MANCHESTER – “This is a great day in the history of human freedom.” So began a press conference hosted by the Free State Project at the Radisson Hotel this morning. The conference was held to officially announce the achievement of a major milestone in the Free State Project’s history: 20,000 participants have now signed its Statement of Intent.
The press conference was attended by over 70 supporters, who were undeterred by the heavy, occasionally icy, rain. Representatives from both mainstream and indie media outlets were in attendance, including at least four videographers.
The conference began with FSP Board of Directors member Matt Philips introducing Jason Sorens, PhD, founder of the Free State Project. Sorens related the history of the project from its inception in 2001 to the present day. Originally, it was just an idea that inspired an essay he published on The Libertarian Enterprise online journal.
That idea was to select a state that was low in population, and already relatively friendly to libertarian ideas, and then recruit 20,000 libertarians to move there. Up to that point, libertarians were scattered throughout the country and were ineffective in getting elected to political office, or in getting their ideas heard by the general public. Sorens’ idea was that, if libertarians combined forces in one small geographic location, they could have a measurable influence on local politics and culture. Their state could serve as a proving ground for libertarian ideas to the rest of the country.
Within weeks, over 200 people had got in touch with him, expressing interest in making the idea a reality. They created a Yahoo discussion group to discuss and strategize, and soon set up a website and online discussion forum.
The project was structured in three phases. In phase one, ten U.S. states were considered to be the target “free state”. Once the Free State Project achieved 5000 signers, its participants would vote to select one of the ten states. Phase 2 would involve getting another 15,000 signers. The completion of phase 2 would trigger phase 3, in which all signers would have five years to relocate to the selected state. Once there, they would “exert the fullest practical effort toward the creation of a society in which the maximum role of government is the protection of individuals’ rights to life, liberty, and property.”
The state vote took place in 2003. Paper ballots were mailed to all participants, who were required to have their completed ballots notarized. On Oct. 1, 2003, a press conference was held in New York City to announce that New Hampshire had won the state vote.
Sorens noted that, although Free State Project participants only committed to move once 19,999 other people did the same, many participants didn’t want to wait. People began moving immediately. Based on a show of hands, there were several individuals in the room who had relocated in 2004 or 2005. The current total of early movers is almost 2000.
After Sorens’ statement, Philips introduced the President of the FSP. Carla Gericke, a South African émigré, joined the FSP several years ago, and relocated from New York City with her husband. Gericke has served as the President of the FSP for five years. She received multiple standing ovations from the audience, and was presented with a bouquet of roses.
Gericke discussed the growth of the FSP’s two annual events (PorcFest and Liberty Forum) over the past several years. She also discussed some of the achievements of its earliest movers, including her own precedent-setting victory in the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals that upheld an individual’s right to film police. She attributed the recent acceleration in the rate of participant signups to an aggressive social media advertising campaign. She presented a vision of the future of New Hampshire that potentially includes adopting pro-freedom ideas from other areas, such as legalized gambling a la Monaco; legalized marijuana such as in Amsterdam and Colorado; German autobahn-style freeways; and a business-friendly environment such as Hong Kong offers. She noted the high percentage of “techies” and entrepreneurs in the FSP and hopes to one day see a “Silicon Millyard” develop in New Hampshire.
Gericke, Sorens and Philips then fielded questions from the audience. The first question was “what’s next for the FSP?” Gericke coyly responded that you need to attend Liberty Forum to find out the full details of the next phase of the project. However, it was revealed that the FSP will continue to collect new signers (although the online counter will not be updated). Its primary focus will be to encourage the approximately 18,000 participants not already in New Hampshire to fulfill their pledge and make the move as soon as they’re able, but definitely within 5 years.
Another attendee asked about the impact FSP early movers have already had on the state. Gericke and Sorens noted that there have already been 40 FSP early movers elected to the New Hampshire State House. Homeschooling regulations have been lowered, and tax credits to send children to private or charter schools have been implemented. Same sex marriage has been legalized. New Hampshire is one of very few states to refuse to implement RealID, an effort spearheaded by FSP early movers. It’s the only state where police use of license plate scanners is banned.
Wrapping up the approximately hour-long event, Sorens noted, “This is happening, and will continue to happen, forevermore. This is now the Free State. Libertarians around the world are now thinking…that is the place. If liberty is going to happen anywhere, it’s going to happen there. We’re just going to keep growing.”
Full video of the press conference is online.