Chapter 7: Vote with Your Feet (and Come Here)
This one strategy is so important I’m giving it its own (brief) chapter. Let’s start with a fact everyone knows but we rarely acknowledge: you are in a relationship with the place where you live. This seems so obvious it’s barely worth mentioning, but it matters way more than we think, especially now.
Twenty-plus years ago I took an epic road trip around the United States. Seattle to the East Coast to New Orleans and back by way of the Grand Canyon. Wonderful journey, lots of great things to see. But other than the natural wonders and my time in the Big Easy, I noted that from place to place, not much changed but the name of the breakfast chain and the amount of sugar that went into the iced teas. In short, America was America.
This is definitively not the case anymore. The states have been diverging over the past decade, in my absence, and the Covid response turned that divergence up to 11. As I write this, you need to show an ID and proof of vaccination just to eat out in NYC (WTF, right?). Meanwhile I just an hour ago met a friend for an early evening drink at the Green Parrot in Key West, and if you weren’t plugged in to propaganda spewed out by the media or internet, you’d have no idea people elsewhere were still worried about the Chyna Virus.
Don’t discount the value of voting with your feet. That’s one freedom you still have, though I fully acknowledge that it can be economically challenging for many. But the lockdowns, as a consolation prize, brought greater acceptance for remote work, and some places are absolutely booming. This is one of them, and so for that reason and others to follow, I’m going to make the pitch that you should get out of the relationship you have with your locale, if at all possible, if that relationship has turned sour, and bring your body and your money to someplace better. Specifically, to here.
Come to the Conch Republic
Before I get to the pitch, my personal backstory. Fourteen years ago I spent a summer in New Hampshire (NH). As some of you know, this is home to the Free State Project (FSP), a libertarian vote-with-your-feet movement to make the politics in that state more classical liberal. We’d moved to NH in part to check this out, and I excitedly brought my wife and young daughter to Porcfest, generally known as Lollapalooza for libertarians. I was enticed.
I chatted with the great James Bovard at Porcfest, author of Lost Rights, cigar chomper, and general wise old man of the movement. I asked him if he thought the FSP would succeed. He was blunt. Almost certainly not. Taking over a state, even this low-population one, is extremely hard, and even if you do, the federal government will block you at every turn.
I heeded that advice and took off to the Great White North, which at the time had a better level of economic freedom than the US and a glorious big city with a great restaurant scene to boot (make sure to pronounce that in your head with a long u). I loved Toronto. Yes, the winters are long. Yes, the people can be more polite than genuinely friendly, at least when you first meet them. But there was so much goodness in “Turono” that I had no timeline for leaving, which was strange for someone who’d lived in ten different places in the fifteen years before that.
Then 2020 happened, with the changes I’ve mentioned exhaustively; and you’ve lived through them, so you know. Toronto found a new and much less free normal. I tried protesting. I tried rallying the small business owners I knew. But culture matters, and I think it says something that all of the Commonwealth countries have gone full Obedience macht frie in terms of attitudes. Ironically (or perhaps fittingly), few people summed up what was about to happen better than fellow Torontonian Chris Sky (see “Chris Sky’s Crystal Ball” in addendum 4).
Meanwhile, whatever impact the FSP had in NH, it didn’t prevent the state from locking down or imposing a mask mandate for a time.
The state that opened back up the soonest is the one that also has some of the most business-friendly policies in general: Florida.
But I don’t see myself as having moved to Florida. I moved to the Florida Keys, sometimes known as the Conch Republic. (It once shut the border from the mainland in protest and has its own flag. Also, pronounce it “konk.”) You should consider moving here too!
It’s wonderful here
I know, I should probably be starting with a description of why the political climate here is the best, and I will get to that, but for a moment let’s just appreciate how lovely it is to live in the Keys. Everywhere you go you’re within a mile of water, and every road trip you take will take you on one bridge after another over gorgeous turquoise blue waters.
If you enjoy doing anything whatsoever related to the ocean (except surfing!), this is the place to be. Snorkel with the stingrays. Scuba dive with the sharks. Swim with dolphins. Paddleboard through the mangroves. Almost everyone here has a boat, and almost everyone here fishes. Or dives for spiny lobster. We have jet skis, and zooming around on these is like riding dirt bikes with no real consequences.
The Keys are made up of about a dozen larger islands and hundreds of smaller ones. The big one we’re on might as well be a nature preserve. At any given time we have a handful of miniature Key deer grazing on our grass; there are frogs attached to our windows, white herons sneaking a sip from the pool, little lizards everywhere, and big iguanas that are invasive and everyone hates (mostly, I suspect, because they can make your patio look like the sidewalks of downtown San Francisco if you don’t shoo them away). We also have wild chickens and feral cats, and my wife once saw a peacock, though I suspect it was an escaped pet.
For me, this area (the Lower Keys) combines the best of rural living with quick access to almost everything you could want from a city (and Miami is three hours away just in case). Key West is not far from us, and it punches way above its weight in terms of just about everything. Small in population (about twenty-five thousand) but huge in annual visitors, Key West has as many restaurants, hotels, excursions, museums, tours, and shops as most cities of a million people. All on a walkable island about one-eighth the size of Manhattan.
The local dynamics
Politically, the area is a mix. Like most (mini) cities, Key West is more liberal than the surrounding areas. But even in Key West, the political scene is nothing at all like what you’d find in Portland. The city houses a naval base, and most of the businesses make their money off the tourists, either directly or indirectly. Those tourists come for a variety of reasons and from a variety of cultures. If you wander by any of the many tee shirt shops, you’re likely to see a Trump 2024 shirt or bolder ones that for sure would provoke someone to throw a rock through the window if they were on display in Berkeley.
There’s also a large Cuban expat community here, and their influence on the local scene is unmistakable. As part of my upcoming TV show (recall my mention of it way back in the intro), I hosted an event for one of my guests at the San Carlos Institute, once ground zero for scheming to overthrow Castro (Cuba libre!). Even today, they won’t let non-expat Cubans perform at their theater.
And even the lefties here, though clearly not libertarians, aren’t the uptight kinds you’d meet at a small liberal arts college. Key West has a long history of welcoming gay tourists, and those gay tourists, like so many of the other visitors, come here to party, not to yell at bake shops, at least so far as I can tell. The visitors overall here are a libertine group, catered to with an amazing number of pubs, strip clubs, massage parlors, and head shops (though marijuana is still medicinal-only in Florida).
Speaking of shops, the vast majority of the stores here are locally owned. You do have most of the major chains, but you can get coffee at any number of places that aren’t Starbucks (I recommend Koffie House and Key West Coffee). You can eat all day at Key West–only restaurants and dance all night at the local hookah lounge.
The very tip of the US
What does all this mean for the political dynamics down here? It means that no one group can run the tables on any other. And because so many people here butter their bread with the bucks of tourists, there’s a lot of momentum to stay open, much more so than in white collar cities, where everyone who matters can work from home.
One other important piece of what it means to live down here is that you are all the way down at the very tip of the United States. Port cities tend to have a history of rogue actors, and that’s certainly the case here. Over the years, the Keys have been home to pirates, smugglers, bootleggers, and drug dealers. The only indigenous “fish” here is called a square grouper. These are hardpacked bales of drugs thrown overboard to foil the DEA. Apparently they still wash ashore here on a semiregular basis.
To be down here is to be at the very tip of the States, living among a set of islands that are already physically separated from the rest of the United States. If the breakup comes, I suspect we’ll do just fine down here.
Building Austin East
Hopefully it’s now clear why I moved here. But what am I doing here? Beyond the various creative ventures, I’m hoping to turn this into a creative hub for likeminded podcasters and other creators.
I’ve opened my own home to the locals for parties. I’ll be opening it for others who decide to move down here. With enough of a community (and it wouldn’t take many to make that happen), we could host weekly events, BBQs, podcast-listening parties. Please consider a trip down here to check it out! You can find my contact info at the end of the book, which you’re rapidly approaching.