(Page 2 of 3)
On the lighter side, in 2012 state Rep. Seth Cohn (R), in response to the attempted repeal of the 2009 New Hampshire law recognizing same-sex marriage, submitted legislation that would have banned marriages between two left-handed people. In previous years the jokester had submitted bills outlawing all marriages and replacing them with civil unions.
The merrymaking isn’t limited to the legislature. In Keene there’s a vogue for Robin Hooding, a form of activism where people monitor routes of parking enforcement officers and place coins in on-street parking meters nearing expiration. The practice is driving local officials nuts but winning praise from residents. The Free Keeners have seen a steady stream of small donations to the cause of rescuing unlucky car owners via their website.
“It’s come a long way and it’s gaining more traction and more steam,” says Free State Foundation Board President Carla Gericke. “Part of [our] success is we chose the right state. There is that rugged individualism here. It’s almost like we’re awakening the natives who might have been totally disengaged and they’re reawakening to these ideas of liberty.”
The Free State Project has not been all smooth sailing. During a 2012 campaign for the state legislature two Free Staters faced off, hurling the insult “statist” at one another. But internal Free State squabbles have been minor compared to the growing hostility they have drawn from local political interests.
In December 2012, state Rep. Cynthia Chase (D) called Free Staters “the single biggest threat the state is facing today.” Chase, writing on the liberal blog Blue Hampshire, called on Free State opponents to be as unwelcoming as possible, the better to discourage the coming influx of libertarians. Victoria Parmele, a member of the Strafford County Regional Planning Commission, told New Hampshire Magazine in 2013 that she found Free Staters to be very aggressive, calling the movement “libertarianism on steroids.”
Rep. Warden’s Democratic opponent in 2012, Aaron Gill, alleged that Free Staters threatened New Hampshire’s ideals. “Imagine what happens when 20,000 Free Staters move here, get elected and vote,” he said in a letter to the Concord Monitor. In an irony that has not escaped the Free Staters, neither Chase nor Gill is a New Hampshire native: Chase moved from Rhode Island in 2006, and Gill moved from Massachusetts in 2002.
The Movement Matures
The Free State Project’s momentum is palpable at Liberty Forum, an annual winter gathering in Nashua featuring speeches, seminars, and trade show booths. At the 2013 Liberty Forum in February, Gericke beams with excitement and energy from the podium. “We are going to make history!” she enthuses. “We are pioneers. We are changing the world in such a fundamental way, with a bunch of smart, a bunch of brilliant people. We can make this change!”
A native of South Africa, Gericke, a corporate lawyer, moved to frigid New Hampshire from California in 2008 after working as in-house counsel for several Fortune 500 firms. She now splits time between Free State activism and the New Hampshire Writers Project. She traces her activist roots back to growing up in the police state of apartheid South Africa. “I guess I’ve always been a rebel,” she says.
When she lost her job after the tech bubble burst in the early 2000s, Gericke became increasingly fascinated with how markets work. She dove into every economics book she could find during this stressful period, and eventually concluded that she was a libertarian.
Gericke’s mission is to accelerate the final phase of recruitment. The project is on track to reach its goal of 20,000 Free Staters (or porcupines, as they are affectionately known—a creature dangerous only when attacked) by 2018, but she wants to speed it up to 2015. What they need now, she says, is money. “I think the Free State Project has matured,” Gericke tells the audience, “and hopefully we’ll continue to mature, and one of those things about maturing is ‘Hey guys, we’ve got to get down to business.’ ” She launches into a brief fundraising pitch, explaining why the Free State Project needs to raise the once-unthinkable sum of $270,000 to get over the 20,000 finish line.
One key factor in accelerating progress toward the recruitment goal has been the two presidential campaigns of Ron Paul. Since New Hampshire is an early-primary state, Paul made a series of visits from 2007 to 2012, drawing libertarian loners out of the woodwork and into various Internet fora. Paul repeatedly endorsed the Free State Project, spoke at some of its events, and benefited (especially in 2012) from the porcupines’ on-the-ground organizational knowledge. “We ran on his coattails. A lot of people started opening their eyes, young people in particular,” says Jody Underwood, a Free State Project board member and owner of Bardo Farm.
The people who filtered in from the Paul movement were younger and more female than the people who had previously enlisted in the Free State cause, helping to expand the group’s demographic base.
The Incrementalist Approach