Sarah Thompson is a burnt-out gun-rights activist and physician from Utah. This article is based on a speech she gave to the Arizona Libertarian Party at their March 1998 convention. In this article she asks whether we are doing the right thing when we join organizations that claim to promote freedom, and she proposes more direct solutions to the loss of freedom. Be sure not to miss her "Two-Year-Old Resistance Program" toward the end.
You've just heard that I'm here to announce "The End of Activism". Some people have told me that's a very strange subject for a speech to a group of activists.
So what's up? Am I rude enough to accept your kind invitation and then bash you? Am I here to concede that we've lost the war, that we may as well get on with whatever life is left to us?
NO! I still believe we must act to restore our freedom. But I also believe that many of our ideas about what it means to be an activist are dangerously obsolete.
I was once a member of the National Rifle Association. I sent in my $35. In return, I got a form letter thanking me for being a so-called "freedom fighter", and a fancy plastic membership card. I got urgent letters and fake telegrams imploring me to send money right away - or my gun rights would be forever lost. I got email alerts: Grassroots, Crimestrike, Board members, anti-Board members. I got magazines, caps, belt buckles, credit cards - and more letters.
I don't think any of my money was ever used for education or lobbying -- and judging from my local lobbyist, that may have been the one thing that preserved my gun privileges. The NRA sold my rights before I was born.
I quit the NRA, loudly and publicly. The beg letters continue to arrive.
Every day, my poor mail carrier brings more stacks of letters marked "Urgent". Every time I boot up the computer, more desperate requests for assistance materialize from the ether. I know this happens to some of you too because I get at least ten copies of every single message, each one forwarded by an "activist" to every person he or she knows.
The so-called activist organizations are burying us under piles of paper. And the so-called activists keep circulating chain letters: If you don't send us money, or write this letter now, you will surely die. I know they mean well, but it makes me crazy -- and I can't get anything done!
Enough! There has to be a better way.
I know that sounds harsh. Many of the people who write to me are dedicated, caring people. Some of them are friends. The causes they plead are just. The issues they raise need to be addressed.
Whether it's repealing the assault weapons ban, fighting national ID cards, eliminating UN Biodiversity areas, or exposing government cover-ups, I fully support their goals. I have no malice towards these people, but it's getting harder and harder to respond with enthusiasm.
As painful as it may be for some of you to hear, activism has failed. It's dead! The era of traditional activism is over. We cannot allow our nostalgia for that dead era, or our loyalty to obsolete organizations, to stand in the way of what we must do now.
I was surprised myself when I looked up "activism". The first definition listed was "A philosophic theory which assumes the objective reality and active existence of everything." Activism must be based on reality. So let's look at reality.
We're told that we live in a so-called democracy. You all know that this country was never intended to be a democracy. It was intended to be a Constitutional Republic. And you all know that in reality it's a "nanny state," where it's the government's job to take care of everyone.
Our role is to allow bureaucrats to extort most of our money so they can pretend to fulfill this impossible mission. They regularly inform us of terrible new crises and assure us that if we give them just a little more money and a little more power, they will solve all our problems.
As much as I'd like to shout "How stupid do they think we are?", most people outside this room seem to believe this nonsense. But reality tells us that government creates more problems than it solves. Worse, government even decides for us what is or is not a problem. And the so-called problems are really just excuses for government self-perpetuation.
Well guess what! We've modeled our activism on the same utterly dysfunctional system that government uses! We have adopted professional activist organizations as our "nannies" and we unthinkingly accept their inadequate care of our rights as the only way to do things.
We give our money to these professional activist organizations and what we get is junk mail and bumper stickers. Many of these groups are, like the government, more interested in self-perpetuation than in solving problems. Some even suggest that we send our money, shut up, and let them take care of things.
One recent letter stated: "...you are not being asked to picket a prison in a foreign country, or attend a freedom demonstration, or in any way put yourself in jeopardy. Instead…you can help us, quietly but effectively, right there in your own home." Their implication is that actually getting involved, actually doing something, is just too messy and dangerous and inconvenient.
But doing something is exactly what is needed!
A lot of you already know this. I know many of you participated in protesting the "No Guns" signs at public rest stops. Some of you may have participated in the "shootouts" at the Tucson Rod and Gun Club. You already realize that action is necessary, and I applaud you!
I'm not suggesting that we eliminate all so-called activist organizations. Some of them are worthwhile, and earn my support. But I don't support them because I think they're going to solve my problems. They can't. I support them because they provide me with information I can use to educate and inspire others.
Why do I say these groups can't solve our problems? Because they use outmoded methods, while working within a broken and corrupt system. They lobby legislators to pass bills that achieve their goals or defeat bills that oppose them. But we don't need more laws; we need the ones we have repealed! They urge us to call or write our elected officials. But that's just fiddling, while freedom burns!
Above the most basic local level, our elected "representatives" don't listen to us. A former staffer for Senator Hatch told me the senator does exactly what he wants. When his decision coincides with his constituents' wishes, he congratulates himself for "representing" them. When he opposes them, he rationalizes that they elected him to "vote his conscience". Either way, his constituents' views are completely irrelevant.
For that matter, how much choice do we have in selecting which candidates are even allowed to run for office? Maybe here in Arizona, the Libertarian Party is able to field candidates who represent your views. Maybe they even stand a chance of winning -- once in a while.
But in more than 25 years of voting, I have never had the opportunity to vote for a candidate I thought would represent me, or even uphold the Constitution.
Believe me, the two establishment parties and their wholly-owned politicians know they've got us exactly where they want us! They know they don't have to listen to you, or me, at all.
The only real exception occurs at the local level. In some cases, citizens can influence city or county councils, or even state legislators. I'm proud to tell you that last month I helped to defeat a bill that would have banned firearms from all churches, schools and private residences in Utah, regardless of the wishes of the owners.
Working with others, I was able to educate both gun owners and legislators about the evil intent and consequences of this bill. The outrage was so intense that the Senate President was forced to call a press conference - and announce he was withdrawing the bill. Change starts at the local level, so don't dismiss local politics.
But there's a truly terrifying reality: The majority of oppressive rules and regulations are written by unelected bureaucrats, answerable to no one. You can't write to them, or vote them out of office, or even impeach them. But these bureaucrats are the real tyrants because they make the rules -- regardless of who is in office or which party is in power.
They decree that you need to be fingerprinted to get a driver's license. They decide that you need 50 hours of supervised training to exercise your right to bear arms. They told a friend of mine she couldn't see a library book unless she gave them her drivers license! You can't touch these bastards at all.
We call these people "public servants". But they're not our servants; they're our masters. Masters make rules and give orders. Servants obey. We are the servants, and soon we'll be slaves.
And it gets worse. Professional activism grants moral equivalence to those who defend our rights and those who would enslave us. In public relations and lobbying, the only thing that matters is money. Whether or not you're right is irrelevant. And action is irrelevant.
For example, Handgun Control, which is really a part of the government's Ministry of Propaganda, is dedicated to disarming all of us. They spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to accomplish this blatantly unconstitutional goal. They've forced pro-gun organizations to spend millions of dollars opposing them - and we're still losing ground.
But what if the rules were different? What if action, not money, counted? Do you think Sarah Brady, Charles Schumer or Frank Lautenberg would act on their so-called beliefs? Can you imagine them going door to door demanding that people hand over their firearms? Picture the results! ..... It's a nice fantasy, isn't it?
On the other hand, how many firearms owners would actively resist having their firearms confiscated? How many would refuse to register their guns? How many are willing to carry without a permit? There are large numbers in each category, people who really are willing to act on what they believe.
There's a big difference between the pro-gun and anti-gun groups. But this difference is completely hidden in the activist paradigm and becomes clear only in the action paradigm. Sarah Brady is nothing but the Wizard of Oz, cowering behind her curtain in the Emerald Swamp. We have the power - but only if we're not afraid to use it.
The system is broken. Working within it can't, and won't, work. We cannot, and must not, delegate our individual responsibility to professionals: not professional politicians, not professional activists. We must be willing to be deeply and personally involved. We must lay ourselves on the line for what we believe. We must say NO to tyranny. We must resist evil. We must be principled individuals, not nameless, faceless, decal-sprouting, dues-paying numbers, if we are to restore our rights.
For example: One of my heroes in the gun rights battle is Sheriff Richard Mack, formerly of Arizona and now running for Sheriff of Utah County. He emerged victorious in the Supreme Court decision which overturned the federally mandated background checks in the Brady Act.
It is not his victory in court for which I praise him. Despite the strongly-worded decision, Brady is still with us. Sheriff's departments are still doing background checks. National Instant Check for handguns and long guns is scheduled to debut in November.
No, the reason I praise Sheriff Mack is that, he said NO to an unconstitutional law. He refused to do the background checks. He took individual action, and did the right thing. His decision cost him his job, but he did it anyway.
And there's a wider perspective. Only two sheriffs, out of over 3,000 counties in the United States, said "No!". Only two did the right thing. What if a thousand sheriffs had said "No"? What if 2900 had? Background checks would have been dead.
As another example, a friend recently complained to me that she has to be fingerprinted to get a concealed carry permit. I can't give her, or anyone, legal advice, but I can ask questions. One of my questions is: "How can they tell you're carrying if it's concealed?"
Whether it's permits, ID cards or fingerprints, my opinion is always the same: Refuse to cooperate. Of course if only ten, or a hundred, of us resist, we'll all go to prison together. It's going to take thousands, or even millions, of people resisting to accomplish anything. Organizations can lobby against tyrannical laws. Only people can resist them.
The conventional name for this approach is civil disobedience. It's an honorable term, but it's rather abstract; it doesn't help you figure out what to do. It's also been associated with pacifism, which tends to alienate those of the "cold, dead, fingers" camp, a group to which I emphatically belong.
So, I've taken a very old concept and reframed it. I present to you "The Two-Year-Old Resistance Program", a method so simple even a child can practice it. If you've ever spent even a few hours with a two-year-old, you'll recognize these tactics immediately.
The program has just two steps: "Say NO!"and "Don't give up".
May we have your thumbprint? NO!
Please give us your Social Security number. NO!
The federal government requires that you complete this form so your name can be entered in the "deadbeat parents" database. NO!
If that gets boring, use another two-year old technique and insist that your personal information is "Mine!" Cross your arms and stomp your feet if it helps you get the spirit. Have fun! The trick is infinite persistence.
You all know the one caveat to all this, but I'll remind you anyway. Saying NO and stomping your feet is fine. However, kicking, biting, or throwing things, especially high-velocity lead projectiles, is only allowed if the other party initiates force. And in my opinion, anyone who is actively depriving you of constitutionally guaranteed rights is initiating force. In that case, our friend Claire Wolfe might just agree that it is "time to shoot the bastards"! Of course, your local police, sheriff, BATF or FBI may disagree.
A little melodrama can help as well. If someone asks for your fingerprint, act confused. Ask "Am I under arrest?" "What are the charges?" Refuse to say anything. Demand an attorney. This will confuse them so they are temporarily unable to fingerprint you or anyone else. Done properly, it may even help educate the bystanders.
Unfortunately, you may well be denied the driver's license, passport, professional license, or job for which you are applying. So you do have to be willing to accept the consequences of your actions and decisions. That's reality, and it's hard. The cost of freedom is high, but the cost of slavery is higher. Contributing to organizations may make us feel good, but it cannot accomplish our goals.
We don't need huge numbers. We don't need everyone, or even a majority. But we need as many people as possible, for our only safety is in numbers. The reality is that resistance may be dangerous. You may lose your job, your home, your freedom or even your life. That's scary, and only you can decide how far you're willing to go.
But scary is relative. Some things are worse than death. And according to a Gallup poll, there is something most people fear even more than death. That something is speaking in public. And I never even thought I was brave! You may find you are also brave.
What if only two percent of us opt out of the economy by refusing to patronize banks and credit card companies, refusing to provide social security numbers, or agree to tax withholding? What if we tell them why we won't participate?
In many areas of the country, there aren't enough skilled people to fill the available jobs. What would happen if that pool of applicants suddenly decreased ten percent because people simply said NO?
How will the police know which 5 or 10 % of us don't have drivers' licenses or carry permits, unless, of course, you're like me and have those stupid bumper stickers all over your car!
And even if they find us, and sentence all of us to life in prison for mere infractions, they can never silence us. When all the productive, principled, creative people are either in prison or voluntarily unemployed, and the violent criminals are roaming free, change willcome.
I'll give you a personal example. I'm a physician by training. I no longer practice because I decided that being a slave, especially to idiots with no medical training, was simply not worth it. I'm not willing to be fingerprinted. I'm not willing to submit to random drug screens. I won't betray people who trust me with their lives.
Doctors don't have to put up with this bullshit. They could say NO, but illness and injury cannot be postponed. Unfortunately they're the most spineless, brainwashed people I know.
But for those of you with other specialized skills, from beauticians to attorneys: Think about it! What would happen if millions of people couldn't get their hair done, their plumbing fixed, or their divorces filed? What if all the truck drivers or teachers just went home? What if Bill Gates told the Justice Dept. to "stick it" and announced he was shutting down, recalling all Microsoft products? No one would be able to buy a PC. Millions of people would be instantly unemployed. Then picture the kind of social change that rage would force on our so-called leaders!
Another thing to remember: Never play by the enemy's rules. That's one of the worst mistakes that activist organizations make.
If you leave your gun home to visit your Congressman in order to ask him to restore your gun rights, you have already lost. You have conceded that he has the right to disarm you, and he does not. If you ask for a permit for a demonstration, you are conceding that you have no right to peaceably assemble, but you do!
If you attempt to justify your rights, you are also playing by the enemy's rules. It's essential to know your rights, to proclaim them loudly. But never justify them. It's fine to insist that you have a right to free speech, but don't launch into eloquent explanations of why free speech is good. If you do, you are saying that if someone could show that free speech were bad, it would be just fine to silence you.
That is playing by the enemy's rules, and it's a deadly mistake.
I'm still optimistic enough to believe we can restore liberty to this once-great nation. I know the only moral option we have is to try - not by joining huge, unresponsive organizations, but by individual, principled action.
And so I close with my seven point plan for regaining our freedom.
1. Know your rights, and teach them to others.
2. Recruit everyone you can to resist tyranny. There is safety in numbers.
3. Speak the truth as you see it.
4. Say NO to every form of tyranny and tell them why!
5. Decide well in advance what you are willing to do, and what price you are willing to pay.,BR> 6. Never play by the enemy's rules.
7. Never ever give up.
We must take individual responsibility for our rights and freedom. No one else can do it for us. We can't buy freedom. We must act. We must risk. We must resist.
We can't afford to wait for some great leader who will guide us to freedom. We can't depend on obsolete organizations to tell us what to do or do it for us. The Age of Activism is over. We must act, individually, yet together, to rebuild a free society. Welcome to the Age of Resistance!
(c) 1998 Sarah B. Thompson, M.D. Her home page. Her e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to her column, The Righer, send a message to email@example.com and in the body of the message, put subscribe righter-list.
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