This month, the Tarheel caught up with Pender County LP Chair, Bryce Acer. Bryce is soft-spoken and mid-mannered, one of the kindest people you will meet. But don’t be fooled; he’s quicker than a politician taking a bribe; Bryce has served as the LPNC IT Director, and has his own IT company that has taken on some huge clients like US Foods and SAS as well as some heavy hitter libertarian sites such as You Are the Power and Gold New Deal. His love for music ranges from the classics (Beatles, Rolling Stones) to modern chart toppers (Tame Impala, MGMT) and even a taste for the heaviest of metal (Opeth, In Flames).
Quite a discussion with the Chair from the leader of one of our more active counties. Bryce, Pender and the surrounding areas, in particular, put on FireFest last year, arguably the most heralded internal LPNC event besides convention. Enjoy this interview, and remember to keep and eye out for details about FireFest 2023
Tar Heel: Bryce, thank you again for sitting down with us. Before we get into the politics of things, we ask every month, tell the readers a little bit about yourself. Where are you from, what brought you to North Carolina, and what kept you here?
Bryce Acer: I’m a born and raised Buckeye, growing up in Columbus, OH, before making my way to Dayton where I attended the University of Dayton (Go Flyers!). Kim [Acer, fellow active Libertarian, and Bryce's wife] and I lived in Dayton for 10 years until we finally got fed up with the grey Ohio winters and decided to move to the coast. We spent time in Wilmington, Myrtle, Charleston, Savannah, and Jacksonville and found that we loved Wilmington’s charm and people the best. We’ve been in the coastal Carolina region now for 9 years and are thrilled to call it "home!"
Tar Heel: That’s quite a story, and an interesting progression. Outside the politics, what drives you? What are your interests, your passions, and what do you do with your down time?
Acer: I’ve been a technologist my whole life and knew I’d be in the computer industry since I was in elementary school. I love learning about open source software and how we can leverage the collective tools being built to enable us to control our own data footprints. In my spare time, I set up many tools to help my friends and family divest from typical "cloud" platforms such as running our own chat servers (Mattermost) and our own "box" syncs (Nextcloud). I also have been running my own "Spotify" (Subsonic) for 10+ years which allows me (and 100s of friends) to stream our own music collections wherever we are in the world.
Speaking of music… I'm a huge live music junky and have been to hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of live shows. I collect set lists from these shows and have recently passed the 100 setlist count. Some of my favorite setlists are The Who, Tame Impala, Paul Simon, 311, Weezer, My Morning Jacket, Styx, Gary Clark Jr, and many, many more.
Tar Heel: OK, getting into the political side, what specifically was your "red pill" moment? When did you realize you were Libertarian?
Acer: I always have been as far as I can remember. Some of my earliest political memories are of watching the Ross Perot presidential debates and realizing that there were third parties that weren’t the big Rs or Ds. I enjoyed hearing that he had a different perspective than the mainstream (although I didn't agree with everything he stood for). I actually am more interested in the economic systems vs the political ones but understand that the political sphere can and does influence the economic sphere (sometimes very heavily!).
The Libertarian Party is a great fit for me because I am a huge fan of ideas winning the day vs needing to use force to get political means accomplished. If I had my way everything would be opt-in and no one would be forced to participate in something they disagreed with without giving their consent. I find it very frustrating that my own personal labor and that of all my employees is stolen and used either against us or for aims that do not align with our morals and values. Stop stealing our wealth to bomb weddings in Yemen!
Tar Heel: Following up on that, what issues are the most important to you now? Specifically, on a broad scale, and then in North Carolina and your locale, if the answer is different, and why are those important to you?
Acer: The most important issue to me is to stop the death and destruction we (and most governments) are wreaking across the world. Although the wars we've engaged in over the past decades have a huge debt cost to us, the more worrying part to me is the violence and death they create in their wake. We can make more things, we can’t bring people back from the dead.
In North Carolina I would like to see laws enacted to prevent the executive branch from ever putting in place the draconian mandates that Cooper enacted with his [Bryce made quote fingers here] emergency powers. One person should not have the power to shut down the economy and prevent people from living their lives and earning their wages.
Locally, we're happy with how free Hampstead, NC is. We are unincorporated and I'm on the board of a local group that fought those trying to incorporate our "town" five years ago. We love that the first point of government overlords is Pender County vs a local municipality. We only have sheriffs and they must run for election, which gives us at least some modicum of power.
Tar Heel: One final repeat question, that we discussed with Matt [Clements – Orange County Chair], Travis [Groo – WakeLP Chair], Jeff, and Steve [Scott and DiFiore, prior and current MeckLP Chairs]. I asked them, how do we make progress in areas where the Liberty message is facing strong headwinds, and I want to ask you the same question, but I think it is a different angle, as they all Chair deep blue counties, and Pender skews pretty hard team red. What challenges do you face and how do you address them?
Acer: We find that many people we interact with in Pender have very strong Libertarian views. Our main goal is to educate them that their goals of freedom and liberty actually don’t align with the Republicans. Our local representative, David Rouser, is one of the most RINO of all those in congress. The sad part is that most people we interface with haven’t actually heard of and/or understand the Libertarian party and its ideals. Our top priority is education and showing people how their true beliefs are actually trampled on by "team red" and that it would behoove them to either switch to Libertarian and/or to independent, and stop blindly supporting a party that sells them out when push comes to shove. Case in point this current debt limit bill called, of course, the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
Tar Heel: Pender isn’t entirely Liberty-averse. Can you tell our readers more about the story of fighting the effort to incorporate there a few years ago?
Acer: I'm on the board of a group called Save Our Community, which is actually a nonpartisan group with Libertarians, Republicans, and a Democrat on the board. We banded together because the proposal would cost our area millions of dollars and would only add roadblocks with zero net benefits. The group proposing to incorporate did several town hall presentations in which they quoted Karl Marx, no joke! They drew some very racist borders, specifically cutting out a section of town where many descendants of enslaved people live while expanding the other side to include a very wealthy neighborhood, and tried to sell the police state by saying we'd get access to "drones, security cameras, and K9 units!" I'm not sure how they thought this would align with the residents of Hampstead, NC, but apparently where they came from, which was mostly New York and New Jersey, these were seen as positives?
We then hosted a rebuttal town hall to give our side of the story and our LP treasurer, Stratton Lobdell, presented the case on behalf of the Save Our Community group. We had about 150 people attend and it went very, very well. From initial polling it was about 85-15 against and the issue never went to vote. Sadly, with the recent influx of people coming to the coast, we expect this issue to come up again in the next couple of years and it might not be as easy of a win.
Tar Heel: That’s a crazy story, and it takes committed people. It’s no surprise how friendly and supportive the organizational environment is in Pender, and some of the surrounding counties. What do you do to keep everyone engaged and working together?
Acer: The Libertarian Party of Pender County actually has a Meet and Greet in Pender every Thursday. We’ve been meeting in person weekly for several years, more than five, and it keeps us all engaged. It was tough to get this rolling and there were many times in the first year where only one of us was holding down the fort. Now that we have a good core group of Libertarians, and friends, we are able to meet and have great liberty-minded discussions on a regular basis. This keeps everyone informed and involved as well as provides a great starting point for anyone joining us for the first time. Whenever we have new people, we try to have one person from the group focus on them and engage in a liberty-focused conversation without overwhelming them with a whole team focus.
We have a great relationship with a liberty-supporting local establishment and they know we are there and are able to direct anyone new to our table. They also kept open and let us continue to meet in person, and without masks, since early May 2020.
Tar Heel: Another interesting thing about Pender is that isn't a small county, at sixty thousand, but it isn't big either, and it's fairly spread out. What challenges does that structure present, and what opportunities are there?
Acer: Admittedly, we don't do a great job focusing on some of the more rural western portions of the county. We try to switch our meet and greet locations every so often and head to restaurants within those areas, but one of our shortcomings is that we do tend to focus on the more populated coastal areas more. Hopefully we can recruit some Libertarians from the other side of the county to host events and provide a good support system with those regions.
We also created a "super group" called the Cape Fear Libertarian Party which encompasses Pender, New Hanover, Brunswick, Duplin, and Onslow counties. With this group we are able to partner and pool volunteers across counties for events. One that has been a big success has been Duplin’s Blues, Brews, and Que’s festival which we have tabled several years. We also bring a lot of our Pender team down to Wilmington for festivals in that area. This regional party helps each county share resources, people, funds, and ideas.
Tar Heel: You're a tech wizard, and you have been engaged in the Liberty movement from that perspective both as a volunteer and as a professional. What technology solutions are we potentially missing that could be helpful in spreading our message and reaching people?
Acer: Switch from Slack to Mattermost!!!
I would love, and have advocated for, for the LPNC to own all of its data. We currently store everything on a Google drive, we use Slack for chat, we heavily use Facebook for marketing and event coordination. We do not own our own data at this point and it can, and will, be used against us in the future whether it is de-platforming, data mining, censoring, and/or just charging us for our own data. It isn’t free or easy to take control of your digital footprint but I feel it is necessary and will allow us to grow and be in control of our data. We are at a time where there are now a lot of open source tools that can enable us to make this a priority.
I would support and recommend a campaign to raise funds to build out an IT team and infrastructure. The tech isn’t free and it would be good to have a paid person on staff, at least part time, to help take care of it.
Tar Heel: OK, closing questions... What’s next for Bryce?
Acer: I’m bummed that I had to step down from my position from IT director of the LPNC but I made the decision that I needed to put all of my efforts towards focusing on the two companies I run. Being a CEO isn’t easy and takes a lot of my time. I hope the transition is going smoothly for the new team and I know the LPNC is in great hands with Tim, James, and Matthew. Also, Brad Hessel is a rockstar! He has been so important in the LPNC IT space for years. Please go out of your way to thank him if you have not, lately. I actually made the decision to step down from all roles except my Chair position. I was treasurer of our local HOA, and many other volunteer positions. I hope to be back, but my two companies are growing quickly, in fact, I hired a new engineer just today, but that means I don’t have spare time this year.
Tar Heel: Thank you again for your time. One final question I ask everyone, what advice would you have for people just joining the Liberty movement, with passion but maybe looking for direction?
Acer: Educate yourself on Libertarian ideas. Our ideas are what truly shine. Although keeping up with the politics is important, realize it is not the most important. Our ideas and our love for our community will shine brighter than the rest of the pack.
Be kind to the Rs and Ds but don't make excuses for them. Most of them just haven’t had the time to learn about Libertarianism and understand why it actually fits better for them. Have patience but also stand firm. There is never a justification for force to get political means.