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How Libetarian  Affiliate makes steady Gains

January 24th, 2006

How Libetarian  Affiliate makes steady Gains

Every Drop Counts

St Petersburg, FL--As Libertarian Party affiliates go, the Pinellas, Florida affiliate will admit it's a little special--mostly from consistently doing the humdrum basics in its party and movement manuals.

Says affiliate Secretary Julie Chorgo, "They say get people to be members and take the LP pledge, so we get people to be members. They say never compromise, so we never compromise. They say know how to explain and present Libertarian alternatives from limited government to classical anarchism, to form coalitions with lots of voter-driven transitional proposals, so that's what we do. They say be bottom-up organizers, praise creativity, so we encourage that. They say get out and make phone calls, have book clubs, talk to students and knock on doors, so we do that. They say run trained candidates who understand Libertarianism A to Z and are good listeners and consensus builders, so that's whom we select. They say promote our platform, so we sit down with opinion leaders and media and educators and do that. They say do it daily, so we do. They say preach to the Libertarian-receptive, so we hand out plenty of literature to contact them. They say preach to the unconverted, so we call up Republican and Democratic super-voters and say, "Hi, have you heard about Libertarianism?" 

 

"They've got the best outreach program of any of the affiliates to disaffected" people in other parties, says Bill van Allen, a leader of a neighboring affiliate and member of the Libertarian Party Platform Committee. New convert William Sachs, a long time Democratic Party activist, agrees: "I was surprised to learn that many Libertarians get discouraged and spend time tinkering with position details or wondering if we should get rid of or downplay our pledge, Platform or 'extreme ideas' while people in Pinellas are out there making it orthodoxy. They don't want to legalize drugs or proportional representation. They want Republicans and Democrats to do it. And thanks to them, a lot of local leaders of those parties are looking into these positions. In part, because more and more independents are voicing understanding of what the Libertarians are talking about." This month, the Pinellas Libertarians announced a new high in local Libertarians in office.

 

Individual action is certainly something Libertarians understand.  Libertarians believe that, whatever it is, government legislation can't do it. As a party, they see their job as championing human rights while alerting the public to non-governmental alternatives to programs in an America where other parties focus on getting more government power and bristle with proposals to limit some group's rights for the common good.

Nationwide, Libertarians average 2 people in political office per million population. That isn't bad, given Libertarian's reputation as skillful no-compromise consensus builders able to steer policy in new directions with just one person on a public body. It's even more revealing when one realizes that some local and state affiliates do much better, while most have barely anyone at all. For example, in New Hampshire's case the Libertarian Party, or LP, has some 30 Libertarians in local office per million of population. There, newspapers report on LP activities daily, while state governors and luminaries from the major parties regularly trek to their conventions to propose coalitions and initiatives. In general, when local Libertarians start having more than 4 people in local office per million, it is evidence that public opinion is changing.  This is usually due to systematic education-community outreach and activism efforts. It doesn't even seem to matter which offices: the Libertarians have a genius for turning the offices into rallying points for change.

 

HAPPY LIBERTARIANS MAKE FRIENDS

According to several Libertarian groups, one model case is the Libertarian affiliate in Pinellas county Florida, which includes the retirement cities of St. Petersburg and Clearwater. With now 5 people in local office--the county population is about one million-- and monthly workshops on helping people run for election and get appointed to local boards, they feel they're making progress a step ay a time.

They're not the only ones. "Glad to see you here" says a county official when they show up for a board hearing, who privately allows that one of their strong points is the ability to establish a clear position with an array of persuasive incremental steps. "They're very professional, tough negotiators, very self-confident. Their view is government as generally understood is completely immoral so the usual political rhetoric just bounces right off them. You say they're anarchists and they say, 'So? That's a valid policy position. It just means conscious voluntary action. Didn't you know? What are you, against voluntary action? We're taking about specifics, not scare talk, here...' and having taken the high ground, then bury you with all these very practical transitional proposals. We have people now saying at government meetings, 'Well, what's the classical anarchist option? What is a more limited or small government approach? Let's see if we can at least make it an option. If we don't look at it, the Libertarians will be here next month saying we're not thorough and discriminating against our most creative individuals by being talked into crackpot regulations.' (Libertarians use anarchist in the technical sense of a self-aware, non-authoritarian voluntary small community, such as a baby-sitting co-operative.) Then they tell you how you could have made a better argument and ask you to help find where they are mistaken. They're doing what parties are supposed to do, upholding their perspective while working for common ground. You listen because they do their job. I've seen people talk to them and start advocating all sorts of things you wouldn't have 2 years ago. And it flies because they've done their coalition building homework. They realize you get farther with a strong argument and showing up with a 100 passionate allies than a strong argument alone. But you also see they got the allies because they have a strong argument."

Another board member puts it differently: "Their view is government is at best a service that can be better provided by the free market, and there is no compromise in the market for quality. You don't accept a Big Mac when you ordered an Egg McMuffin, so why accept it in government? They're very good at getting people to listen to this because, quite frankly, they spend a lot of time listening to people one on one. Too many politicians are all money and they do legwork.  Most people who vote Libertarian aren't Libertarians; they just love their straight-up approach. But the Libertarians here also understand that part of our job is to make change comfortable to people. They have a clear sense of the possible but are very good at keeping people on their toes about what is in fact possible. They are a party that thinks like a group representing a constituency, and so keeps us informed about what the Libertarians are worried about, which history shows is often what the rest of us will be thinking a few years down the road. Any politician who doesn't realize Libertarians are a bell-weather is not paying attention. "

Or more simply, at a meeting of local community groups, several get up to the mike to say in various ways: "We have no problem working with the Libertarians."

The Libertarian Party of Pinellas County says it's focusing on the "3E" basics that have always led to local LP influence; education, effective activism and electoral coalitions. "You're not really a Libertarian until you take the Libertarian pledge of non-coercion and understand what it means. That's the beginning of moral influence in the community," says Julie Chorgo, the affiliate Secretary. Very few affiliates have pledge classes as we do or expect activists to be conversant with Libertarian alternatives for every government program. Yet LP experience is you can't have Libertarian change or credible people to propose and carry them out without Libertarians to affect the leadership and get the demand rolling. We focus on a lot of coalition activism and community efforts because that's where the community leaders and potential leaders are. We have several Libertarian groups that are not party-affiliated because you need something for everybody. You simply won't get good candidates without infrastructure and training. There's this idea floating around political parties that you can forget the voter, that they're just focused on politics and money and ideology. These are there to serve the voter."

THE POWER OF CHANGE

The affiliate website gives some clues as to why the Libertarians in local office may indeed be trailing indicators of important is gradual change. One is greeted by a genial picture of the local chair giving blood at a hurricane victim's event. They're working with an eye-popping 30 community groups. Coalition petition, letter to the editor, an impressive media page, and other useful links abound. One learns of regular outreach booths and a mind-boggling distribution of 50,000 pieces of penny literature. A consumer page encourages shows people how to participate in cheap food programs and get lowest cost gas. A blaring graphic gets across their main platform focus: tolerance, honest elections, taxes--and more local Libertarians in office-- backed up by a hum of attention-getting activity with local groups. They have weekly speaking engagements at fairs, other political groups (Democracy for America recently made Libertarian action the issue) and local church and school groups. Their chair, Michael Gilson-De Lemos, is adamant that youth and community leader outreach is key: "Any local LP that doesn't regularly speak to schools or have book clubs for students is not focusing on task one. It's running candidates the hard way, building on sand. Some 30% of US youngsters test Libertarian-receptive. What are they waiting for?"

They also do things most parties would find counter-intuitive but are characteristically Libertarian. They discourage donations except to specific projects. Where even the Republican Party admits to putting warm bodies up for election, Libertarian candidates for electoral office are encouraged to be in local advisory board and be experienced in activism working with other groups. It has a detailed goal based plan: meetings are like stand-up production meetings in a factory, consisting of asking pointedly whether goals were met and what is the corrective action, thus rarely lasting more than 5 minutes. Meanwhile, nearly every week there's a workshop on tax reduction, a book club meeting studying policy alternatives, activists discussing an Adopt-A-Road project for the Libertarian Club, or a candidate and activism workshop where the Libertarians cheerfully train opponents on their methods. Affiliate leaders meet regularly with local officials, local groups, business and union figures, media and educators to discuss where a Libertarian approach just might be agreeable. Members are encouraged to develop an array of solo projects, from lawsuits to blogs, at their own pace. One member even has a radio show that has become a forum where an array of activists, celebrities and local politicians ruminate over Libertarian ideas and tools.

From their viewpoint, they're just doing the basics, gently but firmly influencing policy in a Libertarian direction with education, activism and political action. Says Chorgo: "Five people in local office is a good start. We're getting results because it's not the five but the shift in opinion that makes the five possible. If the entire US party operated as we did, that would be about 1400 people nationwide with 200 hours of intensive training from ideology to budgets. At LP New Hampshire levels that would be 8000. That's half the size of the most active paid members. It's a matter of getting out the door and applying best practices, understanding the Libertarian message and getting people involved. So people who say Libertarians can't get elected or appointed have no idea what they're talking about. Even some discouraged Libertarians who say this should really be asking how to energize their local affiliate like us. Our problem as a party is actually meeting the growing demand for people dedicated to human rights who really understand what all this voluntary alternative and privatization is about and make it serve, not overwhelm, the voter."

"Libertarianism is a concept that with the option for voluntary alternatives, things improve. We're not here to show people they're wrong. We're here to share a powerful way of being more right. We just have to not stop, keep with the approach that the power of positive change is in your hands."

It also poses a challenge for the Libertarian Party. "The affiliate has more people in government than most of the state parties, proportionally and in absolute numbers," says Paul Molloy, who runs the radio show. "Other affiliates who do the same get good results. It's a wake-up call for our national and other state
organizers."

 
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By Mike Davis
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Keywords and misspellings: law legal legle libeterian party libatarian affiate


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