Free State Project New Hampshire Liberty Forum Review

Being the President of the Free State Project, I have a bit of a different take on this year’s New Hampshire Liberty Forum. On the one hand, I love the event for its effectiveness at attracting new participants to the Free State Project. Showcasing the potential of New Hampshire to lead the world in practical application of the philosophy of freedom is very persuasive to those who come to see it. On the other hand, I like to take advantage of the opportunity to efficiently accomplish meaningful work beyond ‘evangelism’ given the proximity (everyone in one hotel) of those most active in the liberty movement.

This year, I had very little to do in the way of official duties. I didn’t deliver a speech. In fact, this was the first Free State Project event in history where not a single speech focused on the Free State Project itself has occurred. I looked forward to the ‘light’ schedule providing an opportunity for me to see more of the speakers than I have in the past. I also had more time available for ‘doing’, which I took advantage of.

The event itself was a huge success. I don’t have final numbers yet (attendance or money), but it was, as has been every single event the Free State Project has ever put on, bigger than last year’s in terms of registrations (Ron Paul’s ’08 speech drew a colossal crowd but they didn’t register for the whole weekend). Numerical growth for a not-at-all-free ($) event in this economy, in an off year, is a great sign.

Also great was the speaker lineup. We continue to achieve that magical balance of styles, spheres of influence, issues, and notoriety that makes the event a world-class value to those who attend. Speakers and attendees alike say it’s their favorite pro-freedom event in the whole world. It’s personal, informative, entertaining, productive, and just plain fun!

But behind the scenes, there’s more going on, and I’d like to review some of that. The Free State Project’s mission is to attract 20,000 people who will move to New Hampshire and exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of government is the protection of life, liberty and property. The FSP organization’s goal is to secure those commitments. That is not a trivial task, mind you.

To that end, I worked a good portion of the weekend on various projects aimed at attracting more participants. One element of that was a meeting of the FSP Board. We meet monthly but usually only in-person once a year (this year might be the first time we’ll meet twice given this first-ever meeting at Liberty Forum). We worked on the filling of a board-seat vacancy, and three other items which I want to give a little more detail about. In all three cases, the Board meeting was just one of many meetings and/or conversations I had over the course of the weekend about these topics.

First, some Free State Project participants who are passionate about telephone outreach have been working for quite some time to get an outreach calling program to recruit new participants off the ground. Some of the practicalities of the program they proposed are at odds with, among other things, the Free State Project’s protection of it’s participant database information and standards for counting participants. In order for them to do their best work to promote the Free State Project, and for us to continue to do our best to maintain the integrity of the project, this particular outreach program is going to be accomplished by a separate organization, not the Free State Project itself.

Prior to Liberty Forum, enough progress had been made that the people working on the calling program had started developing and testing the system. The initial alpha test results were fairly encouraging but the calling program team still has more work to do before the program really gets off the ground. More work was also required on the part of the Free State Project itself if we wanted to enable the calling organization to work more efficiently without, for example, compromising the integrity of the participant database or encouraging fraud. The board decided to take another big step with that work. A fringe benefit of that step is that it formalizes a verification procedure to improve the quality of Statements Of Intent collected indirectly and/or from third parties (i.e. at events and/or otherwise from non-FSP volunteers, which we’ve done all along).

Second, I discussed a problem we have with Liberty Forum 2011 leadership. The problem is, we’ve had two outstanding leaders who have, with the help of countless volunteers, produced four home-runs in a row. Their work has turned the New Hampshire Liberty Forum from an unknown and untested idea in 2006, to a world-renowned brand that is hugely beneficial to the Free State Project.

That’s a problem because we need new leadership in 2011. Chris won’t be back to lead a grand slam, and his wife thanks me from not only not asking him but barring him from such enslavement. Because we’re past the experimenting phase, and because both Irena and Chris set the bar so high in every way, we’re struggling to figure out a strategy for 2011 (and beyond) leadership.

Fundamentally, the Free State Project is not an event-organizing organization. In as much as that is the case, we shouldn’t actually be diverting too much from effective outreach into event organization. Liberty Forum is a very effective (cost and otherwise) outreach tool, but the content-neutral work of organization could be somehow outsourced or contracted. I suggested such an idea and started by suggesting outsourcing that to people who do other pro-liberty events. There’s still one internal possibility on my radar, and maybe this message will result in others. Barring that, we might make the transition to outside organization next year and see how it goes. We did all agree that the Liberty Forum brand (including Free State Project ‘ownership’), look and feel, style, balance, and so on needs to remain in tact, so no need to worry there. In the end, this was discussion, not a decision, but if anyone out there wants to chime in, now’s the time.

Third, I presented the idea of producing a far more substantial print outreach piece for the Free State Project. The piece would have the look and feel of a magazine (think Reason or Republic) but be a single issue, maybe updated every year or two (or when we run out). It’s goal would be to communicate ‘enough’ about the Free State Project to the reader so they would come away with a well-developed picture of what we are and where we’re at. We currently have no such piece and a tri-fold just doesn’t cut it anymore. This is no longer an idea encapsulated in a paper, but a reality with more information and stories to be told than even a magazine could hold.

Such a publication would be very useful. Currently, the Free State Project website is the best place to go for that kind of information, but it’s visual impact isn’t as strong as it could be and some people simply don’t go there. A magazine can be touched, absorbed over time, visually appealing, and shared easily with real-world friends. It also gives prospective participants and donors (!) a sense of what is actually the case: well established real-world success. They could be handed out at events and maybe even mailed to well-qualified interested parties unearthed by the aforementioned calling program.

Being the ambitious person that I am, I’d like to have the first finished product in hand in time for Porc Fest, which, by the way, is coming right up. I’m not sure we can make that deadline, but that’s never stopped me before (really, that means aim to be done by June 1st). We already have a lot of writing, though we need more. Same with photographs. Over the course of the weekend, I secured three more critical pieces: a graphic designer, the story teller (essentially senior editor and producer), and money (the Board is happy with the idea even given its obviously hefty price tag).

We still need some important pieces for this project. Maybe most important and urgent is an overall project manager. The project manager would connect the dots between the story teller and existing and newly-created content (mostly writing and photographs), find new content creators, find content editors (and connect them with the story teller), connect the dots between the story teller and graphic designer, keep the project on time, and keep me in the loop all the while. If anyone is up for such an abusive but rewarding challenge, please contact me yesterday. We also need people to write content, edit content, submit photographs (we already have a bunch but the more the better), and agree to have content written about them (i.e. be featured in the magazine). If you’re looking for something to do that’s not long term, this is it.

Keep in mind, of course, we have done and continue to do all of this with virtually no ‘normal’ resources. Throughout the entire history of the Free State Project, we’ve never had a single paid staff member. Total spending of the project for its whole history, including events, probably lies in the ballpark of $1/2 Million, give or take a bit (outright donations over the last six years has been less than $200,000). This is undoubtedly the most effective shoestring in the history of the modern libertarian movement.

In closing, it’s exciting to now have over 10,000 participants on the books and over 800 in New Hampshire. The progress is accelerating and every shred of evidence suggests that achievement of the plan outlined in 2001 will, indeed, eventually lead to enormous success. Even as our nation continues its trend towards tyranny, my excitement grows with increased confidence in the very real prospect of Liberty in Our Lifetime. I hope, somehow, you’ll help make that happen, and I thank all of you who already are.


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