OPINION by Brian Irving
“Certainly the game is rigged. Don’t let that stop you;
if you don’t bet, you can’t win.” (Robert Heinlein)
Voting is the highest form of political activism and one of the most important things you can do
as a libertarian activist. Those of us who vote don’t just do it because it makes us “feel good.”
(What’s wrong with that anyway?) Some do it, they joke, in self-defense.
Many more activists do it because it is the one thing that makes the Libertarian Party
different from other libertarian groups and organizations.
Dismissing voting is the least important thing libertarian activists can do, and as an
“afterthought,” dishonors the thousands of activists who spent hundreds of hours collecting
signatures to get the Libertarian Party on the ballot in North Carolina – nine times. It shows
disrespect for the hundreds of thousands of Libertarians, and non-libertarians, who voted for
the Libertarian gubernatorial or presidential candidate to keep the party on the ballot.
The LP, after all, was founded “as a libertarian political entity separate and distinct from all
other political parties or movements” (emphasis mine) for “electing Libertarians to public office
to move public policy in a libertarian direction.”
Many libertarian activist organizations are doing great with education, advocacy, information,
and marketing operations promulgating libertarian ideas.
But there is only one Libertarian political party doing electoral politics, trying to move
public policy in a libertarian direction (at least a little at a time).
Getting people to think about libertarian ideas is essential. Convincing someone to act on
those ideas is more challenging. Giving them some outlet for action – like voting for a
Libertarian candidate, is harder still. Organizing, canvasing, demonstrating, petitioning, and all
activist activities are critical to the Libertarian Party, but they are meaningless without a
What is the point of organizing if there’s no person to vote for, and you dismiss voting
as the least important afterthought?
Whether we like it or not (and many libertarians don’t), in many cases, voting is the only thing
that matters to establishment party politicians. To paraphrase an old adage, if you don’t vote,
they ignore your gripes.
Former state party chair and libertarian activist Brent DeRidder put it best when he said of the
LPNC, “It’s time to stop acting like an alternative and be the alternative.”
The only way we can do that is to run candidates and get out the vote.
Like liberty and responsibility, voting and activism are two sides of the same coin.
Libertarians have formulated some basic tenets we more or less accept without question. One
is that most people are libertarian, but don’t know it yet.
The reality is that in the 21st Century United States, “most people” have come to
expect government to do certain things.
Most people expect the local government to pick up the garbage, maintain the streets, provide
water and sewer services, and police and fire protection. They expect zoning regulations and
local ordinances to prevent their neighbor from building a 24-hour convenience store in his
Most people don’t think government, especially local government, is evil, even if they don’t
like the government’s actions. Nor do they loath “The State.”
This is not to say the people don’t have problems with government or are not open to
the idea of liberty.
It’s just that they have become accustomed to the reality of government. This is not an
indictment of them, just a statement of fact.
Much of the success of the Libertarian Party has been at the local level, even when our
candidates don’t win. These libertarian candidates have one thing in common. They’re
engaged in their communities’ political and civic life, serving on appointed advisory boards,
working in civic groups, and setting an example of how liberty and responsibility can work in
They’ve been activists for liberty, and they’ve harvested the fruits of that activism at the ballot
People don’t grasp theory. They need practical solutions. They ask questions like: What’s in it
for me (not a selfish concern)? How will it affect my family and me? Will my taxes go up?
It’s distressing to libertarians to hear, but most people have come to see government maybe
not as a necessary evil but as simply a fact. In any case, the people see no other way to get
This is a key point. People expect the government to do certain things because they’ve never
seen a better way. Libertarians engaged in the local community must show them that freedom
Government exists whether we libertarians like it or not. If we are to succeed in restoring
liberty to our nation, we need to live with and operate in this reality. To paraphrase GK
Chesterton, we need to demonstrate to the people that the libertarian way has not been tried
and found wanting; it has been found to be hard and left untried.
In other words, wherever two or three are gathered, there will be a government in the midst. It
may go by another name – social conventions, mores, “the way we do things” – but will be
Libertarians must learn to understand, accept and tolerate the people’s expectations of
government while at the same time working to change them.
Most of all, Libertarians should vote.
Editor’s note: Brian Irving is a longtime libertarian activist, helped organize local Libertarian
Party affiliates, served on the LPNC executive committee for many years, including terms as
vice chair and chair, and ran for office nine times. And he’s voted in every election since 1968,
and for Libertarians since 1972.