Skip to comments.The Story of a FReeper Chapter
Posted on 02/14/2002 11:07:37 AM PST by Publius
The Puget Sound Free Republic Chapter has been in existence since June 1998, but it hasnt been a smooth ride. While starting a chapter is not all that difficult, keeping one alive is a genuine challenge. People come and people go from this site, and maintaining an active chapter is more than enough work for one individual. This is the story of one chapter. My purpose is to provide some object lessons for other Chapter Executives and some pointers for those who want to start and maintain a chapter.
In the Beginning
In the dark ages, Free Republic had neither FReepmail nor state home pages nor individual home pages. In the spring of 1998, MaryBug began collecting the names of people she thought might be from the Puget Sound area. She posted a thread about gathering local FReepers at a meeting place, and people responded. The lunch meeting was scheduled for a June Saturday at Ivars Acres of Clams on the Seattle waterfront. It was a small start. Only twenty people -- give or take a few -- showed up. But it was auspicious.
Our star was LittleLulu, also known as Michelle Malkin, who came with her husband Jesse. Michelle was then the self-described token conservative on the Seattle Times editorial board. It was a delight seeing a writer of note who was female, minority, conservative and gorgeous all at the same time. Shortly after the meeting, Michelle wrote an op-ed for the Times where she described our meeting. I should note here that I owe Michelle big time. She mentioned me in the article and made me sound much more intelligent than I really am.
The one thing that stood out was that most of us had military backgrounds. A lot of us worked at Boeing. In the politically correct principal city of what James Farley, FDRs Postmaster General and political fixer, referred to as the Soviet of Washington, a group of like-minded citizens had reached out from the anonymity of the Internet to meet and organize. It would be hard for me to describe that moment in my own life. I was a lonely libertarian, clueless in Seattle, until the day I met my fellow FReepers.
The Impeachment Wave
Free Republic has seen tidal waves of change over the years. With impeachment, a whole new tide of people came to the site. MaryBug held the chapter together and helped Seattle put together our second FReeper Meet at his West Seattle home overlooking Elliott Bay in September 1998. Seattle owned a dot-com business devoted to outdoorsmen and big game hunters. At his house we feasted on such delicacies as moose kielbasa, corned elk and bear pastrami, not to mention fresh clams, mussels and oysters. The beer flowed freely, much of it into my mouth.
After Clinton ducked conviction, however, the tide washed out, and many Puget Sound FReepers disappeared into the waves. Even MaryBug disappeared as her computer crashed and burned. (She thought Clintons NSA had attacked her.) At that moment, as the chapter disintegrated, I stepped to the fore to keep it going. I dont attribute this to superior qualities of leadership. It was just that I was again becoming clueless in Seattle.
The Mechanics of Managing a Chapter
By this time Free Republic had some useful tools, including FReepmail and personal and state home pages.
In September 1999, Seattle hosted another FReeper Meet at his home. This now required me to perform the role of Communications Director.
Our June 2000 FReeper Meet was our last outing at the home of Seattle, and we met and were conquered by the righteous home brew of Billthedrill. By this time we had developed a ritual to begin the festivities, and I traditionally waited for everyone to arrive before invoking it. We called it the Three Toasts of the Puget Sound Chapter.
With the chapter organized, I decided to shoot for quarterly FReeper Meets.
An Honor Guard for the Hog
For our September 2000 FReeper Meet, Right in Seattle volunteered his home at Browns Point overlooking Commencement Bay. The event was to be a hog roast, complete with a Name the Hog Contest. Right was an expert in the art of smoking a hog, and he informed us that the hog would require an all-night honor guard. Rather than carry rifles and pace the vicinity of the smoker, the honor guard would bravely stay up, drink beer, listen to music and check on the fire and the temperature. Right, Govt Mule and I bravely shouldered our burden and made sure the hog was smoking at just the right temperature. I brought some classical music, that being my obsession, and Mule brought some of the most obnoxious techno-punk Ive ever heard. (After enough beer, it didnt sound any worse than Stockhausen or Cage.)
We had over 40 FReepers and family members present the next day. Diane Fineswine was delicious, and the twelve year old son of Vineyard took digital photographs that were pasted onto a web site and then posted to a Live from the Hog Roast thread on Free Republic.
We even had some militia FReepers from far-away eastern Washington show up, dressed in their cammies. Shortly after the Hog Roast, the eastern Washington folks joined up with Noumenon in the Idaho chapter.
The Disputed Election Wave and the Christmas Party
By this time I had a clear grasp of the nature of the Puget Sound Chapter. We were a group of like-minded people who liked to meet over good food and beer and discuss the issues. We were a laid-back crowd and werent terribly interested in demonstrating or making a fuss. After watching the Seattle police in action during the World Trade riots, we thought discretion was the better part of valor.
And then Al Gore tried to steal the election.
It was time for us to mobilize, become agile street fighters and take on the role of thugs in Dockers. But we needed a leader or two. And that was when a whole new wave of FReepers entered the chapter, thanks to some aggressive recruiting on my part. Libertina joined up, and with CMSGOP and Big Ern she helped bring Puget Sound FReepers to a demonstration in downtown Seattle, the belly of the beast. The marchers with their W1 signs drew many a one-finger salute from the local inhabitants, but the police liked us. The local NBC affiliate covered the march, but explained to its viewers that it was a pro-Gore event! Talk about media bias!
About this time Billthedrill and I began working on a semi-formal FReeper Christmas Party at a fancy hotel across Lake Washington, and we heavily subsidized this event to keep the price down to $30 per person. But very few people were interested in paying money for a FReeper Meet. One said he wouldnt come to any event that required wearing a suit. Another said he wouldnt come to any event that wasnt free of charge. Others simply couldnt afford it. Out of a chapter of 84 FReepers, only 11 sent in a positive RSVP.
On the day the Electoral College voted, we held that Christmas Party, and it was a resounding success in spite of the low turnout. For the first time we now had the Four Toasts of the Puget Sound Chapter, for the toast in third position was, To President George Walker Bush and Vice President Richard Bruce Cheney. That was worth the price of admission alone.
The crowd included some of the leading conservative intellects of the area (I thought), and we had everything from financial analysts and software engineers to a Lithuanian MD. The level of conversation would have turned a university faculty green with envy, and it was worth every painful dollar Id had to spend. But I wasnt going to do it again.
The Last Meet and the Executive Committee
In March 2001, PatriotPride hosted a Saint Paddys Day FReeper Meet at his home in Newcastle. Along with a lot of fine corned beef and cabbage, we quaffed prodigious quantities of the magnificent home brew of Billthedrill.
Shortly afterward, I put together an Executive Committee for the chapter because I no longer had the time to perform all the tasks necessary for the many roles I was fulfilling. On a Saturday morning in April, I met with Libertina, Big Ern and Billthedrill at the home of MaryBug, where we divvied up responsibilities and began planning for a June FReeper Meet. Big Ern sent out a FReepergram asking for a volunteer to hold the Meet, but nobody wanted to host it. June came and went.
When MaryBug left the committee due to ill health, we met in August at the home of Libertina and planned for a second September Hog Roast, but the events of 9/11 stopped it cold. The host of the Hog Roast was banned from Free Republic, and everything dissolved into utter chaos.
There was no attempt at a Christmas gathering, although the Executive Committee, again hosted by Libertina in December, planned for a FReeper Meet in February or March. Due to pressures at work, I stepped aside as Chapter Executive and handed the reins to Libertina. Today she and Billthedrill and Big Ern run the chapter, as I will soon be required to step away from involvement in the Executive Committee altogether.
After over four years with Free Republic and nearly three years as Chapter Executive, Ive learned some lessons about the reality of running an organization like a FReeper Chapter.
I hope this provides some guidance to those who head chapters or want to organize chapters. Its a rocky road, and not that many FReepers will appreciate all the work that goes into it. But without this kind of work, the Disputed Election might have turned out very differently. We need leaders. We cant all just lurk anymore.
OTOH, our history is different in that we have done numerous Freeps as Florida was such a key state in the last election.
We do take these Freeps as opportunities to gather socially afterwards and we did that quite a bit.
I liken a Freeper Chapter to the Continental Army. Washington never had more than 20,000 troops at any one time. They came and went with the planting & harvesting seasons. Freepers come and go with the political seasons.
This ebb & flow I have come to accept. It probably is how this just works out.
Very interesting to see what goes into starting and keeping a chapter. It's amazing all of the work you folks have to put in. Probably why there are so few official chapters.
Thought you would appreciate one insight into this subject, TS.
I've advised no fewer than 3 people in Oregon how to get a chapter started, and there was one meeting that I know of. But there are good FReepers in Oregon still trying to start a chapter and keep it going. And two of those three people gave up when they heard what they had to do.
For any given FReeper Meet, at best only half the chapter will agree to come no matter how far in advance you plan the event. For many FReepers, this site is one of the most important things in their lives. But for the rest, it?s not important enough to motivate them to change their schedules to attend an event.
The sentence I bolded above is why I feel FR is a microcosm of the entire country. I know I probably sound cranky and cynical (and I guess I am) but the vast majority of the people on this site can "talk the talk" but when push comes to shove they are just not willing to "walk the walk". In that respect, they are really no better than those we call sheeple. For those who might tell me to come down off my pedestal, I'm not up on one. Just stating a conclusion I've reached over the past four years.
The freepers here in Washington are sprawled out all over the state. It's difficult to get everyone together on a weekend to attend an event that might take up to a 3 hour each way commute. Plus, then you can't really partake in the excellent home brewed beer!.
I give Publius great credit for all his hard work, but trying to organize chapter events when our population covers so much geography might well be an impossible task.
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