It can be a frustrating endeavor if you are a supporter of limited government and greater liberty, trying to figure out where to start to apply your efforts in pursuit of your principles. All levels of life are rife with assaults on freedom, whether these are direct attacks or the results of unintended consequences.
Because allocation of resources is a factor, I always advocate starting with the smallest level of governance possible. I use that word intentionally. You'll see why in a moment.
Sure, federal issues are sexy. These are discussed on the network news, on the Sunday morning pundit shows, so you can easily talk to anybody about these issues and make your points. What you cannot is affect change easily, because just as anyone can talk about these, everybody with a million dollars and an advocacy group that spends millions of dollars also talks about, and lobbies on, these federal issues.
Local issues aren't so flashy, but they affect you, and probably more directly, and in ways you feel. Everybody talks about Iraq, but really only a small percentage of people feel this directly. Sure, we all pay federal taxes, but that money goes into the hopper and is dispersed over many more allocations than we could begin to name or even count. When a municipality has a smoking ban, and you smoke, you feel it. If you own a restaurant business, and the smoking ban is enacted, you feel its effect on the numbers of customers you draw.
If you live in a modern subdivision that has a set of covenants included with the recorded plat, coupled with a vigorous enforcement effort by a Homeowners Association (HOA), you can really feel it.
Some HOAs regulate on an order never dreamt on by Soviet Politboro, much less know-it-all city planning commissions. They regulate such arcane things as the color of the roof or the paint on the walls, the make & model of the mailbox, the dates you are permitted to have Christmas lights hung on the house, whether or not you may have a shed or pole barn, etc. Your neighbors may be the very ones keeping an eye on you so they can rat you out to the HOA, insisting you take down a political sign, or re-paint your house a more neutral color.
Today's Indy Star has an excellent article outlining the stresses of living within subdivisions with vigorous HOAs. From the article:
More than 54 million Americans are living in subdivisions subject to covenants and homeowners associations, according to the Community Associations Institute's national headquarters in Alexandria, Va.
Critics say covenants, which gained popularity during the rise of suburbia following World War II, often are overly restrictive. Advocates, however, say the documents protect homeowners' interests by establishing and enforcing community standards.
"They provide homeowners the chance to govern themselves, maintain the property and enhance property values," said Matt Englert, president of the Central Indiana chapter of the Community Associations Institute.
There is no doubt that most homeowners buy blindly, failing to even read the restrictive covenants. It often looks like so much legalese and gobbledegook, that buyers gloss over and sign the purchase documents. At that point, they have locked themselves into not having a backyard pool or Christmas lights in April. As ever, Caveat Emptor.
However, this is a place where Libertarians can do much good. In my Fishers subdivision, there is a covenant about the mailboxes. Nobody adheres to it. Heaven forbid some busybody with nothing else to do should become the HOA president, and enforce the convenants. About 75% of the neighborhood will find itself shelling out some 50 bucks to get the "right" mailbox.
One's choice of mailboxes is not what makes or breaks a subdivision. General upkeep of the properties means a whole lot more than a personalized mailbox.
Libertarians need to get involved with their HOAs on a leadership level. I know- it isn't nearly as much fun as talking about Iraq or earmarks, but it does two things. It makes home a much happier, freer place to live, and, it gives a nice resume item that shows you can work with people and that the neighborhood didn't go up in flames in the way the paranoid distopian fantasies the opponents of freedom like to describe any time you talk about scaling back control and command with regard to property ownership.
Besides, unless you are a millionaire celebrity, you aren't getting elected to the US Senate without having served a lower office first anyway. At home is where you can start to make a large difference.