The Tsunami Event
by Ari Armstrong, December 5, 2000
Success Mixed with Failure
A friend of mine who has worked Libertarian politics for many years predicted that immediately after the elections the sniping would start. It did, but it was fairly mild and some were even happy with election results.
The elections were a mixed bag. But it was a break-through year in many respects, with more people hearing the liberty message than ever before (at least in modern history). A number of Libertarian candidates in Colorado did very well for a new party, and Carla Howell earned 12 percent for U.S. Senate in Massachusetts.
Even though Harry Browne pulled miserable numbers, most people I've heard from chalk that up to the tightness of the Presidential race and figure Harry got the message out in a robust way. Locally, most people seem optimistic.
Some, however, continue to mistake election results for cultural results. For instance, Dr. Shawn Elke Glazer earned 7.1 percent of the vote as the Libertarian candidate for State House District 24. She spent a lot of money -- somewhere in the range of $20,000 -- and she campaigned full-time. Some have pointed out that she likely would have picked up four to six percent without spending one dollar or minute of time campaigning.
However, that misses the point. Because of Dr. Glazer's efforts, every registered voter in her district heard the libertarian message. Many heard it not only through direct mail but through television, radio, and the newspapers, because Glazer earned an enormous amount of coverage. Glazer changed the terms of the debate. Now, libertarian positions on market education, choice in health care, voluntary growth solutions, and much lower taxes are part of the political landscape.
No, Dr. Glazer's efforts did not pay off in the short-run in terms of political power. However, she has planted the ideas of liberty in the minds of her neighbors, and some of those ideas will take hold. I did the same thing in my race, as did Dave Baker in his, as did scores of other candidates across the state.
Libertarians want to change the world. We want to stop political rulers from running society by force, and enable individuals and voluntary groups to run society through cooperation. We're sick of seeing honorable men and women beaten, imprisoned, burned, bombed, tormented, raided, taxed, numbered, processed, and regulated -- all too often to death. We're sick of weeping for the losses of Peter McWilliams, Ismael Mena, Vicki Weaver, and countless others. Understandably, we who worship at the feet of Lady Liberty grow impatient.
The Tsunami Event
Yet, despite all the disappointments with libertarian cultural and political projects, we have reason for optimism. Some weeks ago I thought of an analogy to the hope of libertarians. The name of my analogy is the TSUNAMI EVENT.
A tsunami is a wave in the ocean caused by seismic rumblings on the ocean floor. Out on the broad expanses of water, a tsunami is a trifling thing, barely noticeable. If you were out fishing, you would feel your boat gently rise and fall. But for a person on the shoreline, a tsunami is a quite different experience. First, all the water near the shore rolls back into the sea. Dead calm. Then the tsunami wave rises up against the shallow ocean bottom, exploding upwards with great force to come crashing over the land.
In nature, a tsunami is destructive and something to be feared. However, if we imagine a shoreline littered with the machinery of the oppressive state, drawing a link between the giant wave and the libertarian enterprise becomes not too far fetched. (It's a bit tricky as an analogy because libertarians are primarily constructive, so I would not recommend use of the analogy outside of libertarian circles.)
The earthquakes which cause tsunamis do not just happen without cause. Instead, they are the result of great forces built up over hundreds or thousands of years. Similarly, we're never going to just wake up one day in a libertarian world. The achievement of a free and civil society will be the end result of millions of person-hours of effort, building up social pressures for positive change. We can never predict exactly when the earth will rumble, or when the resulting tsunami will break. Yet the forces are at work.
Several historical examples provide application for the analogy. As Marshall Fritz has noted, nobody could have predicted the day the Berlin Wall would fall (the day the tsunami of freedom smashed that symbol of communist rule). Yet the social forces were long at work. Finally, a few bold individuals jumped the walls, and the soldiers refused to murder them. Then the wall itself came tumbling down. The inherent instability and oppressiveness of socialism, combined with people's longings for freedom, made that day inevitable.
The American Revolution was the product of a long tradition of English law and political thought, notably that of John Locke. Today, we see the Boston Tea Party as one step in an inevitable process. Back then, it was just good fun monkey-wrenching the British.
As a negative example, the stock crash and resulting Great Depression opened the door to the implementation of the socialists' policies. It's not as if the New Deal sprang from the Head of Franklin. Rather, it was the combination of a social crisis and the socialist movement which seemed to offer a solution to the problem. (Socialism in fact made the problem much worse, but the case illustrates the analogy of the tsunami.)
Most recently, Mexico's election of Fox can be seen as something of a Tsunami Event.
Libertarians must not think simplisticly. A life-long "R" or "D" is not going to change voting habits simply because we present him or her with logic, evidence, and a coherent political philosophy. Social change takes time. We ought not grow discouraged when our efforts fail to produce immediate changes. Think of the Tsunami Event. Every effort you make to advance the cause of liberty brings nearer that Day of Freedom our progeny will see as an inevitable consequence.
Obviously, the analogy to a tsunami isn't perfect. In fact, our freedoms may not come in a single day with drama to match the falling of the Berlin Wall. Our tsunami will probably come in slow-motion, and it may take lots of waves. The important point to absorb is that even little actions contribute to the movements of the culture. Even if it works out that one great leader will accomplish the equivalent of blowing up the Death Star, remember that the ship won't fly without mechanics, and Luke Skywalker won't pilot unless he remembers the lessons taught to him by his elders. Use the force, Luke, and ride the wave.
Since the elections, libertarians have proposed a variety of strategies. Some believe the answer lies in marketing libertarian ideas more effectively. Locally, Ron Bain wants to help train Libertarian candidates. Harry Browne, Michael Cloud, and Mary Ruwart are concerned mostly with the issue of how to effectively present libertarian ideas to the public.
Others focus on forging new alliances. Bill Bradford of Liberty Magazine thinks we should focus on the issue of drug prohibition and build our base on that concern. Along those lines, I am attempting to build a coalition with the Prison Moratorium Coalition in the state. Several people have suggested that libertarians join the Republican Party to move it in the direction of liberty. Jacob "Bumper" Hornberger focuses on reaching out to blacks and Hispanics. John Geltemeyer from the Colorado Springs LP believes the answer lies with reaching non-voters.
Richard Lamping thinks Libertarians can make a break-through when they find or cultivate a "ten ton gorilla," that special candidate who has the pizzazz to win votes. This is the "Jesse Ventura" strategy.
In truth, ALL these strategies are necessary for our eventual success. Trying to select just one strategy would be like a football team picking between offense and defense, running and passing, or touchdowns and field goals.
We need to figure out how to package our message in a way that resonates with others. We need to form alliances with particular groups of people. And we need to cultivate the leaders who can take our message to these groups. Lacking any one of these strategies, we will fail.
Not just any efforts will do. We've got to be smart and spend our time effectively. If we do, we will create eventual social change. We can never predict just when the forces will erupt, or when the wave will roll to shore. We must have the courage to plan long-term and struggle on even when our efforts don't result in immediate change. Even though we cannot see the future, the history books will record the Day of Liberation and note as its cause the work we do now.