The Free Staters Go Camping
- News & Views for Anarchists & Activists:
[Has the Free State Project had any actual success at making New
Hampshire more libertarian that it can poin to? Serious question.--DC]
The Free Staters Go Camping
What happens when you bring together politicos, voluntaryists, and
off-the-grid farmers for a week?
by Garrett Quinn
July 6, 2012
Every summer since 2004, hundreds of people belonging to and interested
in the Free State Project, an effort to move 20,000 libertarians to New
Hampshire, gather at a remote campground in the northern part of the
state for a weeklong event called the Porcupine Freedom Festival. The
outdoorsy extravaganza, more commonly known as PorcFest, is one of the
biggest libertarian gatherings in the entire country.
The libertarian stereotype of the nerdy, balding, middle-aged white guy
goes out the window at PorcFest. The attendees are so diverse, one
wonders how organizers managed to get everybody together in the same
place without burning the forest down in a fit of rage. If you want to
see what happens when you bring together libertarian politicos,
voluntaryists, and off-the-grid family farmers that love raw milk for a
week to celebrate one of the more quixotic elements of the libertarian
movement, then you have to go to PorcFest.
For Carla Gericke, the president of the Free State Project, this is her
busiest week of the year. She is constantly checking on events, meeting
with people, moderating panels, and judging contests. She views PorcFest
as one of the best ways to convince people to become Free Staters and
make the move to the Granite Stat. Recently her group has tried to
attract more families, not just individuals.
"I definitely think we had over a thousand people. We sold 650+ presale
tickets and allowed walk-ins. We don't count children, but there were a
lot of them. Definitely moved more to a family friendly vibe, which was
our goal,” Gericke says in an online interview after the event. Gericke
was so busy during PorcFest that not only did she not have time to stop
for an interview, she lost her voice on the final day.
In years past there have been squabbles, but this year the event was
“drama free,” according to Gericke.
"People tend to sort themselves according to their noise level
tolerance. The families tend towards the quieter zones at the back, and
others gravitate to the late night noise area. We did try this year to
keep late night noise tolerable, with loud music ending at midnight,”
The divide was certainly visible to anyone that took a stroll through
the camp on the final full day of activities. Large families gathered in
the back of the campground away from the action while younger people
stayed closer to the fire and the merchants row, known as Agora Valley,
where agorists hawked their wares to festivalgoers. In Agora Valley you
could buy a wide variety of food, books, clothing, soaps, tapestries,
and (of course) gold and silver. Farmers offered samplings of the fruits
of their labor while promoting deals to Free Staters on baskets of fresh
produce and meats delivered from their farm straight to their door. Some
agorists, like George Mandrick, took a more direct route and set up shop
in the main hall, the Shire Society Pavilion.
Mandrick is a full-time personal chef and home cleaner who does some
catering on the side. Like many of the people here, he is committed to
the ideas of agorism, a philosophy created by anarchist Sam Konkin in
the 1970s. This is Mandrick’s second year of catering PorcFest and,
though he sees the philosophical divides at PorcFest, he doesn’t see
himself in any camp.
“I am not politically active at all, I have no interest in politics. I
am not even an activist, I am really just a businessman. I want to live
my life as free as possible and it’s much easier for me to do that here
because there are people that I can connect with. They also just want to
have cash transactions with me,” he says.
This is the first time Mandrick has had a 15 minute break all night, but
soon festivalgoers start queuing for his burgers. Again. He tightens up
his apron and begins to look back at his stand as if encouraging me to
wrap up the interview.
“For me, it’s about interactions and business dealings between
individuals,” he says as he heads back to his grill.
In a large tent next to the pavilion, New Hampshire Republican state
representative Mark Warden holds court behind a makeshift bar. Warden
left Nevada, another state with strong libertarian leanings, in 2007
when the market took a turn for the worse. Warden says one of the
reasons he moved to New Hampshire and joining the FSP was the natural
beauty of the state. PorcFest, he thinks, is one of the ways to show
that off because it is a large outdoor festival unlike other libertarian
gatherings that tend to be held at large resort hotels (think Freedom
Fest in Las Vegas).
“When you’re in Las Vegas at FreedomFest there are two parts: the
liberty portion and investments. So you have a lot of people from Wall
Street. Here we have more Main Street, more Austrian economics, people
that are self-reliant, people that invest in metals, in real estate,” he
says, adding that the crowd tends to be younger at PorcFest.
At PorcFest, you won’t see much white hair.
“It’s very diverse. You see some dreadlocks here, you see some Occupiers
here, you see some Tea Partiers here, you see some straight laced
non-drinking Christian businessmen here, you see it all,” he says.
Warden attributes the congenial nature of the event to the natural
libertarian aversion to force.
“Libertarians tend to be pretty tolerant. Most people here think their
way is the best or the right way but they won’t force other people to do
it their way. They want the competition for ideas to flourish and for
the best way to run things to be settled on the battlefield of ideas,”
he says, as someone offered us cigars.
Despite the remoteness of the campground and nearly nonexistent internet
access a web based radio station, The Liberty Radio Network, managed to
broadcast from the site all week. The station’s program director, Ian
Freeman, moved from Florida to New Hampshire as part of the FSP in 2006
after growing increasingly frustrated with Libertarian Party there and
the level of activism. Freeman is one of the more unique individuals at
PorcFest because he has participated in activism across the libertarian
“I do whatever activism I can do. Creating media, outreach, civil
disobedience, noncooperation, whatever it is I can do I am involved,” he
says sitting with me at a table inside the Pavilion on the last day of
Freeman programs and hosts the nationally syndicated libertarian talk
show, Free Talk Live, something he considers not only a job but a calling.
“It’s business first and foremost but it has a benefit of spreading the
ideas,” he says.
Despite his aversion to the cold weather as a Florida native Freeman
knew that New Hampshire was where he had to be. When Freeman packed his
bags for the Granite State he did not stop in Concord or Manchester or
Portsmouth, he went straight to Keene, a place many consider to be a hub
for hardcore libertarian activists.
“Political candidates don’t do civil disobedience so my experience had
not been anywhere in that realm. I just thought ‘This is the most
exciting thing happening in the liberty movement that I’ve ever seen.’
So I had to be a part of it,” he says.
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Skipper: Professor, will you tell these people who is
in charge on this island?
Professor: Why, no one.
Skipper: No one?
Thurston Howell III: No one? Good heavens, this is anarchy!
-- _Gilligan's Island_, episode #6, "President Gilligan"