FREEDOM FEST: Does it live up to the hype?
This was my second year in a row attending Freedomfest in Las Vegas, Nevada.. The conference which bills itself as the “world’s largest gathering of free minds” is held yearly in mid July in Bally’s on the strip. Last year, I attended as candidate for Congress and had an amazing time meeting libertarian titans such as David Nolan (R.I.P.), Steve Forbes, & Peter Schiff. Perhaps what impacted me most, however, were the personal relationships that were forged between & among us in the liberty movement, relationships which continue to this day. I can name so many friends made that I mention no names for fear of leaving someone out.
As a result, I did not want to come to Freedomfest with high expectations that I could repeat last year’s experience for fear of being disappointed. Well, I’m happy to report: I was not disappointed, in fact, far from it.
First, Bally’s is a more than adequate hotel whose best attribute is its location: center of the strip, across from the Flamingo, Caesar’s Palace & Bellagio. It shares a parking garage with the adjacent & stunning Paris Hotel and consequently, I suspect many of the conference attendees spent much of their dining hours in Paris’ French restaurants. I certainly did!
The conference kicked off on Wednesday evening, July 13th, with a cocktail reception in the exhibit hall as many of the exhibitors finished setting up their respective booths. There were 4 rows of booths with every type of exhibitor you can imagine: gold & silver coin dealers, foreign realtors, T-shirt vendors, book & audio vendors, different forms of capital investments, libertarian organizations such as Advocates for Self Government, the National LP, the California LP, Students for Liberty, think tanks such as Reason, Mises Institute, Atlas, Prometheus, Heritage Foundation, etc. and on and on.
The next day Thursday, bright & early until about 6pm, there were numerous workshops taking place throughout Bally’s conference rooms on every conceivable libertarian issue, and occasionally, well known speakers commanded the enormous event hall. This time around in the hall, I saw Judge Napolitano, Herman Caine, and Rand Paul.
Something new that was added this year was ANTHEM, a film series on the 26th floor that exhibited liberty oriented films & documentaries during the entire length of the conference.
Alas, I spent most of my time in the exhibit hall (which was right next to Bally’s casino on the first floor) manning the LP of California [LPC] booth which I did not mind at all because that is usually when you can have one on one time with someone at the booth or nearby and start building those crucial relationships discussed above. I was able to meet John Mackey of Whole Foods as well as Matt Welch & Nick Gillespie of Reason magazine among others.
In the evening, the LPC held a party in the new amazing Cosmopolitan Hotel across the street, right next to the Bellagio. Incidentally, they have built an enormous area call Citi-Center adjacent to the “Cosmo” that contains a brand new luxurious hotel casino named Aria, which is currently the hottest spot on the strip, a must visit! The party was a smash, and if the LPC was not on people’s radar before, it is now.
Friday was spent similar to Thursday (working on those relationships) and in the evening the Prometheus institute had their own party which many of us attended. Afterwards, some went to a party hosted by Penn & Teller (both libertarians, BTW) at the South Point Hotel.
Saturday morning, the national LP gave a talk on why folks should join the LP. Although I was not able to attend, I had spoken to Executive Director Wes Benedict and Mark Hinkle (National Chair) and had a gist of what was to be said. Given the early hour, I do not know how many people attended. The rest of the day was spent manning and ultimately breaking down the booth. The yearly banquet (this time, a masquerade ball) closed the conference in the evening but I was unable to attend as I had tickets to see Chris Angel with my wife instead. Now THAT was disappointing.
Overall, I must say that it was wonderful seeing some of the people I had not seen in a year, while beginning relationships with others that I know will last for years. Although billed as FREEDOMFEST, I recall there being a fair number of Republicans at the conference last year, some who did not take too kindly to the LP being there. This was not the case this year. With the glaring exception of Herman Caine and perhaps a few others, the GOP seems to have run for the hills and as a consequence, we are undisputed political party of the conference, and it all starts with the LPC and the young, professional Libertarian image we embodied. In fact, perhaps most encouraging, in a departure from last year, many in the youth movement were impressed and intrigued by the LPC, something that we hope bodes well for our future.
I almost forgot: On Sunday, after the conference, the LPC (or more precisely the Young Professional Libertarians) held a fantastic pool party at the Flamingo where we had our own cabana with all the amenities.
Last year, only a handful of us attended. This year, we had two handfuls. Next year, we intend to bring an army, and perhaps obtain a second separate booth for the LIBERTARIOS bringing our total to two booths for the California Libertarians!
ONWARD & UPWARD! The revolution begins here… or at least, in Vegas.