Recently I argued that liberty advocates should remain or become active within the Republican Party rather than join a minor party (unless a viable new party can replace the GOP, which I doubt). This gave rise to a number of questions: Does that mean everyone should be a Republican? Should everyone be active at the level of party politics? Do people even need to be active in politics at all?
I too am disgusted with the state of the Republican Party. Although I continue to disapprove of Johnson’s Libertarian affiliation, this year it’s hard to criticize any vote made in protest of the “choice” between Trump and Hillary Clinton. I’ve thought maybe people should start a write-in campaign for Boaty McBoatface. I’ve thought about putting up twin yard signs for Giant Douche and Turd Sandwich. Absent a viable independent run (possibly throwing the race to the House of Representatives), it seems like this year the American people are just hosed.
“All Colorado Republicans [registered more than a month] could vote in precinct caucuses, which chose delegates to congressional and state conventions, who voted for national delegates.” That’s my (unabbreviated) Tweet summarizing the way that Colorado Republicans chose delegates to the national Republican Convention. I should know; as a Colorado Republican I participated in the caucuses.
But apparently, for some Trump supporters, my experience participating in the caucus process is no match for a Drudge headline claiming it never happened. As of the evening of April 10, Drudge claimed on its main page, “Fury as Colorado has no primary or caucus; Cruz celebrates voterless victory.”
Is political activism a total waste of time in today’s context, or is there something that reasonable, liberty-loving, reality-oriented people can do that might actually make a difference in the political realm?
Minor-party politics in today’s context is a total waste of time. You’d be better off doing practically anything else than squandering resources on minor-party activism.
So what is my alternative? First, let me point out that political activism is not a mandatory activity. It’s far more important to educate people about individual rights and free markets than to engage in partisan politics. That said, I do think it’s possible to accomplish real and significant political goals and to use party politics as an educational tool.
I loathe today’s Republican Party—which is why I’ve recently rejoined it. I am sick and tired of theocratic conservatives and immigrant-hating, anti-market nativists ruining what used to be the party of Lincoln. Continue reading “Reason and Rights Republicans”
My goal here is to turn naive voters into strategic voters and to turn gut-level strategic voters into self-consciously strategic voters with greater political influence.
Some people are naive voters, their votes accomplish nothing, and, for them, voting is a complete waste of time. Many people are strategic voters at a gut level, but they don’t understand how their voting is strategic or how they might pursue more complex voting strategies. My goal here is to turn naive voters into strategic voters and to turn gut-level strategic voters into self-consciously strategic voters with greater political influence.
But why would I want to help make other voters, including my political opponents, more strategic in their voting? It’s not like I can publish my advice and hope that only my allies will read it. Aren’t I just encouraging both sides to up their games, resulting in no net gains? I think not.
A major problem with politics today is that egalitarian “eat the rich” primary voters largely drive the Democratic party, while theocratic primary voters largely drive the Republican party. That is, both parties are disproportionately driven by ideologies that most Americans do not share. I think that if more voters become more strategic, that will help diffuse political influence and improve both parties over time. Or so one can hope.
I’m writing this article partly in response to feedback, much of it explosively angry, that I’ve received via email and social media regarding two of my recent articles about Ted Cruz.
Here’s the backstory in brief: I like many of Cruz’s policies and pronouncements, but I’m more than a little irritated with him for lurching hard toward theocratic conservatism. I’m so irritated over one particular incident (his dalliance with Kevin Swanson) that I declared I’ll vote for any Democrat over Cruz, unless Cruz apologizes.
Even though I wrote a follow-up piece explaining some of the reasoning behind my political strategy, various respondents continued to basically misunderstand what it is that I’m up to. A typical response amounted to (and I exaggerate only very slightly), “Oh my God! You mean you’d actually support the dastardly Marxist Islamofascist-loving Hillary Clinton, who will leave America in smoldering ashes, over the shining knight of reason and liberty Ted Cruz, who will lead America to renewed greatness? You are evil.”
I ruminated over how such respondents could be so dense as to totally misunderstand the nature and purpose of my political stance. Then it occurred to me: Such people have actually never thought seriously about political strategy, and they have no grasp of it. To the degree that they’re strategic voters, it’s by accident, not conscious design.
Obviously political strategy is an enormously complex topic, so here I want to narrow the discussion only to basic voting strategies. I want to discuss naive voting, which here I call “duty voting,” and five types of strategic voting.
A naive voter looks at voting as a social duty. A duty voter will examine the candidates, pick a slate of candidates, quietly fill out the ballot, and consider the duty fulfilled—all without giving any thought to the impact of the vote.
A duty vote has no impact. Duty voting is a total waste of time, at least in the context of large-scale (national) elections in which one’s vote will almost certainly never impact the outcome of any election. (By contrast, individual votes actually have some realistic chance, however remote, of making a difference in very-competitive regional races.)
In all seriousness, duty voters would be better off staying home (or leaving their mailed ballots unopened) and doing something else. So let’s turn to the various types of strategic voting.
Social Pressure Voting
Most people, at some level, understand that their purpose in voting is not merely to cast a single ballot in a large-scale election. Rather, their purpose of voting is to mutually encourage their allies to vote, too, and thereby to achieve an outcome they favor. Such social pressure voting is the most widely practiced form of strategic voting.
To put the matter in terms of public choice economics, voting is “irrational” for the individual voter, because an individual vote will not sway the outcome of the election. However, if I and all of my allies sit home, and our opponents show up to vote, then we will all lose out. So voting becomes what the economists call a “free rider problem”—individual voters are tempted to free ride on the efforts of other voters, but, if all the voters of a given camp free ride, none of those voters get what they want. In these terms, social pressure voting is a way to overcome the free rider problem in voting.
As a matter of strategy, social pressure voting is very simple. It amounts basically to publicly making it known what political team you’re likely to support, publicly announcing that you’re going to vote, and suggesting that you might be irritated with those of your allies who don’t vote. This could be as simple has having a water-cooler discussion about the election or posting a remark on Facebook.
Social pressure voting is the most widely practiced form of strategic voting, and it’s important. It does not, however, exhaust the forms of strategic voting. Other forms of strategic voting can have even more impact in an election, for those who wish to pursue them.
I suppose that the second-most common form of strategic voting is endorsement voting. Here the idea is that, not only do you encourage “your team” to go out and vote, you publicly articulate a case for voting for a particular candidate. This type of strategic voting often is more important during primaries, when many candidates with similar views vie for a chance to appear in the general election.
The purpose of endorsement voting, quite simply, is to try to persuade people sitting on the fence, whether they are other primary voters or swing voters in the general, to embrace your candidate of choice.
The public pronouncement is an essential element of endorsement voting. Whenever you promote a candidate on social media or among your friends, in the context of explaining your pending vote, you are practicing the strategy. Of course, you could endorse a candidate without voting at all, but the idea here is that, by endorsing a particular candidate and publicly declaring your intention to vote for that candidate, you help drum up support for the candidate in terms of voter turnout. (There are many other ways of supporting a candidate that I won’t discuss here.)
Lesser of Evils Voting
If you openly declare, “I’m voting for Candidate A over Candidate B, not because I like Candidate A but because I regard that candidate as somewhat less-bad than the other,” that is the essence of strategically voting for the lesser of evils.
Again, the public pronouncement is the key to this sort of strategy. Electorally, the outcome of actively endorsing a candidate, versus declaring you’re voting for the candidate only as the lesser of evils, is identical (and totally irrelevant, because your single vote doesn’t matter). The purpose is to put the candidate and that candidate’s party on notice that you’re not happy with your choices, and they better shape up in the future if they want your continued support.
Threatening to vote for “none of the above” (NOTA) rather than the candidate you’d normally be presumed to support is a very powerful political tool. Among Republicans, two groups routinely use this strategy to great effect: Religious conservatives and gun owners. Groups that advocate abortion bans routinely threaten candidates in this way. I’ve heard it plausibly argued that gun owners sitting home out of a sense of Republican betrayal has swung at least one presidential election (although Dave Kopel argues Bush the Elder still would have lost to Clinton, just not as badly).
The strategy of NOTA voting essentially communicates, “My candidate or party has betrayed me so badly that I’m willing to sit on the fence this cycle, even if the other candidate wins.” NOTA voting takes the long view: The goal is primarily to alter the course of one’s favored political party long term, not influence the current election.
NOTA voting is one method of punishing one’s candidate or party, but there’s an even more powerful method of punishment voting: Threatening to vote for the opposing candidate rather than merely not vote. If you want to call this the “nuclear option” of voting, that’s probably apt.
The electoral reasoning behind this is straight-forward. To create a simplified scenario, let’s assume there are one hundred voters in a particular race, and that the predicted outcome would be 52 votes for Candidate A and 48 votes for Candidate B. But then let’s say three of Candidate A’s supporters become very annoyed with something their candidate does or proposes. How do they get the candidate to shape up?
If they threaten merely not to vote, then Candidate A still wins, only by a narrower margin of 49 to 48. (Voting for a minor-party candidate yields the same numbers.) Candidate A, if he can predict this, might say, “I realize you three are angry, but so what? I’m still going to win, so screw you.” But if the three angry voters threaten to exercise the “nuclear option,” then Candidate A faces the real risk of losing the race by a margin of 49 to 51. What do you think Candidate A’s attitude will become with respect to those three voters, even though they constitute a tiny three percent of the electorate in this example? That’s pretty obvious.
Notice that punishment voting has nothing to do with “supporting” the opposing candidate, in the sense of expressing positive approval or moral sanction of that candidate. Punishment voting is essentially communicating to a candidate (and the candidate’s supporters), “Yes, I hate the opposing candidate, but I’m so pissed off at you over the matter at hand that I’m threatening to ‘go nuclear’ on your ass to try to get your attention.”
Punishment voting is an extreme and uncomfortable move, which is why most people never even consider it as a possibility, much less execute it. But I’m not most people, and I think that Cruz’s open pandering to theocratic conservatives completely merits the threat of punishment voting.
As with NOTA voting, punishment voting takes a long view. The idea is that, even if we (the punishers) end up throwing the upcoming election, we’re going to work toward the long-term improvement of our political candidates. Maybe a candidate we hate will win this time, but hopefully next time, and on into the future, we’ll get a candidate that we like.
Of course, there are two types of punishment voting, absolute and conditional. If you’re so upset with a candidate that there is no way that candidate could find redemption in your eyes, you might just want to announce a firm punishment vote. But if you still think there’s hope for your candidate, you might want to announce conditional punishment. That is, if the candidate shapes up, you will rescind your threat of voting for the opposing candidate. (At this point, that’s my position with respect to Cruz.)
I can understand if people want to criticize a threat of punishment voting in a given case: As noted, it’s an extreme move. But it does annoy me when people pretend that a punishment vote is something other than what it is. If you want to argue I’m wrong, great, but don’t be a complete idiot about it by ignoring the hard realities of strategic voting in our winner-take-all system.
At any rate, I sincerely hope that my allies, my critics, and my opponents all adopt more strategic voting, as I think that will make some headway toward improving the American political scene over time.
If you effectively communicate, “I will support any Republican nominee over any Democratic nominee, no matter what,” you tell Republican candidates that they don’t need to give any consideration, at all, to what you think about things.
Earlier today I released an article titled, “Why I Will Vote for Any Democrat over Ted Cruz.” The upshot is that Cruz chummed around at an event and on stage with a man who openly calls for the death penalty for homosexuals, just not right now “because we need some time for homosexuals to repent.” Another speaker at that event distributed literature that calls for the death penalty for homosexuals.
Incidentally, the same man, Kevin Swanson has also said that the jihadist massacres in Paris were “a message from God” because the victims included “humanist devil-worshippers.” He has also said that “there might be a connection” between pro-gay policies in Colorado and wildfires and flooding, and that Colorado is arguably “more evil than Communist China, than North Korea” because of a newspaper photo in the state of two men kissing.
And, again, this is a man that Ted Cruz actively and chummily speaks with on stage and actively pursues as a political ally.
Predictably, I got some pushback on social media from Cruz’s supporters. Rather than try to respond to those remarks piecemeal via Social Media, I thought I’d take the opportunity to discuss political activism and other matters in greater detail here.
Before turning to the matter of activism, I want to address a couple of minor issues. (Skip to the header about activism if you wish.)
First, I’m surprised by the level of anger some people have expressed over my article. The worst comment came via email; the fellow writing said that, given my remarks, he’d “truly worry about standing beside [me] in battle.” He continued, “My inclination would be to shoot you myself for fear of you turning against me and killing me and fighting with the enemy.” Thankfully, other remarks were markedly less ridiculous. Still, some were equally angry.
My response to such anger is this: If you’re more angry about me criticizing Ted Cruz than you are about Cruz palling around with a man whose stance on homosexuality is practically indistinguishable from that of Saudi Arabia, there is something seriously wrong with your priorities and with the way you think about politics.
Second, one or two people complained that I cited Right Wing Watch in drawing out the facts about Swanson. Here my reply is two-fold. My remarks about Swanson come from video of Swanson himself. It doesn’t matter who filmed Swanson or published the results; what matters is what Swanson undeniably said.
And I agree it is a pity that I had to turn to Right Wing Watch and like sites as a source on Swanson. The fact is that conservative journalists and videographers should have immediately published the relevant material about Swanson, should have immediately condemned Swanson’s remarks, should have immediately insisted that Ted Cruz apologize for appearing with Swanson and condemn Swanson’s remarks. Yet they did not.
The fact that I had to turn to Right Wing Watch and like sites to find the relevant details about Swanson’s remarks, because I could not find such details on conservative sites, speaks to the moral depravity widespread in the modern conservative movement. It is indeed shameful that many conservatives observe Right Wing Watch publish the materials and make the moral pronouncements about Swanson that conservatives themselves should publish and pronounce.
I want to hasten to add that some conservatives (including a number of my social media contacts) have spoken out against Swanson and against Cruz’s association with him. Colorado writer Thomas Krannawitter, who I think considers himself a conservative, wrote an impassioned Facebook post on the matter. He writes, in part:
[I]s this what it means to be a “Republican” today, committing one’s self to Jesus in one breath and calling for the government-sponsored execution of homosexuals in the next? If not, why not? I am not sure whether to laugh or cry over what has become of the Party of Lincoln. Either way, I for one will not hesitate to call out, condemn, and reject the proposals of Mr. Kevin Swanson. . . . [If any Republican candidate is] not willing to call this out as the irrational, immoral cultish claptrap it is, then they certainly do not deserve my vote or support.
And Michael L. Brown writes, “I want to stand with [Rachel Maddow] in renouncing this kind of rhetoric in the strongest possible terms, especially since this was a Christian-based rally.” (However, Brown inexplicably excuses Cruz’s attendance at the event where he shared a stage with Swanson.)
Some other lines of criticism I don’t find worth discussing here. But I do want to talk about criticisms pertaining to political activism.
Voting Is Not Political Activism
Apparently this seemingly obvious fact comes as news to some people, but your vote, by itself, does not matter at all in terms of shifting the political landscape. In those terms, you’d be far better off sitting at home and doing any other activist-related activity, rather than voting. This follows straight-forwardly from the fact that your vote is almost certainly never going to affect the outcome of any major election.
Yet, surprisingly (to me), some people seem to interpret my previous piece on Cruz as if the important issue is how I’m going to vote. How I’m going to vote, by itself, is of absolutely no consequence. If my purpose were merely to pronounce how I intend to vote, my piece would have been a pointless waste of time. But, as you might by now surmise, that was not my purpose. So what was?
A common complaint I saw on social media is that, however bad Cruz might be on various issues, he would not be able to make much headway with his worst ideas, and he would be better than any Democrat, who likely would be able to make substantial headway in a harmful direction on various issues. But this sort of criticism completely misses the point of my piece and completely misunderstands the nature of political activism.
If I were so stupid as to believe that one political party is consistently the Party of the Angels, while the other party is consistently the Party of the Devils (and, for the Swanson acolytes out there, I’m speaking metaphorically!), then I would consistently promise my unconditional support to the Party of the Angels. I would have no need to strategize politically or to try to influence the parties.
But, here in the real world, both major political parties threaten people’s rights in extreme ways and threaten to do so even more severely into the future. So, as a politically aware and involved person, I do need to strategize politically and to make some attempt to influence the direction of the parties.
To lay some additional context: It is pure fantasy to claim that the major parties are substantially different on most practical matters of domestic or even foreign policy. Today, both Republicans and Democrats advocate a massive welfare and regulatory state; usually they differ only on a few relatively minor details. Anyone who doubts this is welcome to (for example) ask any Republican politician, on the record, if he or she is in favor of phasing out Social Security or of repealing the national minimum wage. Although the parties are more noticeably different on matters of foreign policy, their positions are essentially variations on the theme of pragmatic “diplomacy” plus piecemeal military actions.
So let’s try to look at political strategy as grownups with our wits about us, rather than as cheerleaders for some political team. If you want to be a cheerleader, I suggest you go back to high school or join the Broncos cheer squad, because you just don’t have the mentality to be serious about politics.
What is my goal as an activist, insofar as I seek to influence electoral politics? This depends in part on where we are in the political process and what timeline I think is most relevant.
Where are we now? We are in the primaries! The candidates have not yet been selected. So my goal as a political activist (within the narrow electoral sphere) is to try to get the best candidates possible and to try to get the winning candidates to commit to the most reasonable policies possible (which, granted, is a pretty low bar these days).
Put bluntly, you are a complete idiot, strategically speaking, if you promise your unconditional support for a given candidate or party at this point.
If you effectively communicate, “I will support any Republican nominee over any Democratic nominee, no matter what,” you tell Republican candidates that they don’t need to give any consideration, at all, to what you think about things. Instead, what candidates are going to do is what they always do: Pander to the worst Republican theocrats, largely because the theocrats actually threaten to stay home if they don’t get their way.
In short, if you guarantee your unconditional support for the Republican party’s nominees, whoever they are and whatever dreadful things they do and say, you (and all your strategically foolish friends who do the same) virtually guarantee that the Republican Party will get more and more crazy over time. And, if you’re not insane (or a theocrat, but I repeat myself), that’s a bad outcome.
One main political strategy is necessary to help the Republican party become the party of individual rights rather than the party of theocratic fascism, and that is to loudly and proudly declare: “I will not vote for the theocrats or for any candidate who panders to them. Either I will stay home, or, because I really want to emphasize the point, I will go to the voting booth, hold my nose, and vote for the Democrat.”
I can put up with a lot of nonsense from candidates that I ultimately end up voting for. But some things we simply have to declare to be unacceptable, and we have to mean it—for example a candidate cannot chum it up with a man who proclaims it might someday be a good idea to kill all the gays.
If you (as a Republican supporter) don’t have the good sense and moral fortitude to openly and loudly declare that you will not vote for Ted Cruz unless he apologizes for appearing with Swanson and condemns Swanson’s remarks, then you are part of the problem, you are part of the ongoing intellectual and moral corruption of the Republican Party, you are part of what threatens American liberty.
So, no, the point of my previous essay on Cruz was not merely to pronounce how I might vote—that would be a stupid and vain exercise. Instead, my purpose was to try to shake other Republican voters out of their cheerleading fantasies and actually do something to influence the direction of the Republican Party, and to communicate to Republican leaders that, well, I’m sick and tired of their theocratic panderings, and I’m not going to take it, anymore.
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Gage Skidmore, a semi-professional photographer from Arizona. —Ari Armstrong
Armstrong: According to your Facebook bio, you started out as a photographer in 2009, when you documented Rand Paul’s Senate run. Your work has also appeared in numerous publications, including Forbes, Wired, and Reason. Do you work as a full-time photographer now, or is that a part-time occupation? Do you mean to make photography your long-term career? What is the scope of your photographic work presently?
Skidmore: I started doing political photography with Paul when I was sixteen years old. I had been involved in the liberty movement since the end of 2007 when his father ran for the 2008 presidency, but I didn’t get involved with his campaign as a photographer until 2011 when he ran for President again.
I’ve never seen photography as a job; I have always seen it as a hobby, something that I do on the side for personal enjoyment or just to make a little money. Recently I’ve done some freelance work for various candidates for office in Arizona, where I live now, and for other organizations like the Western Center for Journalism, as well as Reason magazine, which ran a cover image of mine of Gary Johnson for its 2012 election issue.
I really am not sure where my photography will take me, but I’m always looking to continue my photography adventure as long as I find it to be something that is worthwhile to share with people, and is still fun for me as well.
Armstrong: Every time I need an image of a libertarian or conservative politician or intellectual, I find that the best image is almost always one of yours. Then I discovered that you’ve also photographed celebrities such as Tom Cruise at ComicCon. What prompted you to start releasing so many of your photographs through Flickr under the Creative Commons license?
Skidmore: The scope of my work involves for the most part two things that I enjoy the most—politics and pop culture conventions.
I originally bought my first professional camera for the purpose of going to the San Diego ComicCon in 2009, because I wanted to take somewhat professional photos for the purpose of releasing them under the Creative Commons license, and also because I wanted to see my photos used to illustrate celebrities on Wikipedia on pages where photos didn’t exist.
I’ve always enjoyed seeing my work used in a positive way, and especially enjoy when I’m actually credited for taking the photo. And as far as Flickr goes, I think that is just the most mainstream photography website at the moment, besides Facebook (which isn’t known for its photo quality). But I would really hope for Flickr to make some changes to its business model that would allow its content creators to gain the ability to make money by selling prints, or something of that nature, in the same way that YouTube rewards its content creators for providing content there.
Armstrong: I’ve released a few CC images (my best is of Christopher Hitchens), but nowhere near as many as you’ve released. I find the CC community interesting; I feel grateful, as a blogger, that I have access to so many great images, and I feel a sense of responsibility to contribute my own CC images when I can. What are your thoughts on the Creative Commons?
Skidmore: I can understand people’s reasoning about wanting to tightly control their content, especially if that is how they make their living, primarily by selling photos. I’ve never gotten that serious about it, to the point where I need to sell a photo to eat the next day. I’m not pursuing photography as a college student, either, so I basically see the Creative Commons as a way to release my photos for public consumption, and have them used in the most wide ranging way possible. I have gotten some criticism for this, but I think with the expansion of literally everyone having a cell phone camera, and the fact that someone can easily go to the store and buy a semi-professional camera, the world of photography is constantly changing. These changes will likely have a detrimental effect on the professional photography business as a whole. Depending on one’s perspective, this may be a good thing, or it may be a bad thing, but I tend not to consume myself with that type of stuff.
Armstrong: Which shot or shots of yours do you find particularly interesting, or which have a fun backstory?
Skidmore: I had a hard time thinking about a good photo back story, but I thought about when I first started doing political photography and documenting some of the early campaign events with Rand Paul. One of the first events I went to was a Tea Party event in Hawesville, Kentucky. I can vividly remember arriving at the event, and standing out in the cold November or December climate in front of this towering court house. Back then, the Tea Party was really at its peak, but standing among the crowd was Dr. Paul himself, then just a small town ophthalmologist. There was no other media, no other person taking any photos, at least semi-professionally, and hardly anyone even bothered to introduce themselves to Rand except every now and then between speakers at the event. This was actually also the first time I got to shake Rand’s hand, and his campaign handler at the time introduced us to each other.
Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing a true grassroots movement of liberty-minded individuals who have come to embrace this one time small town doctor as one of the serious contenders for President of the United States. I am so glad to have been able to participate in some way when he first came on the scene, and am especially grateful for the kindness he has shown to me over the years, especially in the beginning when I was just some teenage fan following him around and taking photos.
Armstrong: If someone wanted to hire you to photograph an event, would you be open to that? If so, what’s the best way to reach you, and what sort of processes and costs should a client expect?
Skidmore: If someone would like to hire me for an event, I absolutely would be open to doing so, and the best way to reach me is through email, which I’ve made publicly available on pretty much all my personal websites. I like to make things as easy as possible for potential clients, so they name a price, and I’ll usually accept it, as long as it’s within reason.
W. Earl Allen, long a libertarian activist in Colorado, died August 9 in a plane crash. The Denver Postreports, “A Broomfield flight instructor and his student died Saturday when the small plane they were flying crashed near Steamboat Springs. Routt County Coroner Rob Ryg identified the two as William Earl Allen, 62, and a flying student, Terry Lynn Stewart, 60, of Houston.” This is devastating news to the many people who knew and loved Earl.
Of those aspects of his life with which I was familiar, three of Earl’s loves stand out: His love of liberty, his love of flying, and his love of public speaking. I knew him from his political activism. In answering a survey a couple years ago, Earl said he read Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose when he was a college teacher, and he owns “three copies of Atlas Shrugged, one of which is falling apart at the seams due to overuse.”
Earl promoted a free-market in health care while at a 2010 rally (see the 2:55 mark in the video). In 2009, he joined me and other activists to protest legal restrictions on beer sales. Following is a photograph from that event; Earl is at left, with Amanda Muell, Justin Longo, Dave Williams, and me.
Regarding his flying, Earl was featured in a 2011 student video about his career as a flight instructor.
Earl’s death is a great loss to his family, his friends, and his fellow advocates of liberty.
August 13 Update: I just received an email from Earl’s wife with the following notice: “William Earl (Earl) Allen was born on March 18, 1952 in Provo, Utah and passed away on August 9, 2014 in Routt County, CO at the age of 62. He is survived by his wife Maralyn Mencarini; his mother Donna Sharp (Norman); siblings Edward (Madalyn), Eric (Ying), Esther (Nathaniel), and Evan (Rachel); eight nieces and nephews; and six great-nieces and nephews. . . . As an expression of sympathy, memorial contributions may be made at https://secure.eaa.org/development/index.html to the EAA Young Eagles Program.”
When Amanda Muell (see photo) founded Liberty On the Rocks, I didn’t think it would become be very important. I was very wrong. Chapters of the group have become key places for free-market activists to network, share ideas, and listen to outstanding speakers. (Note that I run Liberty In the Books, a project of Liberty On the Rocks.)
Here, as part of a series on free-market activism, Amanda discusses her activism. (As always, an interview does not imply agreement.) Please see my “activism” category for additional interviews and discussions about political activism.
Ari: What inspired you to start Liberty On the Rocks?
Amanda: My initial inspiration for starting the happy hours was to meet other people who were interested in free markets and liberty. When I saw the success of the model (i.e., meeting in pubs and taverns) and recognized the benefits of getting people together socially, I decided it was necessary to set up similar groups across the country.
Ari: What is the value in liberty activists meeting socially?
Amanda: When liberty activists and enthusiasts meet regularly in a social atmosphere, it makes it much easier for them to stay informed on current issues and up-to-date on how they affect our liberties. From these interactions, attendees become better informed, better versed in discussing the issues, and more motivated to defend liberty than they were before they were thinking about it on a continual basis. Also, by getting together socially, liberty activists can connect with enthusiasts who are looking to volunteer, learn, or take on a bigger role. This in turn helps to increase the size and effectiveness of the movement for liberty.
Ari: What tips do you have for the budding free-market activist? Why should others get involved?
Amanda: My first tip is to encourage people to do what they are passionate about. Doing something out of “duty” is much more difficult than doing something because you want to do it.
Secondly, it’s important to always consider your audience when discussing issues related to free markets and liberty. Attempt to tailor your message depending on the individual you are speaking with—and always ask lots of questions! Be sure to refrain from insults (it won’t get you anywhere), be respectful, listen and never claim to know something you truly don’t. Try to discuss these subjects from an angle that suits the other party. They may not be interested in the same topics as you, but they will care about making their own decisions for their family, maintaining a healthy bank account, etc.
Tip number three is never cease to learn! Join an economics book club or a liberty-oriented discussion group. Watch videos on Youtube and/or read books on relevant subjects from sources you trust. Join or start a Toastmasters club to increase your ability to persuade. But always continue to learn and challenge your opinions and understanding of liberty.
Lastly, it’s important to focus on the bright side as much as possible. The road to freedom will be long and arduous, but the end goal is worth the continued fight, even if it takes many years and doesn’t happen as quickly as you’d like it to. So don’t give up, no matter what you do, and always celebrate the victories, no matter how small.
I encourage anyone passionate about his or her freedom, family, wealth or future to get involved in the fight for liberty in whichever way suits them. Because we live in society we have no choice but to accept the desires of those around us, or attempt to affect change by influencing their opinion toward freedom. So if you are unhappy with the direction which we are headed (and you should be), educating yourself and those around you is the only sure fire way to ensure that change ensues. This can be effectively accomplished through peaceful parenting, which will help raise the next generations in a manner unfit with our system of government, which uses force, violence and intimidation to get its way.
In addition, other experiments such as the Free State Project and the Seasteading Institute will likely have dramatic impacts on the movement, as they attempt to experiment with different systems than the one we have today. This can be tremendously more effective than simply talking with others, as any successes will prove how effective and just a free society can be. And just as immigrants have flocked to the rich and opportunistic United States, they too will flood the borders of any society producing jobs, financial safety, and freedom. If this seems like a dream too big to accomplish, remember that anything can be done if the people will it. So never stop believing, and without a doubt, don’t give up!
Brian Schwartz works as a scientist, and in his off hours he blogs for the Independence Institute’s free-market Patient Power Now site. By focusing his intellectual activism on health policy, he has become an expert in that area, excelling at analyzing complex reports and incorporating that material into popular articles.
My interview with Brian is one of several I’ve recently released. Please see my “activism” category for additional interviews and discussions about political activism.
Ari: What originally inspired you to take an interest in political liberty?
Brian: After my freshman year of college I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, and Frédéric Bastiat’s The Law. From these I realized the injustice and harmful effects of government policies that violate people’s rights.
As a student as a small liberal arts school, I was surrounded by students who considered their left-wing political views to be “tolerant.” It was really an “emperor has no clothes” revelation for me that their “tolerance” for voluntary exchange and relationship ended when money entered the picture. To me this was an arbitrary and meaningless distinction in terms of whether or not to recognize the right to freely associate, or not associate, with others.
My primary outlet for developing my ideas were columns for the school newspaper and other publications. A friend pointed out how rare it was that I had articles published in campus publications that various people called “Common Sense” (conservative) and “The L-Word” (liberal).
Ari: How did you get into blogging for a think tank about health policy? How’s that going?
Brian: In 2006 the Colorado Senate Bill 208 became law. This bill established a “Blue Ribbon Commission” on health care reform that would evaluate reform proposals from citizens and organizations.
When the Commission solicited proposals in 2007, I had recently read David R. Henderson’s excellent book, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey. The chapter on health care policy was my first real introduction to the topic. In short, my response was “Health care and insurance in this country are really messed up, and bad government policies are responsible. This is just wrong!”
I had recently returned to Colorado from a fellowship Washington, D.C., where I frequented Cato Institute and Reason magazine events. Working as an engineer, I still had an appetite to for free-market activism. When I heard about the health care Commission, I remember having the fleeting thought that I could become “a free-market health care guy.”
At this point, early in 2007, the Commission’s activities were in the news, and I wrote my first op-ed about health care. Before submitting it anywhere, I ran it by Linda Gorman, Director of the Independence Institute’s Health Care Policy Center. She liked it made some suggestions, and the Boulder Daily Camera published it. Looking at the article now, I can see how my current deeper understanding of health care policy would allow me to make the same points in a more concise and effective manner.
In early March I asked Linda if anyone was writing a free-market health care reform proposal for the Commission’s consideration, and said that if there was one, I’d like to contribute to it. Linda said she didn’t know of anyone. By the next week, after some prodding from you [Ari], I decided to submit a free-market proposal myself.
At that point I didn’t know what the proposal would consist of, as problems with health care policy involve a tangled web of federal and state legislation and regulations. Figuring out which issues to focus on was certainly a “drinking from a fire hose” process. I spent much of my evenings and weekends educating myself and writing, and eventually took a couple of vacation days off from work to finish the proposal.
By the end of April the (now defunct) Rocky Mountain News published an op-ed of mine summarizing the proposal. By the end of the year I’d had health care articles published in the Denver Post, and again in the Rocky Mountain News and Daily Camera.
In late June Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, arranged a lunch with me, you [Ari], and Linda Gorman to discuss (then) Governor Bill Ritter’s plans for health care policy in Colorado. I don’t think I’d met Jon before, or if I had it was very briefly. So I wasn’t prepared for Jon’s onslaught of crude jokes directed at me. I thought it prudent not to reply in kind with a “mom joke” of some sort, though he might have appreciated my playing along. But I think I “passed” in Jon’s eyes by merely being surprised and amused, rather than hurt or offended.
Anyway, by the end of the lunch Jon agreed to have my published health care articles posted on the Independence Institute site. They have been ever since. Jon also suggested that the II would support a blogger to follow and critique Colorado health care policy developments.
At the time I suggested that you do it, but eventually I changed my mind, and you had your own projects going on. In February 2009 at the Leadership Program of the Rockies retreat I asked Jon if the offer was still open. He said he’d think about it.
About a month later I saw Jon at a Americas Future Foundation event in Denver, and he asked me if I would do the health care blog. I called him soon after, suggested a monthly pay rate, and he accepted. The rate was probably less than he had in mind. PatientPowerNow.org went on-line in April 2008.
Ari: How do you mesh your professional and personal life with your activist life?
Brian: My main profession is in physics and engineering, so I keep my activism out of the office. To bring politics into the office is just not wise professionally. While “water cooler” conversations about policy issues are tempting to contribute to, I either refrain from participating or limit myself to a quick comment and then get back to work.
Ari: What tips do you have for the budding free-market activist? Why should others get involved?
Brian: If you value political and economic liberty, then integrity requires that you act to promote them. This does not necessarily mean that you must personally become an activist. Rather, you can donate money to organizations and causes that you think effectively promote liberty.
One reason for doing this is that, if you don’t enjoy any forms of activism, you probably won’t be good at them anyway. Related to this is your comparative advantage. Say you love your full time job, and it pays well. Or that you can make money freelancing in something you like more than activism. The extra time doing what you like can translate into extra income, which you can then donate to a free-market organization.
For example, say you’re good at computer programming—as a disproportionate fraction of free-marketers are—and are excited by your idea for an iPhone app. But free-market activism drains your energy. Then it’s certainly better to enjoy working on what you like, the iPhone app, and donate some of the revenue from it to an organization you like.
If you do get involved in free-market activism, I recommend that you:
Utilize your strengths. Think of your local community (or national community) of free-market activists as a sports team. Not everyone can, or should, play the same position. So figure out what position or positions you’d like to play. For example, you could write op-eds, blog, be on talk radio, talk to local groups, organize talks and other events, attend events and video the opposition doing silly things (e.g., WhoSaidYoSaid.com), or design websites.
Get to know people in your local free-market community. If there are local activists that you admire and would like to emulate, then figure out how to meet them so you can pick their brain. If there’s a Liberty on the Rocks chapter near you, attend. Even if you want to be active, but are not sure how specifically, then getting out to meet people is a good way to figure it out, too. You might start out by helping out on someone else’s project.
Being part of your local or state level free-market community also makes activism less solitary. Speaking for myself, this helps me stay motivated. It’s good to provide and receive positive feedback to others.
Specialize. It’s easier than you think to become a local expert on a specific topic influenced by state and local policy, such as education, energy policy, transportation issues, or health care. If you do this, you can quickly become a “go to” person for interviews on local talk radio shows or newspapers.
Once you know one policy area very well, you’ll realize how little you know about other ones. It takes a while to know the nuances of a specific policy issue, how to respond to common arguments against freedom, how current policies the interfere with free-markets cause problems, and how more market-oriented solutions work elsewhere or have worked in the past.
If you can, choose a field that is somewhat related to your profession. You’ll have more credibility that way. For example, Paul Hsieh, MD [read the interview] specializes in health care policy and heads Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine. But be careful not to mention your employer when advocating policy. Whatever your views, your employer mostly likely doesn’t want to be associated with them.
Learn persuasion techniques. I’m not talking about psychological tricks, but ways to communicate your ideas more effectively. I highly recommend Michael Cloud’s CDs and book on the matter.
On writing in general, I recommend On Writing Well by William Zinsser.
Write about topics that irritate you. On a recent EconTalk podcast, George Will explained how he chose topics to write about by quoting William F. Buckley: “The world irritates me three times a week.” Okay, I admit that this is kind of negative, but I find that if something irritates me enough, it’s more difficult not to write about it than to write about it.
For his regular job, Paul Hsieh works as a radiologist. In addition to pursuing a demanding career in medicine, Dr. Hsieh has also become one of the nation’s foremost advocates of free markets in medicine. He blogs daily for Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine, and he contributes articles to The Objective Standard and other publications.
Last year I conducted several interviews on political activism, including one with Dr. Hsieh. I am publishing those now. Please see my “activism” category for additional interviews and discussions about political activism.
Ari: Briefly, how did you get into free-market activism?
Paul: I began in January 2007 in response the Colorado state legislature’s decision to appoint a special commission to create a “universal health care” plan for our state. A group of local free market advocates decided to organize the “Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine” (FIRM) project to speak out against government-run “universal” health care, and to support genuine free-market health reforms.
Our founder, Lin Zinser, attended and spoke out at numerous meetings of that state commission. She also participated in several panel discussions, town hall meetings, community groups, radio shows—all to discuss and promote free-market health reforms.
For my part, I wrote several letters to the editor and op-eds on health care policy for local and regional newspapers. After this particular issue died in the 2008 state legislature, we’ve continued working on this topic when health care policy heated up as a national-level issue following the election of President Obama.
Ari: Will you please summarize what your activities entail, and how specifically you became interested in health policy?
My interest in health policy was driven initially by a specific state-level political initiative. But since then, I’ve found that topic of health policy (including what constitutes genuine health care “reform”), encompasses some more important fundamental issues—such as the nature of individual rights, the propriety (or lack thereof) of government “entitlement” programs, and the proper role of government in our lives.
Because of my tight work schedule (and personal inclination), I’ve mostly concentrated on writing. I do relatively little public speaking. Nor have I chosen to accept invitations to appear on TV or radio. Of course this may change in the future as my own personal goals and circumstances change.
Ari: What personal rewards and benefits do you find come with free-market activism?
Paul: Some of the key benefits include:
1) I’ve gain a much better understanding of some of the fundamental ideas (such as the nature of individual rights and the proper role of government) by having to think about and articulate them to others.
2) I’ve met some truly fine people who are also interested in free-market health care reform (and more broadly in the restoration and preservation of American freedoms in general).
3) I’ve become a better writer.
4) I’ve gained a greater sense of rational optimism about our future. Although I recognize that the battles ahead will be difficult, my activism has helped give me hope that the fight can be won. By being active, one is helping to steer the debate in the right direction, rather than being a helpless passenger at the mercy of others driving the discussion.
Ari: How do you mesh your professional life with your activist life?
Paul: I do all of this writing on my own time, typically during evenings, weekends, and vacation time.
My employers are fine with my activist work, provided that I don’t presume to speak for them on any political issues—a perfectly reasonable and understandable position. Hence, my author byline always states that I’m a co-founder of FIRM, but does not mention my professional practice affiliation.
My physician colleagues at work know of my views. But my various medical practice partners encompass an extremely wide range of political views, varying from religious conservative to libertarian to mainstream Republican and Democrat to socialist. So I’m merely another person in a politically diverse group and it doesn’t affect our professional relationships with one another.
Ari: What tips do you have for the budding free-market activist? Why should others get involved?
Paul: Budding activists should get involved for personal, selfish reasons. They shouldn’t view activism as grim painful “duty” where they are “taking one for the team.”
Instead, they should find ways to make activism a positive enhancement to their lives. This will include finding areas of interest (perhaps specializing by topic or geographic region) and finding vehicles that suit their time and personality (writing vs speaking vs. technical or support activities).
It also requires a realistic approach to one’s goals. You can’t expect to publish columns in the Wall Street Journal after a month. Rather, one should start small and work your way up. A budding writer might start with blogging, then move up to letters to the editor, then op-eds, then longer articles. A budding speaker might start with small community groups or local Rotary Clubs, then try local radio and TV, etc.
Also, one should network with other potential allies and find ways to provide mutual intellectual and emotional support for each others’ projects.
Finally, be patient and persistent. And savor the small victories when they arise!
These tips will go a long way towards helping budding activists preserve their “staying power,” rather than burning out too quickly and quitting from frustration.
Months ago I interviewed Congressman Jared Polis about activism related to congressional politics. Although he replied promptly, I delayed in publishing his answers until yesterday. (Sorry!) Because Polis now faces a challenger for his seat, Kevin Lundberg, I thought it was appropriate to ask Lundberg a comparable set of questions. His answers follow.
Disclaimer: Those I interview do not necessarily endorse any of my views or writings. (Nor does this interview imply I agree with Lundberg’s positions.)
Please see my “activism” category for additional interviews and discussions about political activism.
Ari: In general, how much do members of Congress tend to bow to party politics, and how much to they tend to make up their own minds based on their independent research and ideological convictions? How do you intent to deal with party pressures should you win the seat?
Kevin: My experience is at the state legislative level, and that is enough to know that the normal trend is for legislators to go with most of the flow. I have spent ten years resisting that trend. It is not a good idea to be a lone ranger, for all legislative issues require a lot of group effort, but one must find likeminded people to help withstand the pressures of establishment politics. In Colorado I helped found and run the Republican Study Committee of Colorado to provide a viable alternative to the establishment trends that inevitably grow more government. In Washington I intend on joining the Republican Study Committee, and similar alliances. I also have learned that it is essential to know what is negotiable, and what are non-negotiable principles, and stick with those principles.
Ari: By the time somebody gets to Congress, many of his or her views and commitments are already set. To what degree is it worthwhile for somebody trying to advocate a set of ideas and policies to interact with members of Congress? Should they instead focus on educating other activists, the general electorate, and lower-level candidates still formulating their worldviews? Obviously you have expressed strong convictions on various matters. How to do plan to weigh the views and advice of constituents in light of your established views?
Kevin: It is always a balance between one’s personal ideals and the district’s overall needs and opinions.
The best way to influence elected officials is before the election. I am honest and forthright with the voters before and after the election, but that is not always the case for every candidate. Before this election is over I trust careful voters will examine my principles for good government and weigh it against the values of my opponent. Remember, now is the time for this conversation.
After the election I will not change my tune. I intend to listen as carefully as I can and then cast my votes according to that information I have gathered and the principles of good government I have clearly outlined during the campaign season.
Ari: How do you plan to interact with constituents?
Kevin: Even as I have tried to do in Larimer county with my state legislative duties, I need to spend as much time here in the district and not in D.C.. I also will make constituent services a high priority for my staff.
Ari: What are the best forums for somebody to interact with a member of Congress? Town halls? Letters? Phone calls? Fundraising events? What are the best ways to interact with you now and should you win the seat?
Kevin: Town halls, and other public meetings are the most effective, but letters, calls, and to a lesser extent, emails all have an impact. I have attended a Monday morning breakfast in Larimer county just about every week of the year for all of my legislative career. It was the event Congressman Bob Schaffer started when he ran for Congress. He attended most weeks while in Congress. I hope to continue that tradition. In addition, I know I must conduct town halls all around the district, and keep an open door policy, even as I have as a state representative and state senator.
Ari: What approaches and arguments work best with a member of Congress? Which ones prove ineffective?
Kevin: For me the most effective arguments are: Is it constitutional? Will it really be in the best interest of the people in the district? Will it reduce government and enhance liberty? Telling me that some big contributor wants something is about the last thing I want to hear and has little effect on my opinion.
Ari: “Public Choice” economics talks about the problem of “concentrated benefits, dispersed costs.” How will you distinguish between special-interest appeals (at the cost of everyone else) and policies truly in the best interests of the country as a whole? How do you hope other members of Congress do that? Or is the problem intractable?
Kevin: From my vantage point I cannot judge other members of Congress, but, as I answered in question five, special-interest appeals do not hold much weight with me. Ask any full-time lobbyist in Denver, they can confirm that I do not bend to accommodate some special interest if it is not first, and foremost, the best choice for the people in my district.
Last year I asked Congressman Jared Polis to answer some questions about politics and activism, and he was kind enough to reply. Unfortunately, I got behind on my projects and kept delaying the publication of the interview. I am pleased to make it available now. Obviously, I am aware of the fact that Polis is now locked into his next reelection campaign, so, I will pursue the possibility of asking Polis’s opponent, Kevin Lundberg, a comparable set of questions. (Incidentally, with the recent redistricting, I was drawn out of Polis’s district and into that of Ed Perlmutter.)
Over the next few days I’ll release several other interviews about activism. I have already published an interview with Melissa Clouthier about Twitter activism. Please see my “activism” category for more.
Disclaimer: Those I interview do not necessarily endorse any of my views or writings. (Nor does this interview imply I agree with Polis’s positions.)
Ari: While you’re a “Boulder Democrat,” you also show an independent streak, in that you criticized the auto bailout, you’ve attended free-market events, and you’ve suggested liberty-oriented solutions to immigration and drug policy. But obviously there’s a lot of pressure to conform to the party line in DC. In general, how much do members of Congress tend to bow to party politics, and how much to they tend to make up their own minds based on their independent research and ideological convictions?
Jared: Currently, all members of Congress are nominated by parties in their districts. In most districts, selection by the majority party is tantamount to election due to the gerrymandering. In more competitive seats, the champions of both parties battle it out in a general election.
Most behavior I see is less about towing the “party line” than it is about the fact that members of Congress are products of the districts that elect them. Members are a product of the communities they hail from, and have similar values to most members of those communities.
With resources like the non-partisan Congressional Research Service, my staff and I have access to a significant amount of independent research to help us inform decisions, but we are also avid consumers of media, as well as students of public opinion.
Ari: By the time somebody gets to Congress, many of his or her views and commitments are already set. To what degree is it worthwhile for somebody trying to advocate a set of ideas and policies to interact with members of Congress? Should they instead focus on educating other activists, the general electorate, and lower-level candidates still formulating their worldviews?
Jared: We are far from experts on every topic, so most likely if a constituent approaches us about a policy or idea it will be one worth considering. I sign onto bills frequently that are brought to my attention by constituents and that I might not know about otherwise. Obviously a visit with a member of Congress will not likely result in them changing their value system, but try to pitch the policy based on their existing value system. For instance, if the member is extremely religious, theological arguments may be most effective. If the member makes decisions based on science, use science and data in your presentation. It always helps to show how an issue directly affects a member’s constituents.
On most issues, politicians are followers of the general electorate so surely moving the general electorate is the most effective way to move elected officials.
Ari: How many letters do you receive on average during a month? How many of those does a typical member of Congress actually personally read?
Jared: I have received anywhere from 100 (slow month) to over 1,000 (in the midst of health care debate) per month. A summary of what the letters are about is prepared including a tally on each issue and presented to me weekly (including phone calls to the office and emails from constituents). If the letter has a new legislative idea or relates to something important in the district, I generally see it.
Ari: What are the best forums for somebody to interact with a member of Congress? Town halls? Letters? Phone calls? Fundraising events?
Jared: All of the above. Activists shouldn’t limit themselves. Most members will schedule a meeting with constituents who are visiting DC. Showing up at town halls and other public events can also be effective but not as much if the same person shows up at five town halls. For it to look like a movement it has got to involve different faces and voices.
Ari: What approaches and arguments work best with a member of Congress? Which ones prove ineffective?
Jared: It is best to research the member of Congress you are approaching so you understand their values and decision-making process. The wrong approach can backfire and move the member in the opposite direction.
Ari: “Public Choice” economics talks about the problem of “concentrated benefits, dispersed costs.” How do you and other members of Congress distinguish between special-interest appeals (at the cost of everyone else) and policies truly in the best interests of the country as a whole? Or is the problem intractable?
Jared: Let me know if you figure this out! One example is tax reform. The vision is that a revenue neutral reform that eliminates loopholes and limits deductions could bring would create a substantially lower, flatter and simpler income tax rate for individuals and corporations. The difficulty in getting there is that, while most people would appreciate a lower rate and not having their decisions centrally incentivized out of Washington, each one of those loopholes and deductions has its own constituency that tries to preserve it. Thus the only likely approach is all or none, once some exceptions are made for tax expenditures then it is harder to make excuses about why others are not included. Tax reform was successfully accomplished in 1986 but the tax code has grown by leaps and bounds since then.
The challenge to free market conservatives is to attack tax expenditures—the loopholes and deductions—as vociferously as they do traditional spending. Whether you’re giving someone a special benefit through the tax code or through a direct flow of cash, they’re both spending. They both come with a cost to the Treasury. Yet many conservatives insist that there’s a distinction.
Melissa Clouthier, better known as @MelissaTweets on Twitter, is responsible for getting me onto Twitter. Now I love it. Indeed, Twitter has become my primary way to track news and opinions. Here Melissa explains how and why she became one of the most important right-leaners on the social media site.
First, though, I must offer my apologies to Melissa; I’ve been sitting on this interview for months. Originally, I had the idea of including it in a short book on activism, but my schedule got quite out of hand, so now I’ll publish this interview (and others ) on my web page as part of a series on activism.
Disclaimer: Those I interview do not necessarily endorse any of my views or writings.
Ari: What do you see as the basic value of Twitter and other social media, in terms of political activism?
Melissa: Social media is made up of people who create the stories. People are now the content creators and through group involvement, help create the narrative. Stories that used to be ignored and buried by the mainstream press . . . well, they can’t be anymore. I love fighting the narrative. Even better, I like shaping it and framing it. Common people, working together, have power. It’s wonderful.
Ari: How did you become such a force on Twitter?
Melissa: Hmmm… I don’t really view myself as a force on Twitter. I view myself as a news aggregator and information-sharer. I only have influence to the extent that what I share people find valuable. The people, they’re the force. I am just using the medium to share information that I hope informs, entertains, motivates, etc. If I cease to share valuable information, I’ll cease to be helpful and cease to be relevant.
Ari: What other sorts of activism do you pursue, and how does Twitter fit into that?
Melissa: Well, I have reported from all sorts of Tea Parties. I’ve wanted to understand the movement, observe it, and share it honestly with people. I also try to teach as many people as possible how to do this. We need more bloggers, more Twitterers, more citizen journalists to keep our local, state and federal government honest. So, equipping the workers is a big part of my activism too. I love to teach.
Ari: What tips do you have for the new Twitter activist?
Decide who you want to influence. Do you want to be a thorn in the flesh of your local city council or school board? Follow those people and anyone in your community (follow by location) and then expose.
Be loud, fearless, direct, kind (don’t ever say anything online you wouldn’t say in person), fair and truthful and most of all, relentless. Don’t give up. Public officials will change their behavior. They’ll challenge you (I’ve fought with elected officials). They’ll get frustrated. Oh well. They’re public servants.
Carve out a niche. Maybe you only want to share information. That’s wonderful. Maybe you want to create a parody account to torment the corrupt Mayor or something. There are really no right or wrongs. The key is to have a goal, pursue it and be truthful.
Ari: How do you blend activism with your professional and family life?
Melissa: I couldn’t do this without buy-in. I’ve taken my family to Tea Parties. I’ve taken my kids to political rallies. I’ve introduced them to politicians and activists. They know they can change the country with involvement. Because I travel a bit, they need to know that I go because it’s important. We talk through the issues and what’s at stake. Still, it’s a challenge. I’m a mom first, and so they’ll get irritated with me if I miss something. Still, I want them to be idealistic and involved and realize they can make a difference. Kids learn by example.
Thankfully, as a chiropractor, I can work when and how I want to. My patients have to be flexible too, but they’re loyal to me and I am to them. So, I go in a morning or two a week and see as many folks as possible. It’s a wonderful profession and it keeps me in touch with real life—real worries, real priorities. For a long time, I could separate my online life from my patients. Not now. Now, they know what I’m up to. Still, it’s okay. I love all people, even people who believe differently politically. Everyone has the same concerns, ultimately.
Ari: Why do you do it?
Melissa:I’ve blogged for over six years. It started out as something to do, something I was interested in that could keep my mind busy while I had a baby. And then there was the bank implosion and I researched it and discovered that horrendous public policy by Chuck Schumer, Chris Dodd and Barney Frank resulted in this horrible, horrible mess. And then the bailouts and the debacle of the McCain campaign. I was absolutely disgusted with the Republican party. I was horrified by what I saw was our first socialist President—Barack Obama. And then, against my hopes, Obama was far worse and more destructive than I could imagine. I’m still profoundly distressed about the effects of Obamacare. It’s going to be the long term destroyer of America if let go.
The leftists never stop. They are always pushing. They have made incrementalism a high art form. And now, nearly half of American households receive a check from the government every month. This is a disaster. I’m not sure if we’re past the point of no return, but if not we are very close. We’re already a debtor nation. It’s appalling.
So, we have to work to restore American greatness and that’s an individual proposition. People need to believe in themselves again. People need to know that there are consequences for behavior both personally and for big banks and for everyone. So, we have many fights—not just politically or policy-wise, but for the hearts and minds of Americans.
I’m just one small person, but I’m not going down without a fight. I’m a mother. My children deserve better and I’ll fight to the death for them. And that’s what I’m fighting for—for their survival. But more than that, I’m fighting for their future greatness. I know, sounds idealistic and maybe silly. But I’m not cynical about this political world. Together we can make a difference, we ARE making a difference. And that’s why I fight.
Ari: Thank you for being such an inspiring activist!
The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published April 13 by Grand Junction Free Press.
Over the last century the federal government has claimed sweeping powers over our lives. It has spent the nation into debt that races past yearly productive output, continued its decades-long march to nationalize health care, and seized control of our economic and personal lives far beyond the powers enumerated in the Constitution.
Unfortunately, the typical individual can exercise little if any meaningful control over national politics. Sure, we can try to elect better people to Congress and then hold them accountable. But congressional districts are large, the District of Columbia is far away, and national politics is dominated by special-interest groups seeking political favors. What, then, is the alternative?
Citizens of the original states created the federal government to handle national defense, prevent the states from imposing economically damaging protectionism, and handle a few other jobs beyond the capabilities of the state governments. The federal government was never supposed to turn into the monolithic power it has become. Indeed, the Tenth Amendment explicitly reserves “powers not delegated” to the federal government “to the states respectively, or to the people.”
Every school child learns that the Founders separated powers among the branches of the federal government, but, just as importantly, they separated powers among levels of government. Federalism—the separation of state and federal powers—is a central doctrine of American government. It is high time we fought to restore American federalism, not as an end in itself, but as an important means to protecting individual rights. We in Colorado can and should play a pivotal role in that fight.
A good indicator of the loss of federalism is the role of federal spending in state budgets. Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee reports that, for fiscal year 2011-12, federal funding accounts for over $5 billion of the total $19.6 billion budget, or 26 percent. Over half of that federal spending goes for health care.
But why should we in Colorado have to beg the federal government to hand over a portion of our own money to our state government? Such federal spending turns federalism on its head. Every year we witness the grotesque spectacle of Colorado’s elected officials dancing like marionettes to the demands of federal politicians who hold the purse strings.
Imagine a league of independent state governments that stood up to such federal tyranny. Imagine state legislators who grew a spine and said enough is enough. We look forward to the day when state legislatures routinely pass resolutions condemning federal abuses, then start passing laws to the reaches of their authority to stop those abuses.
To take one possible strategy, Colorado could pass a law saying that we will turn down all federal funding in our state, once a certain number of other states have passed a comparable law.* Then we can demand that the federal government reduce its tax burdens and simply let citizens keep their own money.
Of course, the goal is not to replace federal tyranny with state-level tyranny, but rather to turn all governmental entities into protectors of individual rights rather than the biggest threat to our rights. The same state governments that would stand up against federal abuses of individual rights would also be more amenable to protecting rights themselves. So how do we achieve that?
We must continue to develop a culture of liberty in Colorado. We must stand up for individual rights to life, liberty, property, and voluntary contract and association. We must unflinchingly defend freedom of speech, freedom of conscience and religious worship, and freedom to use the fruits of our labor as each individual decides. We must demand that government act to protect individuals from the coercion of others, from murder, theft, assault, fraud, and every form of force that one person might initiate against another. At the same time, government must cease acting as the primary instigator of coercion, stripping us of our wealth and our liberties.
Many of the seeds of our future liberty renaissance have already been sown. Many new liberty-oriented groups have arisen in the last few years, and older groups have gained a new vitality. As a single illustration, last week over fifty people gathered at Denver Liberty On the Rocks to listen to philosopher Diana Hsieh explain why, yes, people deserve what they earn, contrary to the nonsense of John Rawls. We are starting to return to the tavern-style, take-it-to-the-streets, energetic and principled activism that marked the work of such American legends as Sam Adams, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Paine.
We must make the principle of individual rights a living force in the minds of our countrymen. We must make coercion—the initiation of force—something that the people denounce, despise, and reject. Then we must elect pro-liberty state legislatures that protect our rights and stand up to federal abuses.
As F. A. Hayek wrote, “We must make the building of a free society once more an intellectual adventure, a deed of courage.”
Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari blogs at AriArmstrong.com in the Denver area.
* Obviously we’re talking about federal funding funneled through state legislatures, not federal funding for legitimate federal programs that happen to have a presence in Colorado. Here is a related tidbit I came across: “[F]or every $1.00 the feds send to the states, states increase their own future taxes between $0.33 and $0.42.” —AA
Recently at Snowcon I offered a short talk on why people shouldn’t spend many resources on presidential politics, at least this year. There are plenty of other worthy causes to spend your time promoting!