Are You Sure You’re An Activist?

Sandy Pierre, editor of the wonderful online news magazine Shire Liberty News, sent the following essay to her subscribers last week. It is such an important message, The Freecoast requested permission to reprint it here. If you fancy yourself an activist, don’t do anything until you read this.

Are You an Activist?
by Sandy Pierre

I have long considered myself to be a liberty activist.  And as someone who lives in New Hampshire and interacts with other Free State Project early movers on a regular basis, many of the people in my social circle consider themselves to be activists as well.  But are they really? Am I?  What constitutes “activism”?

Activism – the doctrine or practice of vigorous action or involvement as a means of achieving political or other goals, sometimes by demonstrations, protests, etc.

Activism

Implementing legislative change on the local level is activism.  I say this because, while philosophically I consider myself an anarchist, in the real world we find ourselves in right now, anything that makes it less likely to get fined or arrested for a victimless crime is a good thing. 

Writing a pro-liberty bill that gets passed (or that has a good shot at passing) counts.  So does shooting down an anti-liberty bill. Working to get such a bill passed by speaking to a committee, writing to/calling local legislators, writing effective Letters to the Editor that get published and read… these all count as activism. Running for local office, winning, and then actually showing up, counts too.

Changing someone’s mind in a pro-liberty direction is activism.  This can be done via face-to-face conversation, writing a book, blogging, podcasting, writing music, handing out flyers.  However, the number of books, blogs, podcasts, songs and conversations that actually achieve this (i.e. change someone’s mind in a pro-liberty direction) is a small fraction of the total. In activism, unlike gift-giving, it’s NOT the thought that counts!  It’s the effective communication of an idea that counts.

Not Activism

In my opinion, trying to reform the federal government is not activism. Such endeavors are worse than useless, because they consume time, energy and money on things that might actually make a difference!  The same goes for voting in federal elections (note: I actually still do this myself… but I’m not sure why. Tradition?).

Running for office when there’s not a snowball’s chance in Hell that you’ll win – That’s just stroking your own ego and/or trying to prove a point which eludes me.  Now, some people do seem to run for offices they know they have no chance of winning on the grounds that it gives them a platform from which to promote the principles of liberty.  If a campaign actually does give them an opportunity to participate in a debate with the other candidates, get significant media coverage, etc., then perhaps there is some value there.

Starting a blog, a podcast, a cable access TV show, etc. – These activities, in and of themselves, do not count as activism.  They may count, if they successfully perform one of the activities in the Activism section above. I don’t consider my personal blog to be activism; it’s just an outlet for creative expression and a way to amuse myself and my friends.

Publicity – Some claim “any publicity is good publicity”.  I respectfully disagree, and will stoop to using a distasteful recent example to make my point.  A liberty activist (not in New Hampshire, thankfully) recently admitted to molesting a young girl on his Facebook wall.  His post has garnered over 100 shares, over 2000 comments, and presumably thousands of views.  That is a lot of publicity! This man is (or was) associated with pro-liberty organizations such as CopBlock and C4SS.  Do you think that either of these organizations are grateful for the spotlight this self-confessed child molester has shone on them this week via his association with them?  Um, yeah….

Running an “agorist” business – As far as I can tell, the definition of an agorist business seems to be refusing to comply with laws regarding business licensure and taxes.  While it may be laudable to refuse to “feed the beast” by refusing to pay taxes, this is not promoting or expanding liberty any more than simply being unemployed would be.  Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not saying that there is no value in running an agorist business! I’ve made use of several myself over the past few years and am grateful for their existence. But it’s not “activism”.

Anti-Activism

A minority of self-described activists do things that actually drive potential converts away from the ideas of liberty.  If you engage in any of these pastimes, please, stop!

Insulting/namecalling/engaging in flame wars – You may be right.  You may be smarter than the other person.  But if you call him names, or put him down, or act condescending, you are not doing positive activism. On the contrary, you’re doing negative activism.  Calling people names, or cursing at them, will not convince them that you are right and they are wrong.  It will anger them and put them on the defensive, which makes them much less likely to actually hear any valid points you might have been trying to make.

Being a deadbeat/mooch – Self-ownership is one of the foundational principles of libertarianism.  Owning yourself includes being responsible for yourself, taking care of yourself.  It boggles my mind how many self-described activists are seemingly unable to feed and house themselves and their children without relying upon the charity of others. Some even go so far as to renege on contracts they’ve voluntarily entered into for housing or basic services.  Please, if you haven’t got the bare minimum self-supporting aspects of being an adult down yet, stop calling yourself an activist.

Metrics

Action that doesn’t achieve the desired outcome is a waste of your precious limited time (and money, if you’re spending any on your project).  It’s not enough to just “do something”; you need to do something that achieves your goal, or at least gets you part of the way there.  Ideally, you need to do it efficiently.  As an example, spending a million dollars on a futile political campaign may result in turning X number of people on to the ideas of liberty.  But was that the most effective use of that million dollars?  If the money had been spent another way, might X have wound up being a larger number?

Good feedback – People writing or speaking to you, saying they got something out of your article/video/podcast/etc. They may write to say they agree with you. They may disagree.  But if you can maintain a respectful dialog with those who disagree, you may accomplish something.  Even if you don’t succeed in changing their mind, if you can end the debate in a civil manner, with mutual respect, then at least you’ve left that reader with positive thoughts about you and your position.

Indeterminate feedback – Number of social media friends/followers.  People who follow you on social media and/or read your articles because you’re so outrageous they just want to see what you’ll say or do next are not a valid measure of how well you’re promoting liberty.  I’m not going to name names here, but I have been told by a number of friends that certain high-profile “celebritarians” are followed/read for just such a reason.  They are the human equivalent of a gory highway accident.  Not all of your followers may be fans or supporters; some of them are simply rubber-neckers. Others are just people who, for whatever reason, will follow/link to anyone who follows/links to them first.  

I’ve noticed this myself on Twitter, which I only started making use of in the last several months for purposes of promoting Shire Liberty News.  I’ve been systematically following people who identify themselves as “libertarian”, and many of them have followed me back.  But I can tell by some of their tweets that, well… to paraphrase the immortal words of Inigo Montoya “I do not think that word means what they think it means”.  If many of them actually took the time to read what we publish in this newsletter, they’d probably disagree, some of them angrily.  This is not to say that linking to them on Twitter serves no positive purpose at all.  Due to Twitter’s rules, you need to have X number of followers in order to be allowed to follow Y users yourself.  So in that sense, every single follower does help, albeit indirectly.  But I have no illusions that, because SLN has over a thousand followers on Twitter, that equates to a thousand Twitter FANS, or even readers.

Negative feedback – If you’re so abrasive or obnoxious that even your allies unfriend/unfollow you, block you, ban you from their events… you might want to take a moment of quiet reflection and assess the efficacy of your activism.

Comments

  1. So the next time you want to hit up your favorite activist with a question or a favor, pause and think through whether or not this particular person could actually give you special insight – or if you could get the same information or support elsewhere.

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