Free State Project

Operation Free State

Moving for social change


If you'd like to put some political ideas into practice, you've got several options. One is to convince your neighbors to vote your notions into law. Another is to find some like-minded ideologues and start a new community from scratch.

And then there's Jason Sorens' plan, which combines the first two approaches: Find people who agree with you, move en masse to a designated place, and then start voting. Sorens, a libertarian graduate student at Yale, is the founder of the Free State Project.

"Our research so far," the project's Web site declares, "indicates that 20,000 activists could heavily influence only states with under about 1.5 million population, or which spend less than $10 million on political campaigns in any given two-year election cycle." Once other considerations—"coastal access," "a decent job market," "a native culture that's already pro-liberty"—are taken into account, Sorens says, four potential targets stand out: Delaware, New Hampshire, Wyoming, and Alaska.

Sorens' idea is not new to libertarian circles. In the late 1980s, for example, the Colorado activist Mary Margaret Glennie launched the Fort Collins Project, described in the now-defunct American Libertarian as "a five-year project to attract an initial one thousand libertarians to the Fort Collins area." (The effort failed, and Glennie later turned her attention to the prospect of libertarian space colonies.)

Sorens believes his group is taking a more scientific approach. The Fort Collins group, he notes, "didn't research alternative options"; Glennie picked Fort Collins because that's where she lived. In addition, Sorens will ask his supporters to make the move only after 20,000 people have signed on. That way, he hopes, no one will have to uproot himself without knowing whether others will follow.

Has anyone ever succeeded in taking over a community this way? In 1981 the guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers moved to the Big Muddy Ranch near Antelope, Oregon, with plans to transform their commune into an enormous resort. When the local government started giving them trouble, they registered to vote, took over the city council, and renamed Antelope the City of Rajneesh. Alas: The group was later charged with a series of crimes, including vote fraud, and its guru was deported. Today, Antelope is once more known by its original name.

Then there's the followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who settled in Fairfield, Iowa, in 1974. On July 25, 2001, they incorporated a new town nearby, dubbed Vedic City, which they have since declared the capital of a new Global Country of World Peace. Four months after Vedic City was born, a member of the Maharishi-linked Natural Law Party was elected mayor of Fairfield.

Sorens thinks the Free State Project can do better. "We have an advantage," he argues, "in that we aren't a fringe religious group."