The student movement for liberty is growing at an amazing rate. It is exciting to watch as large numbers of students join libertarian groups on campus. Motivated libertarians are making a great effort to spread the philosophy of liberty to students who would, sadly, rarely hear these ideas from their professors. But as student groups develop, it can be tempting to stick to inner-group discussions and forget about spreading the message outside of the club.
One solution that my libertarian club at Michigan State University has found is to organize debates with other political groups on campus. Organizing a debate requires few resources, creates a dialog regarding political philosophy on campus, and places libertarians in contrast to the false dichotomy of the two-party system.
Organizing an on-campus debate is a great way to practice decentralized decision-making. I would suggest that all participating groups share responsibilities and have as many members of your group help organize the event as possible. The first step you should take is to get in touch with other political groups on campus that you think will contribute to the debate. In my case at Michigan State University, it was the College Libertarians, College Democrats, College Republicans, and Young Democratic Socialists.
Next, you should schedule a meeting between group leaders to discuss possible topics, and establish some preliminary logistics such as date and location. You can be as broad or as specific as you would like when deciding on a debate topic. My group has had success organizing general “political debates” where we covered foreign policy, monetary policy, and various domestic policy issues all at once. We also dedicated one debate solely to education policy. You should find out what topics the participating groups are interested in discussing and consider which ones are likely to draw in a large student audience. It is also important to establish a debate format in advance so that the debaters are prepared. The coach of our university’s debate team helped us develop a format for our debates and even volunteered to moderate them. Once the logistics are complete, I recommend the participating clubs split up the responsibilities for the event. At Michigan State, for example, one group can handled advertising, one group reserved the location, and one group coordinated with the debate moderator.
When preparing for the debate, I would encourage the debaters from a group to split up the content. This allows your team to best prepare for the debate while handling schoolwork and other responsibilities. When researching information for the debate, look for alarming facts or touching anecdotes on the topic. Most importantly, you should think about how to frame the case for a free society. You will get a better response from the student audience if you show how a free society benefits college students rather than how it benefits captains of industry.
After the debate is finished, it may be a good idea to have group members walking around and speaking to members of the audience. Taking a few minutes to ask students about their thoughts on the debate is an easy way to find potential members for your group. When you find students who were receptive to the libertarian ideas, you should develop a personal connection with them so they are more likely to come to a meeting. Find common ground and exchange contact information so that you can let them know when your group is holding an event that is relevant to their interests.
Once the audience has cleared out, gather the group leaders together for a quick follow-up. What worked and what did not work? Is there interest in holding another debate? If so, when will you meet to determine the logistics? Hopefully, the various political groups will develop strong bonds and friendships by continuing to hold debates—a challenging and exciting way to provide college students with a presentation of various views on political philosophy. It is also important to have a follow-up with your group about their feelings towards the debate. Did they feel prepared? How well was the group able to frame the case for a free society? What will you do to improve as a group for the next debate?
Personally, I have found debates to be one of the the most effective ways to present college students with the libertarian philosophy as an alternative to the false dichotomy of the two-party system, and I hope you’ll find the same!