How Occupy Wall Street is beating the Liberty Movement

Occupy Sandy (Photo by Gabrielle Alfiero)

When a group of young libertarians gathered in Pepperdine last week for a Students for Liberty conference, they probably did not expect to begin their day listening to a speech advocating for greater cooperation between the Liberty and the Occupy Wall Street movements.

However, that was the message of left libertarian philosopher Prof. Gary Chartier, who called for the ideologically disparate movements to work together to change the world. Calling it an “alliance worth rebuilding,” Chartier reminded the young libertarians that the dissidents of the Occupy Movement correctly identified a host of problems stemming from state-sanctioned violence and coercion. From the bank bailouts and massive debt, to war and empire, libertarians and occupiers alike are united in their opposition to these manifestations of state aggression. He urged libertarians to reach out to the dissidents and help them see that more state aggression and violence are not solutions to these problems. Chartier confidently stated, “libertarians know, and can readily explain, how concerns like these can be addressed without the state.” And while I believe this to be true, I also believe that the Liberty Movement can learn a thing or two from their brothers and sisters in the Occupy Movement.

It is the Occupy Movement which is leading the way in providing non-state, non-hierarchical solutions to not only disaster relief, but also to personal debt slavery. Their efforts with Occupy Sandy—providing disaster relief to the victims of Hurricane Sandy—garnered praise from not only the left-leaning New York Times, but also Glenn Beck’s The Blaze. It turns out the decentralized structure of the Occupy Movement was better, faster, and more efficient in providing relief to hurricane victims, beating out FEMA and more established organizations like the Red Cross in their own game. The dissidents of the Occupy Movement are now applying this ethos of voluntarism and charity with their latest activist effort: Rolling Jubilee.

What is Rolling Jubilee? From their website:

Banks sell debt for pennies on the dollar on a shadowy speculative market of debt buyers who then turn around and try to collect the full amount from debtors. The Rolling Jubilee intervenes by buying debt, keeping it out of the hands of collectors, and then abolishing it. We’re going into this market not to make a profit but to help each other out and highlight how the predatory debt system affects our families and communities. Think of it as a bailout of the 99% by the 99%.

This is an absolutely brilliant anti-statist solution to the personal debt crisis affecting many people in this country. While the Liberty Movement likes to talk about shrinking the size of the State and how people can work together to solve problems without the State, the Occupy Movement is putting these ideals into concrete actions with Occupy Sandy and Rolling Jubilee. We libertarians often hear from people, “Well, who is going to provide disaster relief without FEMA?”  We now have a successful model to point to: Occupy Wall Street.

This is ironic, considering that the Occupy Movement has been the target of much mockery from those within the Liberty Movement. Libertarians are guilty of painting occupiers with broad strokes which oversimplified the breadth of anger, frustration, and legitimate grievances articulated by the Occupy Movement.

Libertarian celebrity Peter Schiff famously visited the occupation in New York City to condescendingly “educate” young people burdened with debt and homelessness about how, if they just try little harder, they will be successful as he is in our glorious Free Market! Never mind that many of these young people were made jobless by a recession and enslaved by a student loan scheme engineered by the State and its corporatist parasites. Far from being socialists who want to use state aggression to take everyone’s fiat money, the “useful idiots” of the Occupy Movement turn out to be practitioners of the very model of society libertarians strive for.

I have said that the brilliant dissidents of the Occupy Movement are “participating in a grand libertarian experiment. At its core, the Occupy movement is an experiment in a voluntaryist model of society devoid of state violence and coercion. This is not mere political disobedience, but a dissent from the violent and coercive State.” With Occupy Sandy and Rolling Jubilee, they have progressed beyond mere dissent and have demonstrated what a society devoid of state aggression and based on charity between people could look like.

My hero, the great libertarian thinker Ron Paul, once said of us libertarians, “we endorse the idea of voluntarism, self-responsibility, family, friends, and churches to solve problems, rather than saying that some monolithic government is going to make you take care of yourself and be a better person.” What speaks louder than words than an endorsement made manifest by action? If we libertarians emulate the creativity and activism of the Occupy Movement to solve problems with non-state solutions, we can propel the Liberty Movement forward and truly foment a revolution outside the constraints of electoral politics. Not mere political revolution that comes and goes every four years, but a truly lasting social revolution based on voluntarism, self-responsibility, and charity.

In his electric and inspiring speech, Chartier described a society “rooted in non-violent, voluntary cooperation.” I am happy to say that this better world is possible and it might look like Occupy Wall Street.


1. I do not think it is necessary to say it, but I will say it anyway: I am a fierce advocate for a truly Free Market. However, Peter Schiff loses credibility when he attacks the government’s massive interference in the market—you know, like the Federal Reserve’s currency manipulation, bank bailouts, TARP, Solyndra, all the expensive and wealth-destroying wars—and at the same time propagates the pretense that this country has a functioning Free Market. Sure, it is freer than some countries, but why pretend that everyone can make it if they merely try? In a country where the powerful and the connected enjoy built-in advantages—advantages arising from the parasitic relationship between subsidized corporate entities and the government—why pretend that this somehow will not create losers in our society? A big protip to my fellow libertarians: how about we stop blaming the victims of the State?

2. Let us be honest here which group is more statist: who exactly is running for office and trying very hard to become part of the two-party apparatus? Hint: it is not the Occupy Movement. This is why I have tremendous respect for the leadership of Young Americans for Liberty. Unlike their more opportunistic counterparts elsewhere in the Liberty Movement, you have a group of engaged, young people who truly endorse the idea of liberty and peace.

3. Speaking of social revolution, I stole this compelling idea from my friend Charles Davis. He wrote:

Reject violence, including in your language. Volunteer. Build up the organizations you’d like to see fill the void left by slashed government social programs. Turn your back on materialism and live frugally. Basically, be the person you would like to see more of in society. What we need isn’t some anarchist political revolution, we need an anarchist social revolution: we need a society of anarchists. Help make them.

I guess in our case, we need a libertarian social revolution and in order for that to happen, we need to make a society of libertarians. And in case you are wondering how to go about doing that, did you know Young Americans for Liberty has this awesome “Choose Charity” initiative? Get going and spread the message of voluntarism and charity at the same time actually helping people.

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