As the libertarian philosophy gains popularity in response to the repeated failures of government, we need to define which type of libertarians we want to be. Our numbers are growing, and as we reach critical mass, we need to start to specialize our political activities. In my mind, there are three kinds of libertarians in politics: the candidates, the party or cause leadership, and the activists.
You should recognize this specialization as the division of labor. Previously, libertarians had to “wear many hats,” because of how few our numbers were. Today, that is not the case.
Have you ever waved signs at a rally or a busy intersection for your favorite candidate or “pet” issue? Have you ever made statements to the press, defining an organization’s position on an issue? Have you ever run for office?
Chances are, most libertarians can answer “yes” to the first two questions, with a slightly smaller number answering affirmatively about the third one. I am among those who can say yes to all three.
Those days are, hopefully, coming to an end.
Our hard-working activists are recruiting new libertarians through their efforts “on the ground,” working outreach booths, attending rallies, going door to door, passing out literature, and writing op-eds and letters to the editor about libertarian issues. These are often thankless jobs that happen in extreme weather, on weekends, and bring attention to our philosophy at the actual grassroots level.
Many who “get off the couch” and get involved in politics for the first time start here, but it is not just for beginners. There is an art (and a LOT of effort) to a successful event or outreach activity, and there are some who find their niche here.
Party or Cause Leadership
Real leaders are the fewest in number in our movement, because they really need to be able to manage a lot of “chiefs” and far fewer “braves.” They need a thick skin and the ability to build bridges in an environment wrought with the wreckage from many burned ones.
Their focus is to grow the cause or party they represent, while serving the needs of those already on board. The effective ones have a vision for the organization, a plan for achieving it, and the skills to sell that to existing and prospective members. These are not easy tasks, but a real leader will excel here.
If there is one area that I wish saw more development in the liberty movement, it is this one. Standard bearers on the ballot might have the most difficult job among the three I outline here.
Candidates represent the platform and beliefs of their party, while trying to communicate a message that attracts those not already supportive of those beliefs. They are also meeting thousands of people, raising money to fund their campaign, and trying to stay “on message.” In the age of YouTube, smartphones with amazing features, and “gotcha” journalism, they also need to watch everything they say and do, no matter who is around.
All the while, they need to be real and genuine in every interaction. It really IS a tough job.
So, are you an activist, a party or cause leader, or a candidate (and hopefully, an elected official)? Which one best fits your skill set and aspirations?
Focus your efforts on being just one. I’m still working on figuring out which two I can drop.