What do you get when you get five hundred libertarians to go camping together in the woods of New Hampshire? One of the most inspiring examples of people walking the walk of their ideology, as opposed to merely talking the talk.
PorcFest (short for Porcupine, the libertarian equivalent of the other parties’ elephant and donkey) is an annual gathering that celebrates the Free State Project, an initiative aimed at transforming New Hampshire into a beacon of freedom and opportunity for the nation.
The idea is a simple one. While there are quite a lot of liberty-minded folks in the U.S., they are spread out over fifty states, so that their impact is extremely small. But if all those individuals could be concentrated into a single small state, like New Hampshire, political change would be not only possible, but inevitable.
The Free State Project focuses on helping libertarians move to the Granite State, where they are encouraged to vote, run for office, and raise their families in ways consistent with the values of individual liberty and limited government.
Of course, it’s a heavy lift to get people to relocate their entire lives, and the project’s growth has been slow, but there are affiliated real estate companies, architects, and insurance companies to help make the transition as painless as possible.
Talking with the attendees at PorcFest, I was surprised at how diverse the crowd was. There were families with children and dogs roaming around, as well as students, tech entrepreneurs, digital currency enthusiasts, gun rights advocates, and more than a few who would have looked at home at a Grateful Dead concert. Everyone I spoke to was pleasant and respectful, whether they were extolling the virtues of Bitcoin or selling tie-dyed tapestries.
Matt Philips, one of the leaders of the Free State Project and an organizer of the event, is soft-spoken and pragmatic, far from the wide-eyed fanatic many people with only a stereotypical understanding of the movement sometimes picture. He understands the value and necessity of working within a traditional political framework and points to Republican state legislators like Andy Sanborn as allies and opportunities to expand freedom in the state. He doesn’t disdain either of the political parties, even as he urges them to move toward a more liberty-focused position, and he’s not interested in excluding people based on some ideological litmus test — an all too common failing within the libertarian community.
What’s inspiring about PorcFest and the Free State Project is the level of commitment of attendees. A lot of people talk about freedom. A lot of people attend protests and write books. Not many people actually uproot their lives and move to new location in support of building a freer society. That’s exactly what the Free Staters have done, and continue to do, through a process of evangelism and education. And while the political gains made so far have been modest (quite a few committed libertarians in the movement refuse to vote on principle, which makes electoral victories tricky) New Hampshire remains an attractive state for such an effort, with no state income tax, loose gun laws, and a friendly attitude toward homeschooling.
Due to inclement weather and the rigors of working as a vendor, I was unable to spend as much time talking to attendees and organizers as I would have liked, but it’s definitely an event I would like to revisit, to learn more about who these people are and how they live their lives. Who knows? One day, I may even join them.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct a misspelled name.
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Logan Albright is a researcher for Conservative Review and director of research for Free the People. You can follow him on Twitter @loganalbright73.