Ian’s Blog from Jail #6

[Transcribed by Mail-to-Jail.]

Ian Freeman

“Keene – Ripe for Political Action”

I was reading the Keene Sentinel this week and was pleased to see liberty activist, Free Keene blogger, and NH native Heika Courser is in the running for the five “at-large” city council seats up for election here in Keene. Sadly though, she is the only liberty activist in the race – not just for the at-large seats, but also for the ward seats. It’s too bad more activists do not take advantage of this ripe opportunity to get the word out about liberty. More on that in a moment.

First, a little detail. In Keene, there are 15 city council seats. Every two years, ten of the seats are up for election. The “at-large” seats are two year terms and there are five of them. The other ten seats are “Ward” seats. Keene has five wards and each ward has two seats. Ward seats are four years each and are staggered, so every two years, five ward seats are available. Keene has a “mayor”, but it’s a ceremonial position. The mayor can only vote in the event of a tie and can assign councilors to committees. The mayor is elected every two years. The only requirements to run for these seats is that one be a registered voter and pay $2 (or $5 for mayor). Alternatively, one can get 50 petition signatures and not have to pay the fee.

The city council has the ability to hire and fire key positions within the corporation known as the “City of Keene”, including the City Manager, City Attorney, and Police Chief. The position of City Manager can hire and fire the entirety of the city staff.

You would think that positions with such influence would attract plenty of candidates who are power-seekers, but you’d be wrong. This year, four out of five ward seats only have one candidate! The five at-large seats are well contested, with eight candidates seeking the five spots. Activists could have, for a mere two dollars, been the only opposition in those races. Instead, the politicos who did file (most are council incumbents) are likely going to walk right into office. It’s even more strange considering the ward races are the easier ones. Ward seats are always less contested and one only needs to focus campaigning to one’s ward, making door-knocking and literature distribution less burdensome than at-large seats.

Poor attendance on the part of the liberty activists ‘t just plague the elections – it stretches across all the political process. Liberty-lovers are rarely seen at committee meetings (where the public can actually speak to the council) or the biweekly city council meetings. To be fair, the two committee meetings in the last year where activists Heika Courser and Nick Ryder were proposing changes to the open container and parking ordinances, respectively, were well-attended by liberty activists, as they were invited to attend. The activists who did come out made great points and allowed the councilors to actually be exposed to the liberty perspective.

Look, this isn’t a problem with just liberty activists – it’s across the board. The only people who attend these meetings in general are local busybodies and bureaucrats. City councilor Cynthia Georgina is constantly complaining about how poorly attended all of their hearings are. Of course, the councilors can interpret the poor attendance as a message that they are doing a good job. Anyone who has actually spoken with Keeniacs knows that is not the case. Many are frustrated by the high property taxes, traffic and poor roads, restrictive business and housing regulations, etc.

So why do so few people bother to get involved? Here is some educated speculation that applies to both average Keeniacs as well as activists for liberty:

  • People are Busy – Many in the liberty activist community are young, and young people tend to be more likely to work at night. If you work evenings, attending the nearly 100% evening city meetings is probably not an option. For those that work during the day a dull city council meeting is probably not how they want to spend their leisure time.
  • Meetings are Boring – If you have ever been, you know why so few people attend. While the open-to-public-comment committee meetings are more lively, the city council meetings are only marginally better than watching grass grow, and far less colorful.
  • Feel Like Councilors Don’t Listen – When passionate liberty-lovers make persuasive, logical points at committee meetings, it can feel like they are falling on deaf ears. If they cote to “table” the issue, meaning do nothing and keep the status quo, it sure can feel like a waste of time.
  • City Bureaucrats’ Opinions Seem More Important to Councilors – Do city councilors treat people with badges and/or official titles with more reverence? It sure feels like it. It doesn’t seem to matter if numbers are on your side. One opinion from the police chief outweighs a dozen os us serfs.

The above are reasons why many who have perhaps had an interest in working inside the system have given up or never bothered trying. In addition to those objections are those of the activists who are against involving themselves in the system for moral reasons, like because they do not feel right to participate in a system that is based on violence or that they do not want to feel like they are begging master for a few scraps of freedom.

All of these reasons are fine reasons to busy oneself with other matters. I get it. Politics does suck. It’s icky and distasteful. That said, the civil disobedience movement is not large enough to result in changes to the system on its own, and as much as we’d like average folks to start noncooperation and not paying taxes, or bureaucrats to stop enforcing bad laws, quit their jobs, and start acting on their conscience and doing the right thing, none of those seems to be imminent. Sure, the federal government might crash and burn someday soon, but that won’t stop people from believing in the most dangerous superstition: “Authority”. Until people’s beliefs change, we’ll never rid ourselves of the decrepit, dangerous idea of “the State”.

Ideas matter, and that’s the number one reason to attend city meetings and run for office, even if you consider yourself an “anarchist”.

Whether you are someone willing to work inside-the-system but feel it’s a waste of time or are morally opposed to it, I’m going to attempt to persuade you to get involved. Also, I’m hoping the clear political opportunities presented here(like elections with only one candidate!) will persuade political activists who’ve yet to move to seriously consider Keene. With a handful of dedicated inside-the-system activists, we’d have the most well-rounded liberty movement anywhere.

Here are the reasons you should get involved, as distasteful as it might be:

  • To Propagate Ideas of Liberty – How many people in our movement today that call themselves anarchists or voluntarists found liberty via a political campaign? Perhaps you? I know I did. For me it was the Harry Browne for President campaign in 2000 that got me hooked. For many others it was Ron Paul in 2008 and he will likely convert more in 2012. Lots of people pay attention to politics and many of them are fed up with their choice – you could be the one to give them new ideas to consider.
  • Free Media Coverage – Buying newspaper, radio, or TV ads is expensive, but as a candidate, you get free coverage for your ideas. The local paper will send you questions and will print your answers. Local talk hosts will likely interview you on radio and TV, else they be considered unfair. OK, so it costs $2 to run for office, but the coverage is worth thousands! By choosing not to run for office, you are just leaving all that exposure on the table!
  • Influencing Politicians – I know, it can seem like the politicians have made up their minds when you speak at a council meeting, but it’s unfair to generalize. Some are more open-minded than others. the people winning inside the system are those who show up. Right now the people showing up are bureaucrats and busybodies. The principled message of liberty is barely present. Also, in regards to campaigns, having principled liberty ideas in a race and influence the general direction of debates and discussion.
  • The Keeniacs are Asking You to Run – They just aren’t ready to disobey. I have been asked – why don’t you guys run for office? The average Keeniacs don’t want to, probably for some of the reasons stated, but many regular Keeniacs want someone worth voting for. That person could be you.
  • More People Watch City Meetings Than You May Think – Right now, every city council meeting is televised live on Cheshire TV and also re-run a few times. Eventually CTV will air all the committee meetings as well. When Keene finally gets a liberty-oriented city councilor, his or her ideas will be televised at every meeting. Once the committee meetings are on-air, then any liberty people who show up to comment will also have their ideas televised.
  • It’s Proven: Politics Can Work In NH – I was a skeptic when I moved here from Florida. I’d assisted with and managed campaigns down there. It felt like banging my head against a brick wall. When I made the move, I was pretty burned out. The political activists said NH was different, but I didn’t really believe it. Five years since my move, it’s been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt by the dedicated liberty activists working at the state level. The NH Liberty Alliance (NHLiberty.org) is influencing policy and helping liberty-oriented candidates get elected. Over a dozen free staters are now in NH State Rep seats. That alone is a feat the Libertarian PArt hasn’t accomplished in 40 years! Here liberty candidates have been elected under both of the major parties. Yes, politics is slow. Yes, it’s expensive. But at least it is working. If it can work on the state level, it can work in Keene – if only the activists would bother.

Once activist need not attend all the meetings. There are enough people in the area to where certain people could attend different types of meetings, based on each attendee’s availability. There are only two council meetings per month and the committee meetings each have two per month as well. It’s not a huge burden, but it is a commitment. Oh, and it’s not without risk. When Julia Miranda rand for Ward 4 in 2007 she was threatened with a felony gambling charge for offering to give her council paycheck to voters if she wont the seat. All activism is risky, because it is a threat to the status quo. That said, politics is generally a safer road than civil disobedience.

If I have convinced you to get involved, feel free to drop in to the Free Keene Forum and visit the “Inside-the-System” sub-forum. That’s a good way to meet other interested parties and organize attending meetings. If you have yet to make to move, while there is a two year wait prior to running for state rep, no such wait applies to city council. The next election for city seats is in 2013. If you plan to be involved, start attending meeting ASAP. Meet the “movers and shakers” and get your face and name known Thus far, liberty candidates have garnered 20-25% of the votes in council elections. (We’ve had one candidate each election) That’s pretty good for political newbies. Thus far, neither Julia Miranda or Nick Ryder has attempted a second campaign, so we don’t know if they’d do better with more exposure and name recognition.

As it is with other forms of activism, the political side of things is brand new and virtually untested. Much growth is possible and opportunities are ripe. Can you help?

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