I could only attend Liberty Forum for one day this year, though there was more action in those few hours than I could fathom. Liberty Forum is the Free State Project’s annual intellectual gathering, where folks from New Hampshire and abroad gather for a weekend of presentations focused on making New Hampshire (and the world) a more free place. I got to the event bright and early, passing one well-known activist napping on a couch in the lobby. After checking the previous night’s schedule – party at the Quill! – I realized many attendees were likely still in bed. But where there are microphones and cameras, there will be panels and presentations happening.

In a panel titled “Be the Media,” local independent media producers shared tips and ideas for how to get into government establishments and report on it, which is often more challenging than it sounds. Writer Joël Valenzuela thinks we should tell more human stories, and focus less on “regurgitating libertarian talking points.” He also thinks we should get out of libertarian circles more often and write about issues that interest average people. It’s much easier to get attention with a “liberty perspective” than as a “libertarian.” Think of it as embedded journalism.

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It’s often hard to get respect as a journalist from bailiffs and other curmudgeons who guard the doors at courthouses and other government establishments. They are obviously defending the interests of their castles and will try to keep anyone out they don’t trust – independent media producers, take notice. Radio host and writer Darryl W. Perry outlined some of the steps necessary to take in order to make everything as official as possible. Find out which forms you need to fill out, document everything, and when you go in, you’ll be able to swat down the bullies in the doorway. He shared a story in which the bailiff told him only media was allowed to enter. Perry repeated “I am the media!” numerous times to him -— this government form was his press badge – until the bailiff gave up and let him in. “The more you do, the closer you’re gonna get,” he concluded.

It’s important, Valenzuela pressed, to remember you’re reporting the actual story, not only the revolutionary struggle that takes place just to enter. Perry chimed in that many bureaucrats have open conversations, “and they don’t realize people can hear what they are saying…because people aren’t necessarily reporting on that.” Honestly, “just sit in the hallway and listen.” This triggered some devilish delight in me, and has inspired me to spend more time in government buildings.

And don’t tell anyone you’re a “blogger.” Use the word “journalist.” When politicians like Diane Feinstein refer to bloggers as people who write from their parents’ basements, that word is not going to get you anywhere fast. Valenzuela urged writers to get published on a “less you-involved publication” — then you can more easily say you are a journalist. And when a “blogger” gets kicked out of an event? No one cares. But when a “journalist” gets kicked out of an event, more people get ticked off. Activist and radio host Ian Freeman added that live-tweeting events draws a lot of attention, and people like to feel as if they are there. Perry does this often at hearings for various activists and it’s usually the only way people know what’s going on until days later.

Freeman added that it’s important you focus on what you’re good at, whether it’s writing, recording, live-tweeting, etc. “Where you feel comfortable is where you should get started, but you should push boundaries a little bit.” I think he meant not just personally, but for the people around you, as well. The precedent needs to be set. The message needs to be that this new alternative media will be the norm, so get used to it.

"goodbye uber, hello arcade city!"

“goodbye uber, hello arcade city!”

Speaking of setting precedents, Christopher David — the Free Uber activist — presented his new startup, the decentralized ride-sharing app, Arcade City. Arcade City will directly compete with Uber and Lyft and is much more customizable than the bigwigs could ever hope to be. While Uber has cut rates for its drivers, Arcade City drivers can set their own prices and even accept multiple forms of payment from dogecoin to bitcoin to credit cards. Drivers, if they want, can offer multiple services – anything can happen because the customer and service provider can directly communicate before transacting, a simple but effective feature built in to the app. Already, limo companies, couriers, plow truck drivers and other businesses plan to integrate their services onto the Arcade City app. It’s possible that the app will take on sites like AirBnB in the future as well.

Arcade City has over 1,800 drivers signed up all over the country, and many in other countries as well. David has said he will provide the software and support for anyone who wants to use it, regardless of where they live and what laws they’re controlled by. Unlike Uber, this app makes you an entrepeneur, not an employee.

As David was taking questions, the moderator stepped in to alert the crowd that he could only answer one or two more, as the main room was filling to the brims for Edward Snowden’s appearance via Skype from Russia – and that an overflow room was also filling fast. David said he wanted to see Snowden too, so we all ran to the main room, arriving just on time.

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The room was packed with hundreds of people. At least one major news network – NH’s ABC affiliate WMUR – was there recording a story. I stood in the back so I could take it all in, and then someone handed me a cardboard cutout of Edward Snowden’s face. Everyone in the room began holding them up to pose for the cameras. A moment later, Reason’s Nick Gillespie, that pop-tart loving friend of the FSP, was at the microphone, and Edward Snowden’s face was on the screen. The room exploded with cheers and waving Snowden cutouts – which caused him to break into a big grin.

It was a smart choice to have Gillespie interview Snowden – though I’ll confess it would have been a perfect touch to have someone like Carla Gericke get up and ask a fun one, but I don’t know what the conditions for the interview were. Gillespie began by introducing Snowden to the FSP, and describing its goal of achieving a “free and independent New Hampshire.” As the crowd cheered, he added, “They’re even gonna get rid of the state liquor stores.” That’s some local humor for ya.

Gillespie switched into interview mode. He asked Snowden if any communications are private anymore. Snowden described mass surveillance as “you don’t have a choice,” but added that if it’s encrypted, it’s at least “a covered wagon moving down the trail.” Gillespie then asked how the government can win back trust.

“Accountability,” said Snowden. The problem is, the government knows more about us than we can ever know about them. “They’re excusing themselves of accountability over us at the same time they’re exerting power.”

On the topic of the recent presidential election in the US, and the two-party paradigm, Snowden said no candidate represents his views and he won’t endorse one. He thinks most people vote against an evil, which is unfortunate. “It’s not about who you hate the most, it’s about who represents you.”

Gillespie had to ask, “Can you vote? Can you send in an absentee ballot?”

Snowden, smirking, replied, “This is still a topic of active research.” He went on to explain that he believes in the general ideas of classical liberalism and libertarianism, that anything pushing away from the authoritarian side of the axis is in the right direction.

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I found myself watching Snowden more than listening to him. A certain, powerful realness struck me from the back of the room. Edward Snowden changed from a name I hear on the news to a person who is sitting in front of me — unfortunately halfway around the world, because he isn’t allowed to be here physically. It hurt, but it was also incredibly exciting. Here we were anyway, openly defying the wishes of the state and giving this man our attention.

Gillespie asked Snowden if he thinks the NSA was involved in the Ross Ulbricht case. Without pause, Snowden said, “Yes.” But as ten more Silk Roads appear for every one that is shut down, will the government ever put an end to it, or will this be a perpetual game of cat and mouse? “I’m not sure,” Snowden said, “but the individual is more powerful than ever before.” That’s important to remember.

Perhaps the United States should think about what it’s doing. It is setting an example for the rest of the world: when it does things that are bad, other governments point and say they’re just emulating the US when they do bad things, too. He noted that Apple said the FBI is the first government organization to pester them about breaking the encryption on their products. It’s merely setting a precedent for China and Russia to do the same in the future.

When asked for some reading suggestions – Snowden is an autodidact without a high school diploma – he merely prompted everyone to read both sides of an issue. “The beauty of the Internet is that you don’t have to rely on a single source.”

After Snowden logged out and the room finished erupting in cheers, my friend and I snuck out into sunny Manchester to take a walk and find lunch. It was much like exiting a movie theatre and realizing the world was still out there spinning. The light was surreal, and the hustle and bustle of downtown Manchester was disorienting and confusing. Did they not know what just happened?! That these things are so real and heartbreaking? But it’s okay, let’s just go find a good salad and somewhere to sit for an hour.

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We decided to pop our heads into a local restaurant called The Farm, but before we could say a word, the host pointed us into a separate room. Hmm, I thought, a lot of attendees seem to have picked this place for lunch. Then we realized we had stumbled into the NHLA Luncheon. The host must have seen our lanyards and assumed we were with them. Cool.

The New Hampshire Liberty Alliance is a long-standing group of citizens who read and rate bills that are proposed in the New Hampshire state legislature. It is all done with liberty in mind, of course, and as a retaliation against lobbyists and other crooked interests that wish to direct the state reps in their preferred direction. Before every vote, members pass out golden slips of paper with the NHLA’s voting reccommendations – “the gold standard” – and most of the 400-plus state reps will read them. The NHLA also ranks the state reps, which infuences the way many vote. Some reps want to get good scores – while some take pride in their low rankings.

Among dozens of regular attendees, the room was filled with state reps, college professors, and an economist or two. I sat at the end of my table near a small child playing Minecraft and singing to herself. I strained to hear the news from Friday’s “State of the Free State Project” presentation – that Matt Phillips would become the next president of the organization; that the FSP would soon be contacting all of the signers to see how they can get them to actually move to New Hampshire; and that while the 20,000 signers mark has been met, the new actionable goal for the organization will be to get 20,000 actual movers. Of course, folks can still sign the statement of intent to move to New Hampshire.

I should add that it is extremely easy to rub elbows with state reps, college professors, and yes, even the economists in New Hampshire. There was one of each at my table. When contacting a state rep in New Hampshire, you don’t get a cheesy form letter back in the mail, you usually get the actual state rep on the phone. And if you want to call them every time there’s a vote, there’s a good chance the two of you will get to know each other real well. You may even see each other in the grocery store every week.

Recently, it’s been made even easier to get in touch with your state rep – and have all the information you need to school him on his own job – thanks to an app called GenCourtMobile, which allows the user to find their state rep, see their voting record and sponsored bills. I just learned who my state rep is – I pass this guy a lot on the highway – and man, does he hate abortion.

As we all raced back to Liberty Forum, the little girl decided to jump in every puddle and pick up every package on the ground, until her dad asked if she would like to be carried. I think playing is the ultimate expression of freedom, and I will admit I was jealous.

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I slipped into the last row to see Lyn Ulbricht give an update on the Free Ross campaign, and Ross Ulbricht’s battles with the state. I found it fascinating and horrifying that the defense attempted to bring in bitcoin expert Andreas Antonpolous when they explained that the jury didn’t understand digital currencies, then were denied and told that the jury understood bitcoin. Go figure.

Then she shared the prison sentences of top sellers and admins on the Silk Road site. Jan Slomp was a top seller and he received 10 years. Another seller, Steven Sadler, received 5 years. Peter Nash was an admin and he will sit in jail for 17 months. Ross Ulbricht? Double life plus 40 years with no parole.

“I don’t believe,” Lyn Ulbricht said, “drugs are the reason they put Ross away.” It was for political reasons: Silk Road was the most powerful threat to the state yet. Then Lyn showed on the big screen behind her a curious screenshot of a new feature on the FreeRoss.org site. In prison, Ross drew a piece of art he titled “The Trial I Saw” and for donations as small as a dollar, people can reveal portions of his piece until it is completely visible. It has taken on an artistic form of its own as previous donors have spelled out “FREE ROSS” and “BITCOIN” with their clicks.

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When asked how else to help, Lyn requested that people share as much information as possible, even if it’s just retweeting her updates. “I can’t rely on the mainstream media to do that,” she said. She particularly would like people to share the game – an innovative fundraising idea. And of course, you can write Ross, himself. On a sadder note, Lyn shared that Ross doesn’t like to wake up every morning – it hits him all over again where he is and what is happening – but he stays positive, helping the culture around him stay positive, as well. Knowing he has support from the liberty community is one of the factors helping him by.

The heavyweights kept coming. Next up was Alexander McCobin, co-founder of Students for Liberty. SFL began as a one-time conference, but in less than a decade has grown to over 2,800 student groups in over 100 countries. One of the secrets to success for libertarians, McCobin thinks, is that they need to be FOR something, not AGAINST things. The Tea Party and Occupy movements flopped because they were simply reactionary – they did not have that “compelling vision for what they did stand for.” Meanwhile, organizations like the Cato Institute, Reason Magazine, the FSP, and SFL have success because they have actionable goals – to be the best think tank, publication, or organization in their respected fields.

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The statist bad guys understand this, and that is why they have been so successful for centuries. What’s interesting and uplifting, however, is that the ideas of liberty have been winning substantive battles over that same period of time – whether it’s ending slavery, achieving equal rights for women and minorities, destroying monarchies and founding democratic republics, etc.

“Libertarianism is extreme because we persevere with our ideas, whether they are popular or unpopular,” McCobin noted. Then he laid out a simple plan for perseverence: Take action, even little things. Baby steps can be necessary sometimes. Then strive to emulate the greats. “What would Thomas Jefferson do? What would Rocky Balboa do?” he asked, after having quoted the latter. Then, surround yourself with good people. Whether that’s Students for Liberty, or the Free State Project, it’s a wise way to create accountability and momentum forward. And before we know it, the millenial generation could make some history of its own.

But we need not consider ourselves parts of a group if we’d rather not. Throughout the entire Libery Forum, there was a series of short talks themed “In Real Life,” which took personal experience and allowed the audience to make their own conclusions. In one such talk, titled “The Activism of One,” Theresa Earle shared her background as an Occupy organizer. She realized it wasn’t accomplishing anything – for her, especially – so she took her skills to New Hampshire and began farming and raising her family.

The activism of one, she means, is to “do things in your life to make your life better.” As individuals, we need to “look inward. It takes me most of my time to take care of myself.”

While speaking, Theresa was fond of her hulahoop. She twirled it and stretched on it while talking, perhaps a relaxing mechanism while public speaking. She began by telling us that she orginally had a talk relating the hulahoop to a conversation, but that it wasn’t for an event like Liberty Forum. But she’d make it work. A hulahoop is a circle: “It’s never ending, like activism.” Is hulahooping a form of activism? She thinks it can be: it connects you with other people, which is how you share ideas; it gets you outside and active, which leads to better health – which I’ve heard before is your best defense against the state.

Activism is more than holding up signs and walking in marches. “Activism can be the toothbrush you buy,” she concluded. The world will change when the people change.

With this fresh inspiration, I struck out into the world for another walk around Manchester, with an urge to explore and try something new. I knew just the place to go: Murphy’s Tavern. Well, just the lobby. It is there I found a black and yellow machine embedded in the wall: the bitcoin vending machine.

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I am utterly convinced that I will never use an online bitcoin service again with the mere $1 transaction I performed on this little magic box. I scanned my QR code, I fed my dollar into the machine, and I pressed “BUY BITCOINS.” The machine kept a 4% fee and I walked away with .00219 of fresh btc. There are two bitcoin “ATMs” in New Hampshire, and they do big business because of how accessible and easy to use they are. I’ve heard that people drive up from New York and Massachusetts in order to trade currencies without the hassle of the regulated websites. Consider it reason #102 to move to New Hampshire.

Elated, I skipped back to Liberty Forum, but continued my explorations of its halls and exhibitions. I found some flyers for the Lakes Region Porcupines, which feature an epic shot of a dude in a bitcoin shirt illegally jumping off a bridge. I live one town outside of the Lakes Region, so I may try to join the revelry sometime soon. We passed a large group gathering by the entrance of the hotel lobby — it was just about time for a 4:20 in the park. I wished them well.

58Then I remembered the Alt Expo. Traditionally, the Alt Expo has taken place alongside various FSP events, in order to explore topics outside of the usual FSP fare, which tend to be political, economic, historic, etc. There are plenty of alternative lifestyles within libertarian circles that don’t fall into these categories – agorism, polyamorism, left-libertarianism, DIY topics – things the FSP doesn’t discourage, but may fall out of its stated goals. So one year, Alt Expo was established – in a hotel room right above the formal event. Last year, Alt Expo was incorporated into Liberty Forum, but this year, it again was held upstairs, at the end of a lonely hallway. As to whether its organizers chose to do that, or the Liberty Forum organizers, I’m not sure.

Unforunately, I forgot all about it until the afternoon, and I missed some valuable talks, but I insisted on finding it anyway. A flyer was taped to the hotel room’s door, the door propped open with a trash can. I expected a smoky room filled with men with moustaches and funny hats, but found a small group of attendees engaged in a discussion of options available for applying solar power to tiny houses. A few people were just hanging out, sipping on beers and relaxing. Low profile, but powerful. If I hadn’t wandered in mid-talk, I likely would have taken part, but it was too late and I was in over my head. We wandered back downstairs to the main show.

Before the day winded down, the crowd packed into the room one last time for Seth Hipple’s presentation: “Your Rights When Dealing With Police.” Hipple is a criminal defense lawyer – and a Free Stater – so you know he likes to have some fun with it. He spent his entire hour taking questions from the audience on anything related to New Hampshire’s laws – what’s necessary, what isn’t necessary, what he suggests works best, etc. – when dealing with the fuzz.

In New Hampshire, for instance, you never have to present an ID to a police officer, unless you’re operating a motor vehicle. Even if you’re arrested, you’re not required – though they won’t allow you to post bail until you do. You don’t have to say anything, either. Hipple suggests you opt for expressions such as “I’m not answering questions until I speak with my lawyer,” instead of “Am I being detained?” There isn’t even a good reason to admit you have a gun on you – even if you have a concealed carry permit. You can simply say you aren’t answering the question. They can’t do anything about it. Also, for the record, “There is no such thing as an illegal gun in New Hampshire.” I hope I heard that right.

After his landmark case Gericke v. Begin, in which it was established that it’s A-OK to record police officers in New Hampshire, Hipple said there’s no reason to never record. Always record. In fact, Carla Gericke was in the next room presenting her “In Real Life” talk about just that subject. And no, you don’t need to tell the cop you’re recording him. But it can’t hurt to tell the cop – it can only help you if you end up in court at some point.

When being arrested, Hipple thinks you should just go along with it. Doing anything weird, like lying on the ground, will only make you look bad in court. In New Hampshire, “resisting arrest” can be anything that isn’t standing still with your hands behind your back. “Anything you do that’s out of the ordinary is going to be looked at like you’re crazy or a drunk or a psycho,” he quipped.

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One awesome fact about New Hampshire: the NH constitution is more protective than the federal constitution, therefore Hipple says there’s no need to rely on it here: “The law is usually worse under the federal constitution than it is under the New Hampshire constitution.” And even better, jury nullification is written into the jury instructions in New Hampshire. So Hipple makes it a point to tell every jury they are allowed to vote their conscience in every trial. The judges and prosecutors hate that.

Lastly, he shared a story from a recent jury selection. The prosecutor wanted to ask prospective jurors if they were “Free Staters.” Hipple asked the prosecutor, “What’s a Free Stater?” The prosecutor responded that they’re libertarians. So, Hipple asked, “You’re asking them about their political beliefs?” The prosecutor defended his question, “Well they don’t think they should follow laws.” So Hipple asked, “Why don’t you just ask them that?” Sheesh.

After 63the presentation, the room emptied out into the lobby, where drinks were being poured and musicians were performing for a fundraiser. Someone in the community has medical expenses and his friends have rallied to help. Later in the evening, an award ceremony would take place. I didn’t know much about it, though I heard that it involved state reps and drag queens, and that the Uber Grandma would be receiving an award for her heroism. I think that’s a beautiful thing: here we have a local woman who needs some money, gets into Uber, gets ticketed by the Portsmouth police four times, decides to stand up for herself and keep driving, even with a scheduled court date (it has a jury, get ready for some excitement) – and without expecting it, finds herself welcomed by a community ready to stand behind her.

It sums up the Free State Project perfectly: that is the future of this movement. The more people that are here, the more people there are to resist the state, and the more people there are to back those resisters up. It’s mind-bending to think that all of what I’ve witnessed in the past few years here in New Hampshire has been accomplished with less than 2,000 movers – there are still 18,000 to go. It’s a deep, intensely exciting feeling that bubbles up and out of me every time I think about it.

I said goodbye to Liberty Forum and walked out into the city. There was a chalkboard sign in front of a business. A porcupine had been drawn onto it. This chocolate shop takes bitcoin. Liberty sure is sweet.