Liberty Forum FTW!!

Issue #30 – Thursday, March 12, 2015

By Sandy Pierre

I’ve attended all of the Free State Project’s eight New Hampshire Liberty Forums (yes, I know that technically the plural of “forum” is “fora”; I’m using the vernacular intentionally, deal with it). I helped to organize the first one, and put together the printed program for the second.  Last year I was involved in a charitable project to produce a wall calendar featuring over a dozen female liberty activists in New Hampshire, as a fundraiser for an FSP early mover suffering from breast cancer.  Each of these years, I had good reason to be stressed prior to LF.  I had deadlines to meet, printed products to deliver.

This year, my volunteer duties were minimal.  I needed to contribute five minutes of public speaking to a New Hampshire Liberty Alliance (NHLA) panel discussion; organize carpooling for a tour group; and put in a couple of hours at a sponsor table.  The rest of the time I was free to attend lectures, chat with old friends, make new ones, and once again be reinvigorated and reminded of what brought me to New Hampshire in the first place.  I was moved by liberty.

The forum began on Thursday, March 5th.  I had procrastinated mightily on getting a much-needed haircut.  Going to my regular salon required driving to Concord and back.  Then driving to Manchester to meet up with attendees who had RSVP’ed for a tour of the State House.  Then driving back to Concord where the State House was most inconveniently located.  Then driving back to Manchester.  And eventually driving home, only to need to be back in Manchester at 9:00AM the next morning for the panel discussion.  My grade for prior planning and fuel conservation on LF Day 1: D-.

Happily, there was a large crowd gathered in the Hall of Flags at the State House.  Rep. Dan Itse had graciously volunteered to lead the tour, which was quite interesting. I’ve been to the State House many times, but learned new bits of trivia that day.  We toured the building, including the House chamber where State Reps vote on bills and a committee room where members of the public may address a committee on pending legislation.  Rep. John Burt had also joined us for the tour and told many amusing stories of life as a NH State Rep.  Reps. Itse and Burt fielded questions from attendees, and after a solid 2-hour tour, the carpools headed back to the Radisson.  A reporter from the Concord Monitor attended the full tour with us and published an excellent write-up.

I took the opportunity to try out a Cajun restaurant/club that had opened just a block from the Radisson last year: N’awlins Grille.  I noted that it didn’t particularly bother me to walk down the street in sub-freezing temperatures with no pants on (I was wearing a dress and nylons).  Acclimation FTW!  There was a cool live blues duet playing, and the food was delicious. I was more than satisfied with my Cajun calamari, crawfish étoufée, red beans and rice, creole jambalaya, and Creole Bloody Mary (OK, I admit it, there should be an “s” on the end of “Mary”).

Snowstorms across the Eastern seaboard (but not in New Hampshire) had caused numerous flight cancellations, and the Reason crew scheduled for that evening’s presentation hadn’t arrived yet.  LF organizers successfully scrambled to come up with alternative material for the evening.

First up were two local stand-up comedians, both of whom perform regularly at a free weekly comedy night at nearby Free Stater-owned sports bar Murphy’s Taproom.  I laughed myself silly. Next, FSP President Carla Gericke got on stage with FSP founder Jason Sorens and Liberty.Me‘s Jeffrey Tucker and asked them provocative questions designed to help the audience get to know them better.  Finally, Tucker gave one of his signature delightful presentations.

The next morning, I successfully got myself to the Radisson on time for my 9:00AM panel.  I do not enjoy public speaking and, despite only needing to come up with 5 minutes of material, slept badly due to stress.  I also don’t enjoy mornings. I was half hoping that no one would attend the panel, but it was surprisingly well-attended despite the early hour (damnit!)  However, the panel went quite well.  First, Chair Paul Best gave an overview, complete with Powerpoint presentation, on the NHLA and its activities.  Then Research Director Tim O’Flaherty went into greater detail on the NHLA’s signature product, the Gold Standard, a cheat sheet put together weekly by an all-volunteer staff to guide State Reps on how to vote in a pro-liberty direction.  Then came my turn; as Membership Director, it was my job to convince everyone that their lives would be hollow shells if they failed to join the premiere pro-liberty political watchdog group in the state.  Finally, Civic Action Director Amanda Bouldin spoke about the charitable arm of the organization.

After the panel, I took a shift manning the NHLA’s table in the exhibitors’ hall.  From there, I went directly to the presentation “Mental Health is not a Crime”.  It was quite interesting, but a bit depressing too.  The speaker, Jon Herdman, bravely shared his personal experience as a schizophrenic who has to take 15 pills a day in order to maintain a grasp on reality.  He presented numerous sobering statistics about the percentage of Americans now taking some sort of psychiatric medication (many of them unnecessarily, in his opinion). He noted that our current system of dealing with people who are “different” is severely messed up and sometimes results in the tragedy of the police killing an agitated person with mental issues.  In his home of Toledo, OH he is working with the police department and medical professionals to devise a better system where, when 911 is called because someone is having a psychological meltdown, a medical team will be dispatched instead of cops. He encouraged the audience to spend less time labeling people and more time developing compassionate and constructive ways to deal with those in our society with special psychological needs.

That afternoon I attended the panel “Technology: A Force Multiplier for Activism”.  Several New Hampshire geeks took turns presenting projects they have been working on to develop new tools to facilitate liberty activism.  These tools include a mobile-adaptive website that tracks all state legislation and provides alerts and additional info not available on the state government’s website; a wiki that can be used to capture the history of the FSP; a tool that can be used across liberty websites to consolidate user ID/login info; automated phone tree software; 3-D printer products; and more.  The quantity and quality of mental firepower and technical know-how congregating in New Hampshire is very exciting!

Later that afternoon, I attended “Dying Free in New Hampshire”, which was quite fascinating. Did you know it’s perfectly legal to drive around with a dead body in your car?  TIL!  It’s also legal to get buried in your own backyard (provided you obtain a bit of paperwork, and provide a right-of-way for the public to access the grave).  The speaker, Lee Webster, was highly knowledgeable and I recommend checking out her organization New Hampshire Funeral Resources, Education & Advocacy if this topic interests you.

Saturday morning I caught the Pileus Island presentation, a plan to purchase a Caribbean island and create a libertarian enclave with greater opportunities for wintertime Vitamin D production.  It’s strictly theoretical at this point, but seems doable with enough funding and motivated manpower.  If you’re interested in pursuing the idea, join the Facebook group.

Chatting with friends in the hotel lobby between sessions, someone asked if I was aware I was in the paper.  Uhhhhh, nooooo… I went directly to the front desk and bought a copy.  Sure enough, there I was, quoted in the Union Leader, front page, above the fold. I had spoken with a reporter the day before, but really didn’t think he would use my contribution.

Next up was a panel on Activist Centers in New Hampshire.  All four of the existing activist centers were represented by one of their managers/founders: the Praxeum in Portsmouth; the Keene Activist Center (KAC) in Keene; Area 23 (formerly in Manchester, soon to reopen in Concord); and the Quill in Manchester.  One point that was emphasized was that these aren’t (or haven’t been to-date) profit-making ventures. Rather, they’re acts of activism and community-building.

That afternoon I attended a lecture by the Cato Institute’s David Boaz.  I’d seen him before, at FreedomFest in Las Vegas, and was once again impressed by his brilliance and breadth of knowledge about libertarianism.  Later that day he autographed copies of his new book, The Libertarian Mind.  I bought a copy to add to my growing collection of autographed liberty-themed books.

Mid-afternoon was frustrating because there were four different things happening simultaneously that I wanted to attend.  I went with Lyn Ulbricht, who came to discuss the recent trial of her son Ross Ulbricht aka the Silk Road’s “Dread Pirate Roberts”. Her presentation was heartbreaking.  If even half of what she said was true (and I have no reason to believe that any of it was untrue), Ross did not get a fair trial.  He now faces life in prison, for purely victimless “crimes”.  His family and defense team can use all the help they can get, if you’d like to contribute.

Nick Gillespie was rescheduled for 4:00PM. He didn’t do the Prairie Home Companion skit after all, but gave an interesting and uplifting presentation on the progress of the liberty movement, garbed in his trademark black leather jacket. He used Pop Tarts as a motif to demonstrate the beauty of the free market. It made me really want Pop Tarts.

Next up was the State of the FSP.  Carla Gericke, Jason Sorens, and the FSP’s Treasurer Séamas Ó Scalaidhe each spoke on the current status of their respective areas of expertise. Current projections show the FSP reaching its goal of 20,000 signers in mid-2017, but more money for advertising could move that date up significantly.  They announced a $25,000 matching funds offer that will run for the rest of 2015.

Saturday night’s keynote speaker was Overstock.com’s Patrick Byrne, who had such a good time at PorcFest that, like Nick Gillespie and Jeffrey Tucker, he came back for more!  He gave a presentation on charter schools and their economic advantages, one of this Renaissance man’s numerous passions.  Byrne carries on the work of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

Carla Gericke then brought the Liberty Forum and Free Stater magazine volunteer teams on stage for a round of applause.  I had no idea I was going to be included in the group, which made me feel rather sheepish since my contribution to the magazine was minimal and to Liberty Forum organizing was nil.  Also, I’d changed into snow boots to walk across the street for dinner and suspect they clashed with the otherwise conservative black dress and jacket I was wearing.  Oh well, live free or die!

Nick Gillespie then interviewed Patrick Byrne on stage.  I can’t give much feedback on this interview as by this point it was 10:00PM and I was feeling the full effects of the entire pepperoni pizza, Caesar salad and two glasses of wine I’d deftly consumed for dinner.  I excused myself and crawled home to sleep.

Sunday morning I dragged myself back to Manchester a fourth time to see my very favorite speaker, Jeffrey Tucker.  He gave an hour-long, quite intellectual but compelling, presentation on four books he highly recommends.  He believes that the last century of Leviathan, or “total government”, is coming to an end, thanks to the Internet and cryptocurrencies. As always, I found his ability to focus on the bright side and have hope for the future inspiring and infectious.  It was the perfect end to a wonderful event.

I remain in awe of the countless hours the volunteer team put in to make Liberty Forum happen, and the professional manner in which they rolled with the punches of speaker cancellations, flight changes, and the apparently inevitable random acts of messy human nature that cropped up at various moments during the weekend.

If you’re a participant in the FSP, or are interested in learning more about the FSP, or just love liberty and want to spend a weekend hanging out with a bunch of amazing people, you should definitely attend Liberty Forum. And if you missed it this year, you can catch interviews with many of the speakers via Free Talk Live’s podcasts.

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