Liberty Matters

Developing a Mass Movement for Liberty

I offer a simplified view of how a political movement develops in three stages.
First, a few people share a passion for liberty.  From time to time they get together and talk about it, but not much else happens.
Second, think tanks, research institutions, youth groups, and other organizations busily develop libertarians ideas that gradually attract people interested in liberty.
Third, multiple efforts go into developing peaceful mass movements, mobilizing large numbers of people to put pressure on politicians.  These are not election campaigns.  Peaceful mass movements continue as long as necessary, until proposed bills are enacted or until targeted laws are passed or court decisions are reversed.
I would say that the libertarian movement in the United States is at stage two.  Perhaps more people than ever are involved with the libertarian movement.  The focus is on talks, seminars, courses, podcasts, book forums, etc., developing ideas and policies.  Many books are written, though almost all the books are nonfiction and few make a bestseller list.  Most of the nonfiction books are about economics; a few are about law and history; even fewer are on other relevant topics.  Many libertarian websites exist, though few are in the top 100 for web traffic.  Few libertarians publish commercial fiction with libertarian themes, and few libertarian children's books are available.  Most of the small number of libertarian film-makers seem to work on documentaries. There's very little humor and not much is done for TV. 
All this is a huge improvement over a half-century ago, but we're a long way from generating serious pressure on politicians.
More will likely be done with libertarian ideas, but if large numbers of people aren’t mobilized for public events, years from now we could still find ourselves at stage two.
If we aren't able to advance to stage three, another terrorist attack on the United States, a war with Russia, or something else could lead to more expansions of government power; or we might get another president determined to "govern from the left" and to get away with trashing constitutional limitations on his power. Hopes for more liberty could be blown away for decades or longer, when political opposition could become illegal.  We cannot exclude the possibility of a new dark age.
Libertarian ideas are unlikely to prevail until we  get to stage three. That stage involves a peaceful mass movement to mobilize large numbers of people to pressure politicians to support liberty by enacting some laws and repealing others. A peaceful mass movement is basically what you can do in a democracy when politicians fail to respond to demands.  
Movements die when politicians do things to subvert liberty and no political consequences follow. If a peaceful mass movement is successful, it will play an important role in defeating politicians who thwart liberty. We want them coming to us, seeking support for their reelection. We need to target our most  important opponents in power, politicians whose defeat will send a clear signal to others who stand in our way.
The mass movement itself wouldn’t get involved in election campaigns – there’s plenty to be done organizing events and mobilizing large numbers of people – but media reports about our crowds would provide the essential “platform” for gaining clout against our political adversaries.  I don’t recall that Martin Luther King Jr. ever got involved with an election campaign, but by attracting a crowd estimated at 250,000, he put irresistible pressure on Congress.
It will probably help for friends of liberty to become more familiar with how peaceful mass movements develop.  These are major ones: (1) the movement to abolish the British slave trade and slavery in British colonies in the Caribbean; (2) the movement to abolish the English Corn Laws and achieve free trade; (3) the American abolitionist movement; (4) the movement to abolish slavery in Brazil, the last slave society in the  Western Hemisphere; (5) the movement to abolish slavery in the Congo, the last Western-controlled slave society; (6) the movement for Irish Emancipation, to abolish civil disabilities for the Irish; (8) the movement to achieve equal rights for women: (7) the movement to achieve independence for India; (8) the movement to abolish compulsory racial segregation in the United States.
Although it's always tough to draw a good crowd, and even tougher to keep doing it long enough to achieve political clout, a victory can have a salutary impact for a long time.
True, it's hard to imagine scholarly libertarians mobilizing large numbers of people. What to do? The short answer is that we need to recruit people with somewhat different talents than have dominated the libertarian movement until now.
Some existing organizations could help support the effort to mobilize large numbers of people for a peaceful mass movement, and perhaps a new organization needs to be started, one that would have the strongest incentive to build such a movement, because it wouldn't have anything else to do.
The peaceful mass movements I cited all made appeals to justice, and I believe we should do that, too -- liberty and justice.  We must engage people's minds and hearts. 
Such an organization would recruit prospective organizers. It could show them how to raise money, identify resources (like musicians) who could play a role in events, how to get permissions needed (such as from a town when an event is contemplated in a public park or a neighborhood where residents might complain), how to arrange security (so our adversaries don't try to disrupt an event), how to publicize an event, and so on.
What might an event be like?
Imagine music about liberty being played as people arrive, starting with this upbeat theme song that has great lyrics:
The master of ceremonies (MC) welcomes the crowd and thanks them for coming to help support the cause of liberty and justice. The MC then introduces the first speaker, who talks for five minutes about the ominous trends towards more arbitrary power, corruption, and injustice.
The MC introduces the second speaker, who talks for five minutes about a few of the greatest peaceful mass movements and how the present protest is part of that glorious tradition.
The MC introduces the third speaker, who talks for five minutes about recent peaceful resistance movements, such as the student movement in Venezuela, that have made a difference even in authoritarian regimes
The MC introduces the fourth speaker, who talks for five minutes about what students can do now.
  • video of Independence Day by Martina McBride (Farm Aid 2001: Concert for America in Noblesville, Indiana on September 29, 2001) (the whole song, which is a protest against drunken domestic violence, or just use the glorious 3rd stanza which is more generalized) <>
The MC introduces the fifth speaker, who talks for five minutes about what seniors can do now.
The MC introduces the sixth speaker, who talks for five minutes about what business people can do now.
The MC introduces the seventh speaker, who talks for five minutes about what people can do in their communities now.
  • documentary about how to mobilize large numbers of people (this would have to be put together)
The master of ceremonies concludes with some final inspirational words and thanks the audience for coming.
Freedom music plays as people talk and leave (no video).
How might this program be modified? It might take place on a campus and be aimed exclusively at students. An all-senior event might be scheduled at or near a senior community. Initially, it might go without a documentary, or a documentary could be used later in the program. Musical attractions might be added. Leading citizens or local celebrities might be persuaded to attend.
Hopefully, some competition might develop as libertarians try their own variations in different places, each aiming for bigger crowds and more local supporters. A local steering committee might be recruited in each case.
There's probably much we can learn from other organizations about putting together events, dealing with crowds, generating publicity, and so on.
Onward and upward!