How to Fix the LPCO (Reply to Shaffer)
by Ralph Shnelvar, June 8, 2004
[For more material about Mark Brophy's Libertarian nomination for the Colorado legislature, along with commentary about the Liberatrian Party of Colorado, please see Mark Brophy Updates.]
On Friday, 4 June 2004 01:14:56 Bo Shaffer sent an e-mail to Ari Armstrong and the Board blasting Ari Armstrong, Lloyd Sweeny, and me.
In that letter Bo said things that prove to me that he is utterly clueless about how this Party works and how to make it grow. Indeed, as Boulder County Chair, he has presided over what may well be the demise of the second largest affiliate in the state.
Which, no doubt, he will blame me for. "Never at meetings..... Never volunteering for anything but his *own* agenda items." wrote Bo.
At which point Rick Randall (the current Legislative Director of the state LP) came to my defense with a laundry list of things that I did volunteer for. Of course, Rick only wrote about those things that Rick knew about.
Yes, Bo, I'm "never at meetings" because I have a limited amount of time. I can either get things done or I can sit and watch people like you flap their gums while they attempt to get Libertarians to line up their way.
It doesn't work like that. Much more about that, below.
* * *
Bo blames me for not coming to the state Convention. I did not go because I -- like so many other former activists -- am protesting the direction that this Party is moving in. Yes, had the many activists who are sick and tired of the antics of the Party leadership actually gone to the Convention, then maybe something different would have come out. But the truth is that they are sick and tired and individually decided not to go.
Yet I did everything in my power to get more people to the Convention. Why? Because wonderful people, Joe and Elizabeth Johnson, where on the hook for the cost of the Convention.
I paid full freight for my ticket. I helped produce a phone blast to try to get people there.
Elizabeth Johnson's disk drive died. This was the drive with all the May 2004 Convention information and e-mails. It was a major disaster for Elizabeth.
Joe and Elizabeth told me that no fewer than five Party members had told Elizabeth that the data was gone. Quite by accident I heard about her plight. I told her that I could probably get most of her data back.
Writing backup and disaster recovery software is what I do for a living. If the data was there to be extracted via the standard electronic interface then I could get it back. That is, I could get it back if it could be gotten back without needing to open her drive under clean-room conditions.
Indeed, I got most of her data back. I couldn't get back the bad spots that had developed on her old disk so she lost a little bit of data.
So, Bo, the fact that the Convention happened at all was in very small measure the result of my work. Did you help with that?
In fact, Bo, I don't care if you were on the Central Committee to Promote the Convention and did a vast amount of work. I don't have a need to control you. Apparently, you have a need to control me.
* * *
What is the Formal Party? It is the state boards and the local affiliates. Yes, these are important. Positions need to be filled. This is, of course, a political party and without the infrastructure the Party collapses.
I ask you, Gentle Reader, this: What has the Formal Party accomplished in this last year? Answer: Almost nothing. (One wag I talked to said, "The Dream Team turned into a nightmare.")
What is the Informal Party? It is the loose association of free men and women working together as resources and time permit.
While the Formal Party accomplished almost nothing this last year, the Informal Party accomplished quite a bit. Frank Atwood got the Littleton grocery tax repealed. Travis Nicks ran a superb campaign -- again with the help of the Informal Party and almost no help from the formal Party. Joe Johnson won a seat on the Frederick Town Board. Yours truly was heavily involved in the last two efforts.
I got a bunch of press in a variety of areas: Electronic voting, marijuana legalization.
Elizabeth Johnson organized the Convention.
Except for Rand-the-Dynamo's contributions (which are really more informal than formal), all of this is happening or has happened without any support from the Formal Party.
I don't need the Party. The Party needs me.
Joe Johnson does not need the Party. The Party needs Joe Johnson.
Elizabeth Johnson does not need the Party. The Party needs Elizabeth Johnson.
Ari Armstrong does not need the Party. The Party needs Ari Armstrong.
Frank Atwood does not need the Party. The Party needs Frank Atwood.
You don't need the Party. The Party needs you.
There are other activists doing things that I know nothing about. To all of these activists, may the gods bless you all.
* * *
So now I get to a comparison of Bo Shaffer and Frank Atwood.
To me, Frank Atwood is the epitome of what this Party can and should be.
Frank Atwood successfully got the Littleton Grocery Tax repealed. He did so without asking the permission of the Party.
He just did it.
Frank Atwood knew that there was a special election (the Arapahoe County Clerk) in which it was possible for a Libertarian to be running against a Republican.
Frank called me and not the Formal Party for a good candidate. I recommended the wonderful Travis Nicks. Travis Nicks accepted.
The campaign came together in about three days. No gum flapping. No Board meetings. There were three face-to-face organizational meetings and then the rest was done by e-mail and phone.
So, Bo, what did you do that compares to Frank's participation in the Travis Nicks campaign? What did you do in Joe Johnson's campaign? Did I knock you for not participating? No. I was grateful that you were doing the Formal Party's important work. We each do what we can.
So, Bo, what would have been better? Having me sitting in on a LP Boulder Board Meeting or working the phones to get Travis press and going to lunch with Travis and reporters?
I have finite resources. I can't do both.
* * *
Although I had recommended Travis for the Arapahoe County Clerk candidacy, I did call Norm up about an issue that should have concerned the LP Board.
It turns out that anyone registered as a Libertarian could have run as Libertarian in that special election without the approval or input of the LP State Board. This worried me.
Even though it was a non-issue in the Travis Nicks campaign, it worried me. Karl Marx could have registered as a Libertarian and then run as "one of us," and there would have been absolutely nothing other than a press release that the state or local affiliates could have done about it.
It appears that this worried me more than the State Chair. That, in turn, worried me even more.
* * *
From the beginning of Norm Olsen's reign as State Chair, there was an explicit attempt to organize the Party in a hierarchical manner. It started off with the "Dream Team" and it went on to "if you want to do the Party's work then report to so-and-so."
From Bo's current e-mail we can see that he firmly believes that this Party can be driven from the top down. This is simply impossible. Libertarians simply don't work that way.
This Party works from the bottom up by the efforts of its activists. The activists, thank the gods, don't report to the Board.
This Party's two most successful activists, Joe Johnson and Frank Atwood, reported to no one. They just did what they felt needed to be done. Remarkably, they succeeded.
This Party's most effective campaigner, Travis Nicks, reported to no one. He just did what needed to be done.
Travis Nicks jumped into the fray without any central oversight. He did a superb job.
Ari Armstrong puts out what is, in effect, the superb but unofficial [See the bottom of the Freedom Report's home page] Libertarian Party house organ. Ari's e-mail list is probably considerably better than the Party's e-mail list. If you want to know what's happening in the Freedom Movement and what's happening in the Party then you read the Colorado Freedom Report because it is both timely and insightful.
Joe Johnson is the de facto campaigns director. Please note that I am in strong disagreement with Joe about filling the ballot. Nonetheless, Joe and Elizabeth are gods to me.
I'm guessing here, but I think Mark Brophy jumped into doing the Fort Collins Grocery Tax all by himself. He was self motivated. We need more Mark Brophy's doing these kinds of things. The Mark Brophys of the world should be encouraged.
* * *
Above, I wrote, "That's not how this Party works."
Norm Olsen explicitly told the 2003 Convention that he had organized his dream team. He stated explicitly that there was going to be hierarchical control of Libertarian Party affairs. He strongly implied centralization of control. In a private conversation with me he told me that explicitly. His concern was with winning races. "I (Norm Olsen) will not spend one second of time talking about what is or isn't libertarian," he said to me at the 2003 Convention in Colorado Springs.
It made and makes my skin crawl. I bit my tongue on this point, though. Let me explain why.
The Libertarian Party is The Party of Political, Social, and Economic Experimentation. People and organizations need to experiment in order to find out what works. People need to be allowed to fail; otherwise, there is no human progress.
Yet libertarians have an explicit bias against centralized authority because we know that decentralized control almost always produces better results than command authority. We also know that decentralized control means more freedom -- and that is a good unto itself.
We know that economies self-organize in such a way that the baker gets his wheat from the farmer without anyone telling either the baker or the farmer to do anything at all. That's how this Party works. That's one of the messages of this Party.
That observation about centralized authority repeated itself again this year in what can only be called Norm Olsen's failed administration. Nearly all the promises that he made about forward motion and increasing membership have failed. To me, this is completely unsurprising.
It is also unsurprising that Bo Shaffer thinks that the answer to the Party's ills are more central authority ("Never at meetings..... Never volunteering for anything but his *own* agenda items.") The activists flee and the Party shrinks.
Indeed, the lack of participation at the Convention is, as one former candidate put it in a private e-mail to me, can be reflected in her statement "I do not want to alienate anyone who has just an inkling of one libertarian idea -- but those who don't get the whole picture certainly should not be running our party." I would add that those who do not get the whole picture should not be running as candidates, either.
I had the privilege of walking with John Berntson (who had driven through seven counties) to work on Joe Johnson's final day's campaign and I marveled at the difference in style between the former and current Chair. John had hit me upside the head on more than one occasion and I can fully attest that I deserved each and every one of them.
Unlike Norm and Bo, though, John understood how this Party worked, and he did a marvelous job of keeping its various parts together with a deft word and loose control.
Thankfully, the activists pretty much ignored Norm's attempt at central control. Each activist with whom I am familiar understands that central authority -- whether it be government or the State Board -- is just an impediment to getting things done.
As one well-regarded activist told me, "This Party's work gets done despite the Board."
* * *
Prior to that 2003 Convention Norm told me privately that he would not be spending one second debating what was or wasn't Libertarian.
Lovely. Just Lovely. The Party Chair picks his board based on what?
What is the Libertarian Party? Is it just a group of random people? Or is it The Party of Principle? What are those Principles? If Principles don't matter to the State Chair of the Libertarian Party then whom should they matter to? The Socialists?
In this Party there are, maybe, fifteen activists. There used to be many more but I have seen them fall by the wayside. What caused these good people to drop out?
The people who are most motivated to be activists are the ones who see the beauty of the libertarian philosophy. They have an intuitive understanding of the economics of freedom. They see the world through the lenses of liberty.
These are not people who can be controlled. These are not the people who should be controlled. These are the people who get things done.
* * *
In a companion article, Ari Armstrong writes that the Libertarian Party had lost its soul when it voted to nominated Mark Brophy. Indeed it has.
Let me repeat: I have nothing against Mark Brophy. He wants to do good things. He appears to be a good man. He'll probably make a good candidate and a great organizer of the Fort Collins Grocery Tax repeal.
Yet, so many of us worked so hard to defeat Amendment 22: the weight of the state again inflicting itself on private transactions just because those transactions happen to involve guns. I'm paraphrasing Brophy: "It's a reasonable delay. It's a reasonable check." It is neither.
During my campaign for governor, many gun groups and the Libertarian Party beat up Governor Bill (Gun Grabber) Owens on his position on Amendment 22. Now we go and nominate a man who agrees with what we fought so hard against.
I want to barf. This is not what the Libertarian Party used to stand for. These are not reasonable checks. This is the road to hell paved with good intentions. Norm's "Well, there is something that everyone disagrees with in the platform." just doesn't wash with me. Norm should have been warning the Convention that they were about to nominate someone whose position -- if anyone paid attention -- would be offensive to a vast proportion of the rank and file. More to the bitter point, if Brophy's position isn't offensive to the rank and file then the Party has already lost its soul.
Just because a person says that he or she is a libertarian does not make it so. The "need" for candidates and Norm's headlong rush to get someone (anyone!) elected shows me that the Board has lost its soul. Brophy may be great on drug reform (I think he'll be surprised how hostile the Board is to the promotion of drug reform as an active campaign issue), but he has as yet not publicly disavowed his position when it comes to citizen disarmament (gun control).
You all know already that I consider Joe Johnson and Elizabeth Johnson living Libertarian gods. Yet even the gods can be wrong. Joe left the Republican Party because of how wishy-washy they were on gun rights. Their loss was our major gain. Yet -- as far as I know -- Joe's desire to fill the ballot with Ls next to a name has blinded him to principle. This is not pragmatic: this is self-destructive.
I'm sorry, Joe. You are a living god to me but on this you are wrong, wrong, wrong.
* * *
If this Party is to progress at all, it must, at minimum, coddle and nurture its effective activists. Each activist is precious beyond belief. In a Party of, maybe, 15 activists who do 80% of the real work, losing a single one is a major loss.
Bo's blast of me has nothing to do with why I have ceased working for the Party. It is, though, just another nail in the coffin of one more activist disgusted with the Party's direction.
Although I continue to be a registered Libertarian, several months ago I ceased working for this Party for at least the next year for reasons having very little to do with Bo Shaffer. I will, though, continue to work -- much less effectively -- outside of this Party to promote freedom. There are people and organizations who can use my political skills. These efforts will benefit freedom but will only tangentially help this Party. For the next year (or years) I will not identify myself as a Libertarian Party activist because I will not be a Libertarian Party activist.
* * *
One side effect of a free market is that people tend to do what they do best. That means that there will be people who can deal with the details of running a political party. There are others who do grass roots organizing. There are others who write the philosophy. There are others who raise money. Each is a very different skill.
For instance, having someone who is good at raising money stand on a street corner gathering signatures is a terrible waste of resources. It burns out the volunteers. Pressuring a good fundraiser to stand on a corner to gather signatures shows disrespect for what that person is good at.
I do what I do. I do it to the best of my ability.
What an effective County Chair would say to an activist is, "Thank you so much for all that you have done and all that you do. If you can spare the time do you think you could fill in as Outreach Director (or whatever)?"
Instead of that, what this activist reads is that I'm a dead weight.
What an effective way to keep me interested in working for the Party! Gee, I think I'll volunteer for another campaign! Thank you, sir, may I have another!
I repeat. One side effect of a free market is that people tend to do what they do best. What Bo Shaffer seems to do best is bitch and moan about things he knows nothing about.
* * *
I wish you all well.