In July 2023, amid the lively atmosphere of FreedomFest in Memphis, I had the privilege of sitting down with Spike Cohen, the Founder and President of You Are The Power and the 2020 Libertarian Party nominee for vice president.
Known for his spirited advocacy, Cohen has been a vocal champion of individual liberty through his grassroots activism and strong online presence. In our interview, we discussed a range of pressing issues that are shaping the liberty movement in the current political landscape.
Join me as we dive into Spike Cohen’s insightful perspectives on the challenges and opportunities facing the liberty movement today, offering a unique glimpse into his thoughts and vision for the future.
Can you tell us a bit about your organization, You Are The Power, and the work you do?
Spike Cohen: “We [the liberty movement] have some great solutions to offer, but we don’t really have a blueprint for how to get those solutions out there to the public. We have great ideas, but we have a public that hasn’t been receptive to them, or at least not in how we’ve been presenting them. There are people being hurt by this worsening status quo that we’re under.
So, I realized that there was a way to fix all of that. We start with the people who are hurting right now. We help organize their communities around them to get them the justice they deserve and accountability for the people in government that have been harming them. And in doing so, we demonstrate that the status quo is failing them, that liberty is the best way forward, and that, ultimately, it all hinges on the fact that we need to demand the same respect from people in government that we demand of each other and ourselves. That’s what You Are The Power is. That’s what we do.”
How would you assess the current state of the liberty movement in the United States?
Spike Cohen: “I believe we’re currently in a ‘best of times, worst of times’ situation. Right now, an increasing number of people are growing more frustrated with the status quo. They’re actively searching for something better, which explains the rising support for so-called anti-establishment candidates.
At the same time, the liberty movement is in the process of ripping itself apart with internal divisions because we haven’t had a clear blueprint for effectively presenting our ideas and solutions. This often leads to infighting and blame within our own movement.
With You Are The Power, my aim is to provide that much-needed blueprint and direction. We can make a real impact today by delivering justice and enacting positive changes in our local communities. By building a network of empowered activists across the nation, we can collectively push for liberty and demonstrate its practical application, moving beyond theory.”
How about the Libertarian Party? What role do you see it playing in advancing liberty, and what lessons can be drawn from previous elections?
Spike Cohen: “The Libertarian Party’s purpose should be what every political party’s purpose is: running candidates for office, managing the logistics of securing ballot access, and equipping candidates with the resources they need to run in races and win them.
The problem is when we often try to shoehorn the party into also being an activism organization. That’s like trying to use a school bus as a battle tank, or for that matter, like using a battle tank as a school bus. It’s good for its purpose, but it’s not good for what we’re trying to use it for.
When you use a political party for activism, people think you’re just after their vote, and honestly, you are. The Republican and Democratic Parties don’t turn into activist groups themselves. They rely on aligned activist groups to pull people to their side of the political aisle, benefiting from those votes.
The Libertarian Party should do something similar — not just for more party votes but to gain more support for liberty and libertarianism in general. If the party gets its act together, it can benefit, but the main lesson is that the party should stay laser-focused on politics. Let activists, many of whom may also be party members, handle activism outside the party.”
What do you think needs to happen to challenge the two-party system in a meaningful way in 2024 and beyond?
Spike Cohen: “Right now, we [the Libertarian Party] need to look at our strengths and weaknesses. Let’s start with our weaknesses: We’re small. We have an uphill battle to even get on the ballot. We have to spend millions of dollars and countless hours just to even get on the ballot in all 50 states, whereas our main opponents, the Republicans and Democrats, not only have automatic access to all 50 states’ ballots but also receive hundreds of millions in taxpayer funding for their parties and campaigns. Not just directly for their campaigns but also for their primaries and so forth.
So we’re definitely behind there, but what do we have to our advantage? First of all, our biggest strength is that we have the truth on our side. But another advantage we have is that, again, a record and growing number of people are frustrated with the status quo and looking for alternatives.
Another advantage is that, unlike in the past, the public’s reliance on mainstream corporate media diminishes with each election cycle, with more turning to podcasts and alternative media for information, especially younger generations. This medium is how they consume information. It’s imperative that we capitalize on this trend. We must aim to appear on prominent podcasts and shows to get our message out there.
Let’s be clear: in order to get on the debate stage, which will truly be the rubicon we need to cross to ever be able to seriously contest the presidential election, we need to achieve 15 percent or more in multiple opinion polls. That means we really need to have at least 20 or 25 percent of the public on our side so they can’t ignore us in the polls. This requires getting attention. On the national level, we need to get out there, appear on major shows, and make big moves. We need to be bold and spread our message.
We also need to focus on the races we can win right now, especially local races. We’ve already won hundreds of city council, county council, sheriff, and mayor positions, among others. We should work on getting thousands of libertarians elected at that level.
This not only dispels the narrative that we can’t win but changes it to show that not only can we win, but when we do, the people also win for a change. It demonstrates libertarianism in practice, refuting the idea that our ideas don’t work. We can show that they work and build a stable of candidates who can move up the ladder — from city council races to county council, state legislative races, and maybe even congressional, gubernatorial, senatorial, and eventually presidential races.”
What do you see as the single most important threat to liberty in the United States right now?
Spike Cohen: “The most significant threat to liberty in the United States is the mental prison that most Americans find themselves in. We often discuss how they feel tied to the two-party system, but it runs much deeper.
As human beings, we hold certain expectations of respect towards one another. It’s the reason you and I both reasonably expect that no one in this room intends to harm us, and we reciprocate that expectation by having no intention of harming them.
We expect this, even if we don’t know the person, based on a reasonable assumption that they respect our life, autonomy, and boundaries enough not to harm us, even if they perceive short-term benefits in doing so. This reasonable expectation of safety and respect creates the harmony, prosperity, and happiness we desire and often experience.
If a politician were in this room outside of their capacity as a politician, beyond their role as an elected official, we would expect the same from them. We would anticipate that they, too, refrain from causing harm, and we would likewise refrain from harming them.
However, the problem arises when people operate within their governmental roles, as elected officials, law enforcement, judges, prosecutors, government bureaucrats, and so on — we set aside this expectation.
Suddenly, theft becomes taxation, justified by the need to fund essential services, as if no alternative funding method exists. Kidnapping and murder cease to be so, becoming prosecutorial misconduct, wrongful executions, or bad foreign policy.
In reality, they remain kidnapping, murder, and theft — harmful actions. They are actions that, if undertaken in a personal capacity, would prompt us to expect them not to occur, and we would defend ourselves against such actions.
I believe the most significant challenge to liberty today is that the average American, indeed, the average person worldwide, does not hold the same level of expectation regarding respect from government officials as they do from everyone else. They should.
The moment we genuinely anticipate the same level of respect from government as we do from ordinary individuals, we can witness a substantial shift toward liberty. We consistently fare better without theft, coercion, fraud, or harm, and it all begins with mutual respect.”
If the liberty movement could be doing just one thing differently to be more effective, what would it be?
Spike Cohen: “I believe we should communicate with people in a language they understand. The liberty movement tends to attract highly intelligent, analytical, system-focused, and engineering-minded individuals. We tend to dissect issues, prioritizing reason over emotion.
However, it’s essential to acknowledge that the majority of people don’t think like us. They often start with emotions, followed by consideration of what others think, followed by practicality, and sometimes they’ll explore the underlying principles or philosophy. In contrast, we begin with philosophy and principles and may never delve into the more emotional aspects.
To bridge this gap, we should communicate in a way that resonates with them. That’s precisely what I aim to do with You Are The Power. We start by presenting a relatable human story — someone who has suffered harm and seeks justice. It’s a powerful narrative that evokes empathy. We show that we care about this individual, understand the situation’s emotional weight, offer a solution, and invite others to join us in the cause.
This approach connects with people emotionally, meeting them where they are. We should overcome our frustration with the differences in how most people think and accept it for what it is. Many people lead with emotion, and that’s okay. If we can meet them on that level, we can make this mainstream.”
Are there any aspects of the fight for liberty you’re particularly optimistic about for the coming years?
Spike Cohen: “I think that we have a pretty decent window right now where a large number of people have really lost trust in the idea of government largely being an instrument that’s trying to protect them.
The COVID lockdowns and mandates ruined that perception, at least temporarily, for tens of millions of Americans and probably hundreds of millions of people worldwide. I say temporarily because, unfortunately, many people, especially voters, tend to have short memories. They can very quickly latch on to the newest outrage and demand the government protect them again.
But, I do think there is an opening and an opportunity for people who recognize that something is inherently off with the government telling you they’re going to protect you and then turning around and ruining your life.”
What actions would you recommend taking to a young person who’s passionate about advancing liberty?
Spike Cohen: “I think they should go online, argue with strangers, and make memes about how stupid they are…
No, I think that if they really want to get a head start in getting involved in the liberty movement, and if you truly want to understand this on a philosophical level, I would recommend books like The Law by Frederic Bastiat, No Treason, by Lysander Spooner, anything by Hazlett, Economics in One Lesson would be a good one. Anything by Mises or Rothbard is good as well.
If you’re already pretty solid on the philosophy and you want to get involved in activism, the first thing I’d recommend you do is to go to your city council meetings, county council meetings, or whatever your local government meetings are, and just take note of what’s happening there. Very quickly, you’re going to get very angry at what’s happening there because you’re going to find that these local government officials are casually screwing everyone over, fully confident that few, if any, people show up to hold them accountable for it and that no one is really paying attention.
Every once in a while, you’ll meet someone who’s there complaining or even pleading for the government to do the right thing and stop destroying their life, and you can make some friends. You can find out about some activism you can start doing. That’s something we encourage all of our members at You Are The Power to do.”
Want to hear more from Spike Cohen?
As we wrap up this insightful conversation with Spike Cohen, we’re thrilled to share an exciting opportunity with you. Spike Cohen will be a featured speaker at LibertyCon International in February 2024!
If you’re looking for an opportunity to gain new insights about the ideas of liberty and network with like-minded individuals, Students For Liberty’s upcoming LibertyCon International, held in Washington, D.C., on February 2-4, 2024, is an event you won’t want to miss!
LibertyCon International offers an opportunity to engage with top experts, scholars, and entrepreneurs from a variety of fields while providing a platform for attendees to connect with others who are dedicated to advancing pro-liberty ideas and creating a freer future.
Click the button below to sign up for updates and secure your spot at this exciting event. We can’t wait to see you there!
This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.