Sunday, July 02, 2006

Burning Out Or Evolving?

So, a few nights ago I went to a "meetup*" for the local Libertarians, all of whom I am familiar with. My favourite candidate was there, along with some other folks from the county and state. The gathering fit around a corner table, not exactly a stellar turnout, but par for the course.

During the course of the evening we talked about a number of things. Local politricks politics, happenings in the state and across the country, the decline of the country and the usual stuff that gets talked about. One of the things that we managed to discuss was the decline in numbers of the activist base where the LP is concerned. Some people would contend that the LP's numbers are fairly static where the number of people who cast votes for LP candidates is concerned. They may be right. But, the activist base, those who carry the flag and rally the troops is unquestionably in decline and that should be worrisome to the political party bosses.

These folks have become convinced of the futility of continuing along the political path, have moved in a new direction, sans politics or just plain burned out or become fed up. Any attempt to number all of reasons for this would require an encyclopedia, so let's cover a couple and see where we get with it.

The reasons for becoming politically active differ widely for everyone involved. Some came to the political because they fled one of the other parties and they were politically active there. Others saw, or see it as a chance to make a change in the political landscape. And there are myriad other reasons for the attraction and adherence to the political arm of libertarianism, some folks just like to argue. I came to it to try and make a change in the landscape, despite a realisation that it was ,in all likelihood a futile action. As I have said to folks before I became active so that if, (more likely when) the shooting starts I didn't have to look at my kids and say that I did nothing to try and stop it. Another once prominent libertarian whom I respect a immensely, (and who has left the politics after being abused by it) came to it for essentially the same reason, to try and avoid the horror of the almost inevitable shooting war. (Despite what some would contend the ZAP doesn't preclude armed revolution as a last resort).

The reasons for leaving activism behind differ just as greatly. Teaching pigs to sing, or to fly can be supremely frustrating and that's what we've continuously run into over the course of many years. People, in general aren't desirous of freedom. The thought of having no masters, no politicians (even Libertarian politicians) to tell them what to do and to regulate their lives frightens them senseless and causes them to attack those offering a way out of servitude. Even "libertarians" have fallen prey to this fear and, even now seek to "reform" the political wing of Libertarianism. In doing this they will, as others have done, drive away more activists. This has served to drive many hard working liberty lovers into seclusion and will likely continue to do so for many years to come.

Some have just decided that politics is too dirty, soul sucking and useless to continue and have gone into promoting Liberty and Individualism in an attempt to teach some people the necessity of being free. Some might argue that this is essentially the same avenue, but they'd be dead wrong. Instead of teaching people to trust politicians they have decided to teach people to trust themselves and each other, promoting a true free market of individuals and ideas. No-one trusts a politician, even a Libertarian and attaching the title "politician" lumps "us" right up there with them in the eyes of John and Jane Q. Public. I admire these folks, (and you know who you are...) because they have chosen a path that may lead everyone to a freer place. Rather than repudiate something they have taken the decision to adopt something more fulfilling and with much greater potential than the political.

The burnout factor is high amongst those who actually do something to promote the cause of Libertarianism. Often it may be that one person has to shoulder the burden for many who are...well, slackers for want of a better word. People in positions of power who often say things like "We want people who DO things" when what they mean is that they wish other people to do things and leave them to their own affairs. Many who have arranged events for the LP have run into these people quite often. You give them the ideas for events, fundraisers and the like and the next thing you know, you're on your own to plan and execute an event as a one person show. This tends to get people burned out and I have seen it happen amongst activists. It leads to disgust and abandonment issues and, inevitably drives people away who could be the catalyst for better things. When one person bears the weight for many things, (like that most admired LP friend of mine) and encounters nothing but incompetence, fraud and the hidden, and not so hidden desires for power it becomes a certainty that they will burn out and leave.

I don't have any solutions to "make" someone stay, because that's not possible, nor wise. You can't change the way things are in the political wing, sooner or later people tire of it and take the decision to move forward with their lives and separate from that venue. You can change the Party, as some are doing in order to keep some people around or attract others from outside the founding and evolved paradigm, but in so doing others will be driven away. Some are even attempting to do this in order to deliberately drive away those whom they would label "purists" or "anarchists". I offer no solutions because there are none. It's the nature of our individualist principles and Libertarian lifestyle. We don't "herd" well, nor should we...being the opposite of cattle.

The Libertarian political wing is bleeding traditional activists and there is little that can be done about it at the present time. Frankly, I'm not even sure that anything needs to be done. People grow, evolve, move towards and away from things every day. That's called life and it's an integral part of it. Perhaps what we are seeing is the beginning of something new, or the renewal of something old....a move away from the realm of the political and towards individual and individualist activism, a repudiation of the leader/follower paradigm. Maybe the politicians are giving a party that no-one wants to attend. And maybe, just maybe...this is the lull before the storm.

While the concept of the tavern based rebellion is old, tried and true we may be seeing the new, electronic equivalent of it. The blogosphere seems uniquely suited as a starting point for whatever may come next. Somewhere, out here in the aether is the next Green Dragon Tavern, all we need is a bartender and some committed patrons. Frankly, I can't wait to see what unfolds next.

(*: I can't stand the "meetup", it's one of those words or phrases that just gets under my skin (like "for free"'s Free. Not for free.) Call it a get together, a meeting, a potluck, whatever, just don't call it a meetup. It's way the hell too L.A. for me. )

Update: Since I began this I received news that the Reformista have had a moment of repudiation, as the move to get rid of the ZAP has been defeated. Congratulations, the LP still has one core principle.

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Mike Kole said...

Actually, one of the biggest problems I am seeing here in Indiana is that we are on the verge of success, and that has some of our people frightened. Mainly, we are in position to win some elections, and that would mean having to govern.

Frankly, many of our traditional activists really want no part of actually governing, for whatever reason. The LPIN generally does a great job of recruiting people to run for office, averaging about 100 statewide, with many being State Rep or State Senate candidates with little or no real hope of winning.

This year, Executive Director Dan Drexler discovered about 100 seats statewide that went uncontested. This isn't to say that incumbents were uncontested, but that seats were. Nobody was on the ballot. Any Libertarian (or D or R, for that matter) could merely fill in the form about 15 minutes before the deadline and be assured of a victory. The LPIN has done this before, so it isn't new. We look for freebies.

Problem is, there were virutally no takers. Wayne Kirk of Hamilton County is one exception. When Dan was doing the recruiting, he told people they would win 100%-0, they balked. It meant having to do the job of office, and actually governing. No thanks, is what Dan heard repeatedly.

So, our traditional activists have been content to throw rocks at the political establishment when safely assured they won't win election, but given a free win, they aren't interested.

Needless to say, I'm pretty interested in shedding these traditional activists from any place of significance within the Libertarian Party. The purpose of a political party is to win elections and move policy, which you do most easily when you win elections and do the job, thereby demostrating the value of actually implementing Libertarian principles.

So, we're probably both burning out and evolving. Shedding the "activist" who isn't victory minded is both.

The next step in the growth and maturity of the LP is to attract people who want to win their races and actually govern- using Libertarian principles. 2007, the municiple cycle in Indiana, will be the proving grounds for gauging this growth, as running for town and city offices are our most winnable.

Michael said...

I don't see things quite that way. Many of the folks I know have a desire to further liberty and freedom and absolutely no desire to hold political office. Many of those same people are quite happy to endorse and support those who DO wish to run for and hold office.
Knowing ones limitations in a specific area is not a bad thing. I support space travel but I am not an engineer, nor should I be expected to be one in order to help further the cause.
If holding political office is now a prerequisite for being a libertarian the LP can look to have a bleak future.
If the LP decides it wishes to be made up of office holders only then it's not a very "big tent", as we have promoted it. I applaud Dan's work and Wayne's desire to run for office, (I signed his papers)but if willingness to hold office is going to be a prerequisite then the LP is about to become a very lonely and poor place. Without activists to do the actual legwork, those seeking office are going to find nothing but defeat.
The facts are that some folks have a desire to support and engage in activism but have no desire to hold office. As you well know, I am one of those folks who have no desire to run does that mean that I and others not wishing to run should now be shed? I hope that's not the case.

Mike Kole said...

Michael- "Shed" was probably too strong a word. Please forgive my disgust at the inability to find people who would step into an assured victory. I would do it, but there is this ballot status race you may have heard about that I just can't walk away from. ;-)

I'm not saying that a desire to hold office need be a pre-requisite. I don't like too many pre-requisites. Being in favor of liberty will suffice in that area.

But *somebody* in the party has to be willing to hold office. I do think these are the people who should hold the prominent place in the party. Supporters are extremely valuable of course, but they support those who want to win.

Who does a supporter support if nobody wants to win?

Anonymous said...


So now we want to shed active supporters because they don't want to hold office...

It cerainly seems likely that leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties would find your sort "solution" to getting the party's base in office just hilarious.

There are, what -- twenty thouand elective offices in the US? And millions of supporters of the two major parties?

I doubt any prominent leader in one of those parties would ever say something so amateurish, Mike.

Some folks want to be in office, some don't.

The trick is to grow the base large enough so that we have enough of both types. Wanting to "shed" either will guarantee that you will have neither.

Michael said...

Mike: I sympathise with you, as you well know. I still see it as folks knowing their limitations. Most are more than willing to provide you and others the ammo necessary to take down the state but they just aren't suited for political office and know this.
It's not a matter of not wanting to win. They do. But ask yourself this. How much grassroots recruiting has gone on in your county? How much outreach? I know that you've done more than your fair share, as did your predecessor at the county level. Political success is a connect the dots process and one of the first dots is that core activism and activating it in people.
Couple this with 35 years of limited success and we face a dilema. Our base has to be strengthened, not weakened in any way.
What we must do is stick to our principles, recruit..based upon those principles and grow and strengthen that base. The problem these days seems to be that too many folks don't want to scare those few people who go out an vote...when the fact is they need to be scared. We are a radical group, we're promoting something no-one else is. Freedom and responsibility for ones self. That's radical stuff! And the folks who tend to get that message out are our core activists...who the NLP (and their supporters) are busy driving away. When you're as small as we are can, we afford to lose even one person?

Anon: Mike spoke his mind and signed his name. It's easy to be smarmy when you're hiding.