by Jarret Wollstein
First, because it’s fun and emotionally-rewarding. Libertarians like to associate with other libertarians – as friends, lovers, business associates, and activity-partners. Starting a group and holding regular meetings makes it easier to find each other.
Another reason is to advance the cause of liberty. Today liberty is under siege throughout the world. Taxes consume some 50% to 70% of your income, drastically reducing your standard of living. Possession of sexually-explicit pictures or unapproved drugs can put you in prison for decades. Small businesses are being taxed and regulated to death. Attempting to keep your finances private is now the “crime” of money-laundering. Parents who don’t send their children to government approved indoctrination centers – known as public schools – are subject to arrest and fines. Medicine is increasingly monopolized by the state and police confiscations are growing like an unchecked cancer.
There’s plenty to be concerned about, and an urgent need to build effective outreach organizations. And we can win. Groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) – begun by two women operating out of a spare bedroom, and now a national movement – demonstrates that with determination and courage, a few people can change the course of a nation.
Get together and have fun. Your meetings should be entertaining and enjoyable or few people will show up. So have tasty snacks, meet at restaurants, or in a quiet area of the park. Eat, drink, dance, socialize, enjoy life. Once you’ve done that, you can start recruiting new members. In fact, people will seek you out. For several years, my Libertarian Social Club in the Washington, DC area was listed by several singles groups as one of the most enjoyable clubs in town.
We regularly drew 60 to 120 people on Friday or Saturday nights, had great food, and had the best speakers in town. It didn’t cost much to set up. Restaurants were glad to give us large banquet rooms free, customize buffets, and even advertise our meetings.
We also testified at public hearings – against proposed anti-gun legislation, property taxes, and censorship. Our members also spoke at local high schools and colleges, and – whenever possible – appeared on radio and TV. Sometimes, we made a difference.
Regular meetings are essential for any successful group. Ideally, your meetings should be held at the same place and time every month. In addition, make sure to:
1. Book your meetings rooms at least 6-8 weeks in advance to allow plenty of time for advertising. Major events will usually require at least three to four months advance booking. Many newspapers and radio stations also offer free advertising for community activities.
One of the most common – and serious – mistakes most groups make is not scheduling activities far enough in advance to allow time for adequate advertising.
2. Schedule a time that is most convenient for your audience.For community groups, Friday or Saturday night is usually best. At most colleges, the best time is usually mid-week and mid- or late-afternoon.
3. Make your meetings interesting, fun and exciting.Schedule controversial speakers. Debate with the opposition. Have tasty snacks. Recruit attractive hosts and hostesses to greet people. Get everyone involved in discussions and projects. Meet at interesting places, such as modestly-priced restaurants. If you meet in a home, serve chocolate fondue, wine, home-made pizza, and other tasty foods. Have a barbecue or swim party. Make your meetings an activity people look forward to.
Regarding speakers, you can locate excellent free speakers through local colleges, ACLU chapters and libertarian groups.
4. Advertise, advertise, advertise. No one will come to your meeting if they don’t know about it far enough in advance to plan to attend. I recommend a monthly bulletin listings meetings at least two meetings in advance. A bulletin sent in early or mid-June, for example, should advertise meetings in July and August.
Advertise your meetings to non-members. There are many inexpensive, yet effective ways of advertising, including FREE listings in the club news section of ALL local papers and other groups’ newsletters, wide-distributing flyers run-off on a home computer, and mentions on local radio and TV bulletin boards. Also post to all relevant Internet newsgroups.
If there are libertarian-leaning talk radio commentators in your area, they will probably be glad to mention your meetings on their program – giving you a listening audience of thousands or even millions of people for free.
In each case, get your announcements out early. Many newspapers need your announcement 2-3 months in advance, and even daily newspapers may require weeks of advance notice.
Here’s a check-list for
running successful meetings:
- Advertise at least 4-6 weeks in advance.
- Schedule exciting and controversial speakers.
- Meet at a regular location that’s easy to find, conveniently located, and has plenty of free parking.
- Don’t book too large a room. It looks bad to have ten people in a room designed for 100.
- Arrive early to make sure everything is properly set up; that the sound system works; that literature is displayed, etc.
- Greet everyone, and make them feel welcome. I strongly recommend having an attractive, well-dressed, gregarious woman at the registration table or by the front door to greet everyone.
- If the meeting is small, put chairs in a circle. Have each person introduce him or herself.
- Start your meeting on time.
- Get names, addresses, and telephone numbers of everyone who attends. If you have a college group, be sure to get both the campus and home addresses of students.
- Provide name tags, particularly if you have a large and growing group.
- Serve tasty refreshments or meet at a restaurant.
- Have literature on hand. You should have a brochure describing your group, including objectives, activities (give specific examples of past successful events), publications, membership fees, and the name, phone, fax or e-mail address of local contacts (including best times to call).
- Usually limit speeches to 15 to 30 minutes (most people’s attention spans flag after about 30 minutes), and allow plenty of time for questions.
- Get feedback. Ask people what they liked and disliked about the meeting, suggestions for future activities, and if they would like to help out with the group.
- Thank everyone for coming and invite them to come back.
As your membership and experience grow, there are a large variety of outreach activities in which you can engage, including debates, courses, social activities, concerts, seminars, letter-writing and editorial replies, testimony at public hearings, lobbying legislators, and social action projects. Here are some more possibilities:
Club Newsletter.After your group is established, you should publish a monthly newsletter. Report the highlights of previous meetings and announce future activities – and other news and meetings of interest to your members. You should also emphasize the accomplishments and contributions of your members in each issue, including speeches they have given, articles they’ve written, professional accomplishments and awards, activities they are organizing for the club, etc.
A newsletter can be as simple as one or two letter-size (8½ x 11) sheets printed on a photocopier. The most important thing is to get is out regularly and on-time, so people can count on it.
Recruiting New Members.You attract new members by sponsoring interesting and important activities – such as exciting speeches and debates, social action projects, and enjoyable social activities.
One good outreach activity is giving speeches to other organizations. Sponsor libertarian speakers at local high schools, colleges, and community groups. To increase your attendance, see if friendly professors will give course credit to students who attend.
Appear on talk radio and local TV whenever possible. Testify at public hearings.
Fund-raising.If you have a campus group, some funding should be available from the college. Community groups should charge dues. Here are additional ways to raise funds:
- Hold a club garage salewith goods donated by members.
- Sponsor a literature table.These work well at colleges. Groups I’ve organized have raised thousands of dollars on campuses selling books and tapes – including conference tapes from ISIL and the Advocates for Self-Government, and videotapes like “Waco the Rules of Engagement,” and “We the Living.”
- Auction off your members.Well, not literally, but ask members to donate a few hours of their skills for the club – which you auction off to other club members. A lawyer could offer a few hours of legal assistance. A teacher could donate tutoring. A plumber a few hours of repairs. A singer or piano player could perform at a wedding or anniversary party. This can raise substantial amounts of money for your group
- Run inexpensive classified adsin local papers selling booklets, audio and video tapes.Here are examples of some possible ads:What really happened in Waco. New video shows shocking FBI footage of the massacre of over 80 men, women and children. $35 postpaid. Lib-Products, 2255 Sommerset Street, Metropolis 94000.Protect your financial privacy. Our new booklet shows you 18 easy steps to protect your bank account, savings, pension, and property. Don’t let the IRS take your hard-earned money. Just $15, postpaid. Claremont Liberty Alliance, 18 Smith Street, Union City. Sex and politics do mix. Liberty Social Club has the most exciting meetings in town. Call 555-3333 for more information.
- Mail a local fund-raising package. You could raise money for a campaign to You can borrow or rent mailing lists from other libertarian groups and mailing list houses.
- Sponsor a liberty film festivalwith films such as “Waco: The Rules of Engagement,” Karl Hess’ “Conceived In Liberty,” “The Passion of Ayn Rand,” “We The Living,” “1984,” “Animal Farm,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and “They Live!”.
- Organize a concert or play.
- Solicit local businesspeople and sympathizers for financial assistance, but make sure you can show tangible results for their money.
Literature Tables.Tables well-stocked with free pamphlets and books, tapes and t-shirts for sale are a good way of getting new members. Good locations include county fairs, in front of post offices, shopping malls, campus student unions, and libraries. Use ISIL’s literature series of pamphlets.
Letter-Writing and Editorial Replies. These are activities that can be engaged in by any group. Most state legislators receive very little mail, so a concerted effort by a few dozen libertarians can make them believe there is a groundswell of citizen opposition to some new government tax or regulation. Writing regular letters to the editor and editorial replies on radio and TV can also sway public opinion. If you have the time and talent, consider writing a regular column for a local newspaper and arranging appearances on local radio and TV talk shows.
You can also regularly read letters to the editor, to identify sympathizers who should be contacted.
Social Action Projects.You can participate in social action projects initiated by national groups, such as National Tax Protest Day, or ISIL’s Liberty Charter project., Or you can send a libertarian contingent to local and national social action projects, such as drug peace rallies, protests of property tax increases, parades, etc.
A local libertarian group can be as simple as a few libertarians getting together once a month for socializing and discussions. Or it can be a dynamic community club with hundreds of members, like the Libertarian Social Club during the mid-1970s. Or it can be a concerted effort to organize libertarian groups at several local colleges. Or it can even be an attempt to change the consciousness of an entire nation – like Greenpeace and MADD.
The types of groups you create should be ones that fulfill your needs and objectives. No matter how modest or lofty those may be, we at ISIL are here to help.
Jarret Wollsteinis a co-founder of the original Society for Individual Liberty and a Director of ISIL. He has organized many libertarian groups, including SIL chapters at the University of Maryland and George Mason University.
This pamphlet was originally published in June 1998. It is part of ISIL‘s educational pamphlet series