Ian’s Blog from Jail #3

Ian Freeman[Mail to Jail was unable to transcribe this letter due to injury, so thanks go to volunteers Anthony Richard and one other person for transcribing this letter from Ian. We have not checked the transcription, so we are still attaching to this post Ian’s letter scanned in a PDF format.] 

“Reflections on Civil Disobedience”

One night, later in the week at Porcfest this year I was walking around
and stopped at a campfire. A couple of the faces I had recognized as
people I had met earlier in the week – the rest I did not know. I believe
100% of them were attending their first Porcfest.

Apparently, I was right on cue, as when I approached the fire, some
comment was made about how if Ian Freeman were around, they could ask me.
The individual looked up, saw that the universe had delivered me to their
campfire, exclaimed a pleasant surprise and proceeded to ask: “Why Keene?”
Just prior to my arrival they had been discussing this, perhaps curious as
to why I had not chosen to move to Manchester and also under the
misconception that it was I who started the move to Keene. It’s an
understandable misconception, especially to people who may not have paid
attention to the Free State Project prior to the last year or two.

Allow me to explain – somewhat as I did at the campfire – while I may be
an effective promoter of Keene as a destination for liberty activists,
like many of the ideas I promote, it wasn’t originally mine. I am
certainly an early mover to Keene, but I wasn’t the earliest. There are
many reasons for you to consider a move to Keene (see over 130 at
move.FreeKeene.com), but the main reason I moved was because I was
inspired by the earliest movers: people like Russell and Kat Kanning, Dave
Ridley, Lauren Canario and her husband Jim Johnson. It was outstanding to
me that the Kannings were publishing and distributing their own newspaper,
but what really got me excited was their courageous civil disobedience.

Had no Civ Dis been happening, who knows when I would have made-the-move,
or where in NH I’d have ended up. I knew I wanted to help this happy band
of noncooperative, creative liberty-lovers and also add my radio show to
the liberty media in Keene and send a beacon to like-minded people around
the world that Keene was where exciting things were already happening.
Things far more interesting than the typical political campaigning I was
used to in Florida.

When I arrived, I grabbed a video camera and jumped right in – not quite
ready to disobey – I saw my role as adding to the media covering the
heroic acts of the Kannings and Lauren C. I knew eventually I would –
having around brave people tends to encourage and embolden.

As I was telling the stories or early Keene Civ Dis, like the time Kat and
Lauren were arrested by the feds for holding signs peacefully and quietly
in the IRS office, it became clear to me that the young Porcfesters at the
campfire had no idea who the Kavvings and Lauren Canario were. They had
never seen the videos of their arrests that had so inspired me and were
unaware that anything had come before FreeKeene.com.

I finished up telling the tale of how I had been inspired to move to Keene
and bid the campfire good night as I moved on, walking to other campsites.
As I set off down the road, a realization struck me: The origins of Keene
as an activist destination, specifically the heroic activists that made it
so had become a campfire story. It had only been five or six years since
their inspiring civil disobedience that I consider legendary, but these
new activists were totally unaware of.

I have mixed feelings about this phenomenon. On one hand it’s great that
Keene is seen as a destination because of the activism that is happening
now, but on the other it is sad that the amazing work that was
pre-FreeKeene (we launched at the end of 2006) has been lost to the sands
of time. It would be nice to track down those old videos and re-release
them as retrospective so all the new blood in this movement can see and be
inspired by what has come before.

Since this post is about my thoughts on Civil Disobedience, I thought it
was important to start by acknowledging and appreciating the “first wave”
– the great activists who moved here first, started from zero, and inspire
the second wave. I would arbitrarily say the first wave ran from 2004-2006
and the second from 2007-2010, which was fully covered here at FK. You
need only click back through the archives to experience (or revisits)
events like OTN’s Sam Dodson and Dave Ridley at RidleyReport.com being
arrested for recording video in the court lobby, the outlaw gardener, the
couch enforcer, tresspassive twelve, disobedient seven, the historic 420
celebrations – including the KPD smokeout and Pumpkinfest arrests, and
more that are escaping my mind at the moment.

So here I sit at the Cheshire “House of Corrections” a.k.a. the Keene
Spiritual Retreat, with plenty of time to ponder and reflect. The big
question being asked of me is, “Was it worth it?” I’ll get to that, but
first as one who has observed, participated in, and reported on many
instances of Civ Dis and noncooperation, I think it’s important to address
the most common critique, which amounts to: “What good has come from all
of this disobedience? What have you accomplished or changed besides making
people angry?”

Those making this accusatory critique appear to only have one criteria by
which they judge the success of civil disobedience – whether or not a
statute or ordinance was changed as a result of the disobedience. From
their perspective, they are right. To my knowledge, after six years at
various civil disobedience and noncooperation, no statutes or ordinances
have been changed. Hundreds of days and nights have been cumulatively
spent in jail (I am in on a 90 day sentence – one of the longest thus far
meted out to an NH liberty activist) and indeed, many observers have been
angered. Juries have thus far refused to completely nullify cases
involving Civ Dis or noncooperation, handing out guilty verdicts in 100%
of the four cases thus far. (All the jury cases have happened thus far in
2011 and to their credit they did find Bob “WeedaClaus” Constantine guilty
of a misdemeanor cannabis possession charge rather than the felony
cultivating, with which he’d been originally charged and they also found
me not guilty of resisting arrest, but neither seems to be an instance of
jury nullification.) I’m arbitrarily leaving out Pete and Ademo’s historic
nullification in their felony wiretapping case, as that took place in the
geopolitical designation known as Massachusetts.

Critics submit that these court failures, plus angry anonymous comments
posted on various interest news sites, in addition to the real-life
conversation and the lack of legislative change, in proof that Civil
Disobedience has failed to win the hearts and minds of people in NH. Of
course, it should be obvious that the critics are ignoring that there are
indeed NH natives and longtime inhabitants who support these tactics –
some of them actually participating in them! So, it’s clear not everyone
is upset about civil disobedience, but for the sake of argument, let’s
give them the claim t hat most people in NH are opposed to disobedience.
(Clearly some disobedience is going to be more popular than others,
depending on the issue and how the activists approach it.)

One thing you can count on politicos to do is what they consider practical
and take the path-most-traveled, meaning any “legal” action they perceive
as low-risk. It is much more comforting to do the time-honored thing and
beg master to change his rules or attempt to be elected as master than it
is to actually do what is more – what is right – and stand up for their
beliefs. I mean who in their right mind would want to anger their fellow
slaves? People in the past who disobeyed were crucified like that Jesus
guy – why on earth would anyone want to actually emulate him? It’s much
easier to go to church and call yourself a Christian, isn’t it? Muhammad
was also persecuted for years and came to physical harm because he refused
to obey the masters of his time – fortunately he did not die at their
hands. More recently, disobedients have faced water cannons, police
beatings, and angry crowds. Thus far in the chronicles of NH liberty
activism we have only faced cagings. Our masters have become more careful
with how they handle disobedience, likely thanks to the proliferation of
video devices and the ease of distribution. The masters are very concerned
about their aura of legitimacy – so they’ve had to soften up a bit on the
enforcement side. The point being disobedience is less-risky than ever,
but most people are petrified of it. That it angers some people is a
convenient excuse. So what if 51% or 75% are upset by you doing what is
right? Did Jesus, Mohammad , Gandhi, or Rosa Parks conduct a public
opinion poll prior to making a stand? Were their actions mistakes because
people were upset by them? Would their movements have been more successful
had they merely begged master to change the “rules”?

So if legislation hasn’t changed, what has been accomplished by all this
disobedience? What good has it done?

>Personal Empowerment – Anyone who has the courage to disobey, or say “no”
and noncooperate with master’s demands, whether all alone or in a group
of disobedients will be better off mentally for it. You are acting on
your conscience, casting aside fear and letting the light in your soul
shine. I assure you it’s very satisfying compared to begging master for
some scraps of freedom. As Gandhi said, you are being the change you wish
to see. It matters not when the change manifests externally – you’ve
changed for good, on the inside. If nothing else came from disobedience,
this alone would make it “worth it”.

>Encouraging Others – As the “first wave” on NH liberty disobedients was
encouraged by the examples of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Rosa Parks,
many of the “second wave” were inspired by the first. The next wave will
be inspired by the second, and so on. When one observes others saying
“no”, it becomes more possible in one’s mind. “If so and so can do it…”

>Attracting like-minded souls – While the politicos busy themselves with
currying favor with the ruling class and engaging in elections, some have
been frustrated by the lack of publicity their efforts receive. To be
fair, I have always been happy to report their successes (and to their
credit they are making some headway in NH) on my radio show and here at
FreeKeene. I get it that disobeying is scary and risky – it will never be
for everyone, so I want to help the inside-the-system folks recruit new
movers, because it will take activism of all stripes to achieve liberty
in our lifetime. That said, disobedience has sizzle and politics tends to
be very dull. Promoting disobedience and noncooperative acts will attract
those who already have the courage to disobey as well as those who are
looking to find the courage and just need to feel like someone’s got
their back. Keene is the Mecca of liberty-oriented disobedience. This is
Harry Browne’s “silver rule” in action – be true to yourself and you will
attract to you others of like mind. I want to attract liberty-lovers who
have courage and are willing to take a risk, if only a little. A lot of
people taking little risks will be unstoppable. This is a numbers game.
The more activists we have here of all stripes, the better. If some NH
natives get upset, that’s to be expected. As our numbers increase, it
becomes more likely that a liberty-lover will become their customer,
co-worker, employee, employer, or neighbor. Then it will be much harder
for them to be angry and misinformed. Remember – anyone who challenges
the status quo will be the target of vitriol, as the politicos are now
discovering with the huge angry backlash (newspaper articles, editorials,
protests) excoriating them for cutting the State budget by 12%. But I
digress.

>Free Publicity – Civil Disobedience frequently results in lots of press
coverage in print, on TV, radio, and online. We’ve had coverage by the
AP, Slate, Cannabis Culture, newspapers statewide, the Boston Phoenix,
Globe, Counterpunch, and more. This coverage, whether positive, neutral,
or negative, is worth thousands of dollars and contributes to attracting
more liberty lovers to NH and to Keene.

>Sparks Discussing & Potential for Political Change – The open container
Civ Dis in Keene led to Heika Courser bringing the issue in front of the
city council. It was assigned to a committee and the public commented all
in favor of its repeal. Of course the opponents were the police, and the
committee voted to “table” the issue, which means do nothing. Also, the
420 celebrations have expanded to the State House, the police have done
nothing, and the celebrants have become bolder, this year chalking
messages all over the front sidewalk, steps, and columns, walking en
masse through the state house, and evening singing freedom songs in the
lobby. Will the legislators notice the hundreds of protestors on their
doorstep and move forward with decriminalization? Only time will tell.
Meantime, the issue is alive and well, and you can bet action like that
gets people talking.

>Bad Laws Become Unenforceable – Sure, when it’s a lone disobedient or
only a handful, it’s easy for the police to crack down on activists.
However, this is a numbers game. Once the number of disobedients
outnumber the enforcers, the game changes. The police blink. The
activists win. If a bad statute or ordinance is not being enforced,
that’s almost as good as it being repealed. A perfect example of this is
the epic 420 celebrations in Keene back in 2009. The smoke-outs built
within days to over 100 attendees in Keene’s Central Square and KPD
decided to crackdown by doing the only thing they know how to do – target
the perceived leaders for arrest. NH liberty activist Rich Paul was
arrested and carted off to the police station. The aggressors never could
have expected what happened next – about half of the crowd walked to the
police department, crossed the “no unauthorized access” line, sat in a
circle, and smoke up right outside the back door. Rich was released on
personal recognizance to a cheering crowd who then returned to the
square. KPD was not done, however. The following day (these 420s were
daily), they again invaded the crowd and again made an arrest (or two)
still hoping to intimidate everyone into stopping their “illegal”
behavior. Instead, the crowd again walked to KPD, this time entering the
lobby and smoking cannabis there! That was the last time KPD ever
bothered 420 in Central Square, essentially making it a DMZ for cannabis
smoking. The key ingredients for this historic civil disobedience win
were large numbers, solidarity, and perseverance.

That brings me to the areas that can be improved in the Civ Dis realm. The
liberty movement has never seen any notable civil disobedience or
noncooperation until the advent of the Free State Project. Though we’ve
been at it six years, the movement is still novice in many ways, despite
the fact it has spawned Civ Dis in other places like Washington D.C.,
Orlando, and Austin. Here are some areas that could use improving:

>Numbers! – This is the most critical aspect that will affect all of the
other weak areas that I will point out. There have been so many instances
where more disobedients would have turned the tide and likely prevented
many arrests. The “Tresspassive Twelve” were arrested for walking around
the new jail (where I am now), even though we had done so many times at
the old jail. However, tend minutes before the police arrived there were
50 people gathered in front of the jail. Most left when an activist with
a police scanner announced the cops were en route. Considering the police
had to round up every officer in the vicinity (including Keene, Marlboro
and Swanzey cops, plus a state cop, and jail guards) to arrest a dozen of
us (there were 13 officers total to our 12), how would they have behaved
if all 50 activists had stayed? Another example where we saw how numbers
changed the game, so no speculation in necessary, was last year’s Keene
City Council drinking game. Activists were arrested for “disorderly
conduct” when they (including me and I still have trial coming on this)
refused to allow the police to search their bottles and then refused to
leave the ostensibly public meeting. The “mayor” interrupted his own
meeting to target the handful of activists, but at the next meeting, over
a dozen activists showed up and played the drinking game. Not a peep from
“they mayor”, no attempts to search, no orders to leave. Numbers are
critical. It’s been tricky to get numbers built up because activists will
get arrested in smaller groups then get convicted and have “suspended
sentences” put over their heads, basically taking them out of the game.

>Persistence & Sustainability – Because we don’t have a large pool of
disobedients (the 420s were an exception because most participants were
locals who were just along for the ride – many would attempt to conceal
their smoking when cops arrived. They weren’t really doing open
disobedienve, but their presence was a big help nonetheless.), we can’t
keep up the disobedience like Food Not Bombs did recently with their
feeding of the homeless in an Orlando park this summer. Week after week,
new faces showed up to be arrested. Eventually OPD dropped the charged.
In Keene, when OTN’s Sam was arrested for recording video in the district
court lobby, Dave Ridley did a follow-up challenge and was arrested.
There was idle talk of a mass videoing, but no one stepped forward to
lead it. We lost that one.

>Organization and Planning – One of the big pluses to the NH liberty
movement is that it is decentralized. No one is in charge. That is good
in many aspects. One need not ask for some dear leader or board for
permission to do something and there is no head for the aggressors to cut
off and cripple the movement. The downside is that organizing liberty
activists can be like “herding cats” – everyone tends to be independent.
That’s not to say it can’t be done. If someone has a good idea, people
will jump on board and get involved and be open to
suggestion/direction/delegation. However, for that to happen requires…

>Leadership & Instigators – This is a new movement, and the reality is
that many F.S.P. movers have never really done activism before. They are
excited and willing to do, but feel more comfortable joining rather than
leading, at least for now. Hopefully the students will eventually become
the masters. However, like in the rest of life, the 80/20 rule is in
effect in the NH liberty movement. 20% instigate and lease most activism
and the 80% help out. We need more instigators and leaders. Again more
numbers can solve all of these problems. At the time of this writing,
there are only about 1,000 “Free Staters” here in NH.

So, I’ve covered the history, the benefits, and even leveled some critique
at the civil disobedience/noncooperation movement here in NH. At this
point, I have been working on this essay and third blog post from jail
over multiple days and am now on my fifteenth handwritten page! I still
have to answer the question, “Was it worth it?”, but first big thanks to
Mike Barskey at MailtoJail.com for providing such an awesome service
helping people connect with jailed liberty-loving activists. He is the one
taking the time to print and mail 90% of the mail I got in here AND he is
transcribing these blog posts to FreeKeene. If you haven’t yet, please
visit MailtoJail.com and send him a contribution. Stamps aren’t cheap, and
his time is valuable, not to mention the service! Now, on to the big
question: “Was it worth it?”

I will answer that in my next post. Stay tuned.
Ian’s Blog from Jail #3.pdf

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