Members of the Libertarian Association of Massachusetts met in Westborough over the weekend to mobilize ahead of the presidential election. The Party of Principle, a moniker they’ve adopted in this tumultuous election cycle, saw one of its largest Massachusetts-based conventions in years, with activists flocking to hear from big players in Libertarian circles and set goals for the future.
United behind what’s considered to be the most high-profile ticket the Libertarians have fielded in their 44-year existence, spirits were high and optimistic, and for good reason. According to a September poll from WBUR, Gary Johnson, the former two-term governor of New Mexico, currently hovers around 9% of the vote in Massachusetts. If Johnson’s numbers remain consistent into November, he will guarantee the party major party status for the next two years- something that the Massachusetts affiliate hasn’t had since 2010.
Furthermore, Massachusetts Libertarians announced they intend to field a complete slate for 2018, including a gubernatorial candidate. Speaking to the impassioned crowd, Daniel Fishman, the party’s political facilitator and the Northeastern regional director for the Johnson-Weld campaign, made it abundantly clear that this opportunity is a prime turning point for the small party. “We have a legitimate chance to win second place”, he told convention goers, “The [MassGOP] is fractured […] It’s no longer a party at all.”
David Blau, party treasurer, and another long-time activist echoed Fishman’s enthusiasm for the future. “I’m very excited about the campaign. I’m very excited about after too. Win or lose, the campaign is over on the 8th and the party will carry on [come] the 9th.” Asked if he thought Johnson’s momentum and polling would give him the chance of making it into one of the two remaining debates, Blau remained skeptical. “The [CPD] is beholden to the two major parties.”, Blau said, “They have no self-interest.”
Thomas Simmons, the party’s sole candidate for Congress, was another figure who saw a hopeful future on the horizon. Simmons, who serves as the chair of the Business Department at Greenfield Community College, is arguably one of the best chances the Libertarians have at securing a seat in Congress. With no Republican challenger, an incumbent Democrat that Simmons described as “nowhere to be found”, and an endorsement from Bill Weld, Massachusetts’ former state governor, Simmons has taken advantage of an unusual opportunity.
“I’ve campaigned in gay bars and College Republican clubs”, Simmons quipped, noting that his major strategy is to hold the Republican base and siphon dissatisfied Berniecrat voters from the Democratic base. Simmons also spoke of how important it has been to know your audience and add a personal touch. “I drove to every town in my district to personally drop off petitions”, he recounted. “Some of these people have never seen a [candidate] running for Congress.”
Simmons wasn’t alone in coming out to Westborough either. After speaking to the room, he led a panel of candidates from the surrounding New England area in a round table format.
Throughout the day, attendees were entertained by a variety of dynamic public speakers. From medical marijuana to mass incarceration reform, representatives presented the hungry convention with food for thought. One of the more anticipated speakers was American talk show host and agorist Adam Kokesh. Kokesh, who has identified as an anarchist and voluntaryist, explained that the average American “knows something is wrong” and is “waking up faster and faster”. Seeing this growth to be inevitable, he asked convention goers to look at what worked with them and how important it is they hone their message. In his closing remarks, Kokesh also discussed his 2020 run for the Libertarian Party nomination, where he said he would focus on a platform calling for the orderly dissolution of the federal government.
Larry Sharpe, a New York-based consultant who ran just points behind Bill Weld in the race for the vice presidential nomination, was also a widely anticipated guest and spoke at great length during the convention. Sharpe ran breakout panels concurrent to the regular to-dos of the convention agenda, showcasing various tactics and approaches to becoming a more effective campaign manager. Challenging individuals to look at the big picture and come up with new ideas for campaigning, Sharpe bounced ideas off of the audience and helped educate them on how to develop campaign strategies of their own. Towards the end of one of his sessions, Sharpe also dropped a bomb that he was considering a run for the governor of New York in 2018.
Joining Sharpe in conducting hands-on panels was the Libertarian National Committee vice chairman, Arvin Vohra. Whereas Sharpe focused on knowing how to dole out responsibilities and organize campaigns, Vorha held his popular “Who’s Driving” activist workshop and set his sights on educating participants on how to handle media, take control of the campaign, and become aware of the “misuse of the language of liberty” and the corruption of the Libertarian message.
As exciting as the day was, not all activists were united in how they should move forward with their message. Early in the morning, convention goers voted on implementing new platform planks, such as a call to remove all ethnic and racial qualifiers on census forms to combat racism, but spirited discussion allowed only one plank to be passed before the convention forced the procedural vote to be continued later in the afternoon.
Meeting in a room separate from the main convention hall, a small split delegation approved the additions of another two planks: a commitment to fighting the militarization of the police, as well as the opposition to the current payroll system and the immediate pardoning of all tax violators. However, following a heated debate that divided the room in two, planks to call for the United States to leave the United Nations or to oppose mandatory vaccinations both failed. With other motions to still be discussed, but up against the clock, a vote was called to adjourn and return to the festivities- a very tense decision that once again split the rump meeting down the middle.
The Libertarians weren’t the only ones to be meeting in the DoubleTree Convention Hall that afternoon. The American Federation of Teachers, a powerful teacher’s union with ties to the establishment of No Child Left Behind, was hosting a leadership conference just down the hall. Supporters of the educator’s union and the small government-loving party interacted relatively little, with AFT participants saying they found the situation to be just as amusing, but that both sides mostly kept to themselves. “It’s been friendly. There haven’t been any attempts at recruiting from any side”, said a participant who wished to keep their name anonymous.
Even in the face of classic ideological squabbles and unusual party guests across the hall, the convention was seen as a success. Former party chair and gubernatorial candidate Dean Cook, who was in attendance, was very satisfied with the events of the day. “The convention was run a lot better than the one that I ran”, Cook mused. When pressed if an energized convention and convenient running conditions were enough to put the Massachusetts party on the map, Cook doubled down on the importance of voting your conscience, even if you don’t always win. “The sales and income tax vote failed [in Massachusetts],”, but it almost passed. It still forced the vote in the legislature to be vetoed. You can win with winning.”
Even after a full day, there were still opportunities for party activists to network and engage one another. For those who paid more into the Libertarian Party’s coffers, an intimate dinner session was had with technology and business investor, Bruce Fenton. Fenton, the founder of the Bitcoin Association, spoke at length about blockchain, which he described as the “ultimate voluntaryist transaction, completely peer-to-peer, and free of a third party”. He was joined again by Sharpe, who gave one more compelling speech to support local Libertarian Party establishments and candidates.
Cris Crawford, the newly elected chairwoman, closed the festivities of the night with a huge thanks to early donors. “[You] were the pebble that started the avalanche”, Crawford said, adding that their efforts led to more effective ballot access efforts. Crawford also set forth the manifesto of the party for the future, focusing on a policy of observation and understanding. “The best thing we can do right now is research and listen to the members [and] research what the public wants from us, [which] will help put libertarians in the best possible light.”
The Libertarian Party was founded in Colorado in 1971, and is dedicated to “Minimum Government and Maximum Freedom”. More information can be found about the Libertarian Association of Massachusetts at lpmass.org.