It is with sadness, both personally and on behalf of the Free State Project, that I announce the cancellation of the February 2011 New Hampshire Liberty Forum. I was looking forward to this 5th annual Liberty Forum and I know some of you were, too.
It fell to me to make the difficult decision to cancel the event, and it falls to me to announce its cancellation now, so I feel it is also appropriate that I provide a brief explanation as to why it was best to cancel this upcoming Liberty Forum. I would also like to provide a bit of encouragement about the Free State Project itself.
In 2006, the Free State Project decided to launch a second annual event, a more formal hotel convention in the winter time to contrast our casual summer social event, the Porcupine Freedom Festival. This was a potentially huge risk for the Free State Project given our tiny budget and all-volunteer structure. Despite that, the first New Hampshire Liberty Forum in 2007 was an unprecedented success. Since then, it has grown into one of the most highly respected events in the libertarian community.
Each year's Liberty Forum has represented a significant portion of the Free State Project's budget and volunteer effort. With that comes significant risk. Each year, we have had to carefully assess, all throughout the planning process, what the impact of the event will be on the Free State Project. As we have met important milestones along the way, including ticket sales, we have continued onto a successful event. This year, the planning process did not yield the same results.
The organizational effort for this year's event got a late start, and even later momentum. The existence of several competing events made securing speakers, including a keynote, difficult. The lead organizer decided to hold off on ticket sales until after the keynote was announced. In November, a keynote was selected but unexpectedly backed out. By the time a replacement was secured, it was early-December. Given the very late start, the expectation was that ticket sales would be brisk.
The keynote was announced, as well as numerous other presenters, and ticket sales began. Instead of catching up, the pace of sales indicated we were getting further behind. Though the responses from potential attendees sounded positive, those responses did not translate into actual ticket sales. This past weekend began a period of ever increasing financial obligations leading up to the event. The ticket sales, compared with previous years, were dramatically lower.
In the worst case scenario, the financial results of a poorly attended Liberty Forum could have been catastrophic to the Free State Project. The available data indicated we could be heading in that direction. Other organizations have experienced significant difficulty, even risking extinction, after continuing under similar circumstances. Taking that risk on behalf of the Free State Project did not appear to be a wise decision under these circumstances. Canceling the event ensures that the Free State Project remains healthy, particularly financially, so that we can try again in the future.
It would be easy to blame the event's lead organizer, the Free State Project's organization, me, the economy, the speaker lineup, the other competing events, and so on. In reality, all of those factors likely contributed to slow sales which brought us to where we are now.
Indeed, the Free State Project organization itself – the Board, myself, and the Liberty Forum organization – played a variety of parts in things not going well this time around. For that, and on behalf of all who contributed to this let down, I apologize with all the sincerity I can muster. As the person who initiated the event years ago, it is not just an organizational disappointment but a personal one, too.
That said, without the Free State Project, and specifically the organization that stewards the idea behind it, the first four installments of the New Hampshire Liberty Forum would never have happened. In fact, while some things can be done by individuals on their own, Liberty Forum has, from the beginning, been an excellent example of what can be accomplished when an organized group of libertarians pursue a common goal.
We, as an organization, now have an opportunity before us which we have not had for several years. Without the organizational burden of Liberty Forum tying up our attention, we can focus on other forms of outreach – social media promotion, advertising, representing at other groups' events, presenting an accurate and positive image in the media, and so on.
We also continue to prepare for the 2011 Porcupine Freedom Festival... and before you ask, I do anticipate that event to go on as planned. It is a fraction of the cost of Liberty Forum and hundreds have already indicated they're attending some six months in advance.
We now have time to decide if and when to hold the next New Hampshire Liberty Forum. At this moment, I don't have any specific news to announce regarding a future Liberty Forum, but some have already hinted at a heroic effort for late 2011 or early 2012. Should we do so, I expect those planning it will benefit from what we've learned this time around and prepare an event that, once again, sets the standard for all other pro-liberty conventions to live up to.
While I am taking the time to write, I should also note that the overall news regarding the Free State Project is overwhelmingly positive. Officially, almost 900 of our over 10,000 participants now live in New Hampshire, though the real number is likely over 1,000 by now. Those people have demonstrated two things which prove the Free State Project can work and, indeed, is working:
1.They have proven that there are hundreds, even thousands, of people who value freedom highly enough to uproot themselves and move to New Hampshire to work together with others to preserve it. Hundreds of actual movers turned what was once just a neat idea on the internet into a real, and quite legitimate, movement.
2.They have proven that, once moving, they can actually be effective at increasing the level of freedom for all of the citizens of New Hampshire. Because of the actions of Free State Project participants, New Hampshire homeschoolers have a lower regulatory burden than before, New Hampshire's adults remain free to make responsible decisions about seatbelt use, New Hampshire taxpayers pay lower taxes than they would have otherwise, and New Hampshire citizens have increased freedom to carry or sell common types of knives.
While these accomplishments are important and demonstrate the viability of the Free State Project, we have not yet arrived at a society in which the maximum role of government is the protection of peoples' rights to life, liberty, and property. All Free State Project participants agree to work towards that common goal and we're clearly making progress. We look forward to taking many more steps towards Liberty in our Lifetime.
We hope you'll join us in our efforts. Success doesn't come free or without hard work. We continue to need two important contributions in order to effectively attract more new participants to the Free State Project: money, and volunteers.
Our financial needs are a fraction of other organizations. In our entire history, we've spent less than many well-known organizations spend in a year, or even a quarter. The return on that investment is enormous: nearly 1,000 effective activists working towards freedom in a single state. No other organization has ever provided that kind of return at any price, never mind the shoestring we operate on. Nevertheless, we do have expenses and we will do our best to put your financial support to good use. Please consider helping by making a donation at http://freestateproject.org/donate
Finally, and maybe most importantly, none of this would be possible without an army of volunteers. The Free State Project itself runs primarily on unpaid volunteers, from event staffing, to mailbox checking all the way to the President and Board of Directors. If we had to pay retail rates for the labor of love that has gone into the Free State Project, it would cost untold millions of dollars. The more people who volunteer to help promote the Free State Project, the more effective we become at attracting pro-liberty activists to New Hampshire. We need help with IT, advertising, public relations, local groups, events, and much more. If you'd like to spend a few hours a month of your time helping the Free State Project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you again for your support through the years.