well, first of all because nearly all of the 150 (maybe 200) people who gathered in Missoula, Montana, appeared to be dedicated do-ers. I talked with only two or three the entire weekend who came across as typical libertarian yammerheads (more interested in complaining, philosophizing, or riding some personal hobbyhorse than in acting to gain freedom). The rest were overwhelmingly determined to create liberty in their lifetimes -- exactly what the FSP aims to do.

Second, I'm optimistic because I was so vividly reminded of the spirit of the West -- the real West, the West of Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, and rural Utah, Colorado, and Idaho. This spirit is unquenchable. I knew. But it was good to be reminded.

Better yet, it was powerfully brought home that this unquenchable, quintessential Westernness is also the spirit of western Canada. And with that realization (which a lot of conference attendees picked up on) I also think Montana just leaped to the forefront as the one truly great candidate for the Free State.

If you don't know what the Free State Project is organized to do & how it's going to do it, check out the FSP Web site. The short version is this. When FSP membership reaches 5,000 (probably this fall), participants will vote on the low-population state they envision as the best place for freedom lovers to move to. When 20,000 have joined, the move begins. The idea: 20,000 activists (as opposed to couch potatoes) can strongly influence the laws and culture of a state. The 5,000 milestone inspired the timing behind the Montana conference and a big bash going on in New Hampshire.

Libertarian watchers know there've been a gazillion bright ideas to take over states, build island nations, and whatnot -- all in hopes of

creating a haven of freedom. I admit that when I first heard of the FSP, I rolled my eyes ("Oh not another one!") But the differences between the FSP and the schemes that have come before are significant. For one, it's not just a bright idea; it's a real plan. For two, it's not just an ego-trip for its founder, Yale doctoral candidate, Jason Sorens, but a real organization. (Well, as much of ones as libertarians will ever put up with.) For three, it doesn't require millions of dollars or herculean effort. Just move to a new state. What could be easier? People do it every day.

Since 2001, when Jason founded the FSP, I've gone from cynical to hopeful. The conference made me believe, truly, that this collosal cat-herding project has a significant chance to succeed. (And even if it doesn't, watch for great things from Jason Sorens in the future.)


Previously, support had been lining up behind New Hampshire in the east and three western competitors, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana. There are many reasons I think Montana just leaped ahead, but one of those reasons is this: Alberta.

Although conference attendees came from as far away as Massachusetts, Kentucky, Missouri, and the San Francisco Bay area, a contingent that traveled down from Canada made a big impression. This group included firearms-registration rebel Jim Turnbull and other folk from the Canadian Unregistered Firearm Owners Association and the Republic of Alberta movement. Everyone kept remarking "Aren't the Alberta people wonderful?" And I can testify to this from my conversations with Albertans Jodi, John, and Jim, among others.

People have speculated for years about alliances, and even free-nation projects, involving Western U.S. states and Canadian provinces, but the presence of these friendly, feisty folk suddenly made Montana's long, long border (with all three rebel provinces, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba!) look really appealing. In the West -- very much unlike anywhere in the east -- there's plenty of room for freedom to metastasize (as Wyomegian Charles Curley puts is). There's also plenty of room for freedom seekers to slip discreetly from one side of the border to the other, if need be.

Another thing that impressed out-of-staters was the easygoing friendliness of Montanans. I've experienced it before (and in Wyoming, too). That weekend I got a quintuple dose of Montana goodness when I arrived with a broken truck and had to be rescued not once but twice, by strangers or casual acquaintances. (See last Wednesday's blog entry for more of those adventures.) But even those who didn't have to be hauled in off the freeway by tow truck remarked on the goodness of Montanans.

Finally, the sheer beauty of the state moved many hearts and minds. I believe Wyoming had been the previous Western front-runner among the Free State candidates. But on aesthetics, nothing can beat Montana. Wyoming has postcard-gorgeous places. But when you get there, you find the affordable properties are amid sagebrush and grasslands. In Montana, on the other hand, virtually every square mile from Bozeman westward is utterly gorgeous. And still affordable.

Montana also blew every other state away with its panel presentation, headed by Gary Marbut of the Montana Shooting Sports Association and conference organizer Ben Irvin. I heard that Idaho also gave a strong presentation (which I didn't see). South Dakota -- probably not a serious contender -- made a brief bid, and Nancy Lord Johnson stepped up to give a short, but enthusiastic hoorah for Nevada (though Nevada doesn't meet the criteria for FSP selection). Charles Curley of Wyoming did a very gentlemanly thing, sacrificing a large chunk of his state's alloted time when another state ran over. Wyoming also had, bar-none, the best state booth in the lobby, complete with souvenirs and a big pot of Charles' homemade buffalo chili.

At the end of the conference, when Utahan Rob Latham conducted an instant run-off vote between Wyoming, Idaho, South Dakota, and Montana, Montana won overwhelmingly -- and not merely because the audience was salted with locals.

If I were a bettin' woman, I'd put my money on Montana as the Free State. It's true that there's a more united support for New Hampshire. And there's a bigger voting bloc in the east than the west, which also points toward New Hampshire as THE state. But on the theory that plenty of easterners would eagerly move west but few westerners would willingly go east -- and having experienced Montana freedom in all its glory -- IT'S MONTANA.

I just hope that the east-west divide won't lead to a fracturing of the FSP. Although I'm solidly with the Westerners ("My god, did I actually agree I'd move to New Hampshire ... because other people thought it might be a good idea???"), I'd hate to see libertarians once again "hang separately" because they couldn't hang together. When we get to the Free State, we'll have plenty of opportunity to do our own thing. But let's get there so we'll have that opportunity. If FSP members choose New Hampshire, let's GO there. When freedom spreads, there'll be plenty of opportunity for a Western Free State -- free stateS, that is -- and provinces.)

(One more pitch for Montana, though. I know I've said this before, but it's important: When Montanans talk about new gun laws, they mean laws that make things better, not worse. Is there another state in the nation that can consistently say that?)


I had to miss many of Saturday's presentations, due to truck troubles and general frenzy, but I did have the opportunity to speak briefly with many of the conference attendees. The report you're reading now is a re-construction (post server crash) of my original, which contained a long list of people at the conference who assisted me or made a big impression on me for various reasons. At risk of offending by omission, I'm going to re-create that list from memory. If we spent time together and I didn't list you, know that you made an impression, even if your name didn't, or even if the current Monday state of the world has driven it out of my brain.

Thanks to: Elias Alias (for special gifts and poetry of the soul), Sunni, Rick Tompkins, Brad, Jason, Vince & Jim, Dan & Marie, Jim, Jodi, John, Vin (good to see you again), the ever-memorable J.J., the crew who saved the life of the lost dog (Pam, Nancy, and Andrew (?) with the German shepherd shirt), Quincy and family, Don (at last!) and Ingri, Shane, Ben, Guy (a fine bodyguard), Mike, Charles of course, Debra, Torry, Laz, Kirby, Copper, Andy who hauled me when my truck wouldn't, Gary who deserves more than I can say ... and oh boy, I know I'm leaving out too many here. So I'll stop before I get myself into too much trouble.


Posted by Claire @ 12:24 PM CST

Powered By Greymatter