A strand of fiber has a certain strength. It can hold a given weight or withstand a given amount of force before snapping. But when you take multiple strands and braid them together into a rope, you create something even stronger than the sum of the parts.

This is known as synergy, and we see it in many different settings. The U.S.A. hockey team that won the 1980 Olympics was actually not the most talented team. In fact, if you made a player by player comparison between the Americans and the Soviets, the Russians would come out on top in almost every matchup. Really, talentwise, it wasn’t even close.

But America won. How? They played as a team, and that team had amazing synergy.

It’s even more interesting when you consider that Coach Herb Brooks didn’t even pick the best players in America for his team. He intentionally chose players he believed he could mold into single unit. “You’re looking for players whose name on the front of the sweater is more important than the one on the back.”


James Madison recognized the power of synergy too. In Federalist 46, he gave us the blueprint for stopping unconstitutional, or even unpopular, exercises of federal power. He recognized that even a single state can create problems for the feds. But to really put the brakes on them, you need a little teamwork.

Madison listed some steps that we can take, including refusal to cooperate with officers of the union, and then wrote that these actions “would oppose, in any State, very serious impediments; and were the sentiments of several adjoining States happen to be in Union, would present obstructions which the federal government would hardly be willing to encounter.”

A single state can create impediments. But when a bunch of states all work simultaneously to block a federal action, Madison said it would present obstructions! Big obstructions! The kind of obstructions that make people say, “Nah, it’s just not worth it.”

When the OffNow coalition plan to stop NSA spying at the state and local level got some big national  media attention last week, the response was overwhelmingly positive. But there were some skeptics who insisted it won’t work because the feds will find a legal way around it, Or they will cut funding to Utah. Or they will just take the water anyway.

Of course, any of those things might happen. But these skeptics miss the point. We don’t expect Utah to go it alone. If it does, sure, the feds might squeeze the state hard enough to make it back down. Utah alone passing the Fourth Amendment Protection act would certainly create impediments, but DC might be able to overcome them. Or not. We don’t know until we try.

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But we don’t just want impediments. We want obstructions that the feds will hardly be willing to encounter. That’s why the plan is a multi-state, multi-pronged strategy. Imagine if 30 states pass the Fourth Amendment protection act. Will the feds really pull federal highway funding from all 30 states? I guess they could, but that would not go well for them. Are they going to be able to “just take” resources from 30 states? Again, they could, but it would create a PR nightmare for them.

There is strength in numbers. There is power in numbers. And working together creates synergy.

That’s the plan. It’s not just about shutting off water to one facility, in one state. It’s about denying state and local cooperation across the country. Creating obstruction. Making them stop!

Mike Maharrey

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