George Phillies: ‘How can we promote activism and volunteerism?’

By George Phillies
Originally published at Liberty For All

The New Path objective is to turn the Libertarian Party into the American majority party. We will become the majority party through thoughtful, effective, hard-working leadership that spends your money effectively, that mobilizes volunteers all across America to do effective work, and that spends its time electing Libertarians and creating conditions that will elect more. As we move toward that objective, we will reunite vast numbers of Republican and Democratic politicians with their families in much-needed retirement, and not incidentally re-unite their political parties with their political ancestors, notably the Whigs, Federalists, and Know-Nothings.

Mobilize volunteers? Anyone can talk about mobilizing volunteers. You need to do real work to make it happen.

First consider some of the obstacles to volunteer mobilization.

1) Some people think they need permission to volunteer.

2) Some people need to be asked to volunteer.

3) Some people have energy, enthusiasm, and vigor, but no idea what to do.

4) Many people want to be sure that what they are doing matters and makes sense.

5) Then there are the abominable Noman and Nowoman, the folks who always without exception find a reason not to do anything.

6) Some people want to spend their time arguing about utopia.

Those are large obstacles. How will we overcome them?

We’re not going to overcome them by ignoring them. We’re not going to overcome them with smoke, mirrors and speakers who put to shame every snake oil salesman ever born. No, we’re going to overcome them with common-sense practical steps that move us in the right direction. What are some of those steps? Go back and consider the obstacles:

1) Some people think they need permission to volunteer, and sit there waiting for permission. Yes, we will say loud and clear: The water’s fine, come on in. If you want to see how to say that message, listen to Ernie Hancock. Telling people ‘you don’t need permission’ is a good step, but it’s not enough. What else is needed?

To the message ‘you don’t need permission’, add ‘we’re here to help you’. We don’t have the resources to do your work for you, but we can answer your questions.

Then we give potential volunteers real working examples. Every time a potential volunteer reads a letter from a real volunteer, someone who chose to get active and did real political work, that’s one more foundation stone building potential volunteers into real volunteers. That’s an important use of the monthly newsletter — morale-building reports that encourage the activity we need.

2) Some people need to be asked to volunteer. Yes, really. After all, most people decide to run for political office because someone asked them. Why should deciding to volunteer be any different?

You ask people to volunteer, one on one. LNC members by themselves can’t ask every party member. We can ask a good number of people. We can build the habit that Libertarians ask their liberty-leaning friends to become active in politics.

3) Some people have energy, enthusiasm, and vigor, but no idea what they might do.

Consider a whole list of solutions.

Solution number one is to talk to people and give them choices that match their personal inclinations and skills. To do that you need to ask people what particular skills they have, and you discover people who can do things you never knew were possible.

Choice number two is support materials. Tom Knapp’s article on writing letters to the editor is a masterpiece of libertarian thought. Liberty for America distributes in multiple formats several downloadable trifold templates, samples of things that people could use and modify for their own purposes. For people who need to speak in public, Michael Cloud’s The Essence of Political Persuasion is now available on disk.

Choice number three, which will only get easier as we grow, is to put each volunteer into the company of more established volunteers, people who will be right there and give the new volunteer support and encouragement.

Choice number four, last but not least, is to use more volunteers in the operations of the LNC. We believe in volunteerism, and should lead by example. Is there a major project that the LNC needs to carry out? A working group of volunteers, with a few LNC members to act as stiffeners and facilitators, should be formed to do it.

When volunteers come to us, asking if we have something for them to accomplish, our answer is: Absolutely. We have projects ready to go, and people you can work with.

4) Many people would like to know that what they are doing matters and makes sense. Seeing the larger strategy and how your part fits in to the whole is a real motivator.

We’re doing that right here. The New Path is giving strategic proposals, soon to be assembled into a coherent whole, together with a legitimate business plan to set the National Committee back on course. An important part of that plan is grass roots organization and activity. The Party must be built from the bottom up and the top down.

The New Path message to potential volunteers is: We have a sensible plan. We’ve laid it out where you can see it. We’d love to have your help, and we are happy to help you when we can.

P.S. We have a plan. Ask our opponents to tell you about theirs.

5) Some people are the abominable Noman and Nowoman, the folks who can always without exception find a reason not to do something.

Recognizing Nopeople is an important political skill. Everyone has a few possible activities they want to avoid. There are always a few people with some truly eccentric ideas on one topic. But if you have a group of volunteers, sometimes it is apparent that a few people are a substantial obstacle to getting anything done. No matter what you suggest, they oppose it. You should rejoice that those people are Libertarians, and give them a chance to work on their own projects without hindering yours.

6) Some people want to spend their time arguing about exactly how the Libertarian future will be arranged, when we are so far away from it that we have no idea what the reality will be like or what we will actually want as the Libertarian future approaches. Nor will we know in advance which evils actually lurk under the cover of innocent and reasonable changes that appear to move in pro-liberty directions.

Most readers will already have noticed that arguing about utopias seldom seems to get us anywhere. That’s why the New Path talks about political operations, not rewriting the platform. We’re here to build a Libertarian political Party, not to argue about fine points of philosophy.

We recognize the right of Libertarians to dispute philosophical fine points, but that’s not what we are trying to accomplish. We encourage Libertarians to support people who actually want to get something done. We don’t criticize people who want to argue philosophy, but we don’t spend our time philosophizing.

That’s six obstacles to effective volunteer mobilization, and how to deal with each of them.

George Phillies is a contributing editor for Liberty For All. You can contact Dr. Phillies at

14 thoughts on “George Phillies: ‘How can we promote activism and volunteerism?’

  1. Dear .......oops!

    How To: Activism //
    Mar 31, 2010 at 11:48 am

    1. Make friends
    (hmmmmmm, Libs as white male loners)
    2. Energize and support them
    (hmmmmmm, Libs as selfish loners)
    3. Set a good example
    (working with other peace programs,
    oh, that right, the Lib spin doctors
    maintain [falsely] that the LP is the

    Rots of Ruck ……….

  2. paulie Post author

    * THE LIBERTARIAN SURGE: “The United States is becoming a broken society. The public has contempt for the political class. Public debt is piling up at an astonishing and unrelenting pace. Middle-class wages have lagged.

    Unemployment will remain high. It will take years to fully recover from the financial crisis. This confluence of crises has produced a surge in vehement libertarianism. People are disgusted with Washington. The Tea Party movement rallies against big government, big business and the ruling class in general. Even beyond their ranks, there is a corrosive cynicism about public action.” — journalist David Brooks, “The Broken Society,” New York Times, March 18, 2010.

    The LP should be able to capitalize on this. If not now, when?

  3. Dear .......oops!

    Well, let’s see. Since 1940 the growth of local, state, national, and inter national governance has not EXPANDED, it has EXPLODED!

    While ‘every one’ [whom ever they are] decries run away government, the regard for the LP is little or none! Lake

  4. Robert Milnes

    Prof.Phillies, I support you. I respect you. I hope you win. But come on, the biggest problem is most people calculating the libs (& Greens) have no chance of winning & therefore better to work within either the dem(progressives) or rep (RLC) parties. & wind up voting for them etc.
    & the libs are never going to be a majority party. Not gonna happen. The best libs can do is Ally with the progressives in a 50/50 relationship which would give them more representation than their numbers. progressives 2/3 27%, libs 1/3 13%.40% of the vote is VERY competitive in a 3 way race for plurality.
    So, show some balls & declare for PLAS. don’t let on a falsehood about a future libertarian majority.

  5. AroundtheblockAFT

    Milnes makes a cogent comment. Forty years of wandering in the political wilderness is going to discourage volunteerism if the goal is always to elect a candidate. Volunteers in any endeavor want to see that their contribution helped – whether it is dishing food to the homeless on Thanksgiving, nailing up sheetrock in a Habitat house, or persuading city council to reduce a tax on local businesses. If no homeless show up then you won’t be back next Thanksgiving.
    Well no one, or hardly anyone, shows up to vote Libertarian on election day. Maybe the goals should be more doable – e.g. we are going to defeat this s.o.b. in Ward 2 who voted for the new job-destroying business tax. Small victories build confidence that one’s time isn’t being wasted. The evidence that it currently is has been in front of us for years – few state parties are growing, many have shrunk, more are stagnant.

  6. Robert Capozzi

    around, the challenge is that voting is largely an abstract act. One vote almost never makes a difference, although voters sometimes feel “a part” of a “greater cause” when they vote for candidate X. If the goal is doable, then voting for an L is NOT what would be indicated to unseat the Ward 2 SOB, unless the L is the only other candidate.

    My guess is that gaining the respect and trust of the voters is the first order of business. The second order of business is the convince them to vote their conscience, regardless of outcome. When that aggregates to largish numbers, then that success would breed success…requiring time for the cumulative effects to build.

    No one ever said this’d be easy.

  7. AroundtheblockAFT

    Mr. Capozzi, I’m talking balance of power in unseating Ward 2 s.o.b. Deliberately take votes from s.o.b. or, if the other opponent is even half-way decent, work for him. Right now, the LP is not a player and don’t think potential volunteers don’t know it. Just look at the amount of scoffing other libertarians do about the LP on various blogs.

  8. Recruit

    There is no scoffing and lots of volunteering when your local party is happy and healthy.

    Try making friends.

    Really, it is that simple.

  9. Dear .......oops!

    13 responses so far ?


    1 How To: Activism // Mar 31, 2010 at 11:48 am

    1. Make friends
    2. Energize and support them
    3. Set a good example

    2 Steal this Convention // Mar 31, 2010 at 11:53 am

    Test your URLs before you post…

    3 Dear …….oops! // Mar 31, 2010 at 12:32 pm

    How To: Activism //
    Mar 31, 2010 at 11:48 am

    1. Make friends
    (hmmmmmm, Libs as white male loners)
    2. Energize and support them
    (hmmmmmm, Libs as selfish loners)

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