It’s all too easy to forget the point of student organizing when you’re spending so much time on the details of how to do it. There are reasons, very good reasons, to work so hard on student organizing. Yet if you miss the forest through the trees, you can spend your energies on inappropriate projects, or worse, become disheartened and give up. So take a step back and reflect on three distinct purposes to running a student group for liberty:
First, to find other students interested in liberty and provide them with an environment to develop their understanding of the ideas and empower them to be effective leaders of liberty. Most students who are interested in but unsure of starting a pro-liberty group on their campus employ the same refrain: “But there are no pro-liberty students on my campus! I’m the only one.” For those of you nodding your head right now, you’re wrong. No matter what school you go to, whether it’s the most conservative-Christian university that says free speech is secondary to believing the word of the Bible or the most liberal Ivy League institution, there are other pro-liberty students on your campus. The reason you haven’t met them yet is because they don’t have a place to meet one another (i.e. there is no pro-liberty student group)! Without any advertisements of the existence of pro-liberty students or locations to gather and talk with one another, it’s easy to think you’re all alone. This point applies just as much to student groups that think they’ve found all of the pro-liberty students on their campus: you haven’t. No student group has found 100% of the pro-liberty students at their school. Don’t feel as though you should stop marketing or end your outreach because you’ve “got enough” members. Student groups are meant to find and support the pro-liberty students on campus to not only let them know they’re not alone, but also to let them know that there are opportunities and resources available to promote liberty. Activities that support this purpose include:
- Regular Meetings – These are not just meant to make sure your club is active, but to provide a common location for pro-liberty students to interact with one another and remember why they are pro-liberty.
- Social Events – One of the most important functions of a student group is to make sure its members have fun with one another. After all, liberty isn’t all academics.
- Advertise Opportunities – Make sure your members know about SFL Conferences, IHS and FEE Summer Seminars, Cato internships, the Koch Associate Program, and the many other opportunities available to them so they can get connected with the larger liberty movement.
Second, to educate your peers and community about the meaning of liberty with the goal of convincing them to be pro-liberty. To grow the movement for liberty, we don’t just want to find the people who already support the ideas, but convince more students to believe in liberty. Many people point to their college experience as a formative period in their intellectual development, when their philosophical beliefs were transformed or solidified, making the job of campus groups all the more important to ensure the future success of liberty. The more students we can get to support liberty today, the more allies we will have twenty years down the road.
The individuals on campus who do not support liberty are likely more numerous than the individuals who do support liberty. Their opinions will range from apathetic to statist. But they are all potential allies and future advocates of liberty. Many individuals who support statist policies care more about achieving a socially desirable end than the means of state intervention to achieve it. Others have only heard the statist opinion since they were 8 years old and have simply never been exposed to the pro-liberty view. For these individuals, education can open their eyes to the logical fallacies and inefficacy of state intervention.
Depending on how long and how vocal an individual has been in support of statism, though, you may not want to spend too much of your time on them because you can derive greater marginal utility elsewhere. Many students who are apathetic about political or philosophical issues are not opposed to liberty. In fact, many of these students are de facto pro-liberty because their opinion of government is that it’s not worth their time; they want to be left alone to pursue their personal projects. This demographic can be very receptive to the message of liberty if presented properly. The important point to remember is that you want to balance the quality and quantity of people you convince to support liberty. You want to convince as many people as possible, but you also want to give more support and attention to the students you find that have the potential to be the next Ayn Rand, Ron Paul, or Ed Crane. Recommended activities include:
- Speaker Events – Educate the community with a very large speaker event like John Stossel or Judge Napolitano to make sure many students learn about the ideas. Or, have a more intimate gathering of 20 or so students with an academic from a nearby school to advance the ideas an a more nuanced and meaningful discussion.
- Activism – While trying to change university policy or raise awareness about an issue, gather attention for your club by handing out flyers and gathering email addresses.
- Campus Paper Op-Eds – Become a columnist for the school newspaper to write about pro-liberty views.
- Flyering – Engage in weekly flyering campaigns on various issues.
- Blogging – Start a blog for your school that gathers the attention of students, professor, and administrators.
Third, to make people who oppose liberty recognize and respond to the pro-liberty position. This is a really important, but often under-appreciated point. For too long, libertarianism has been relegated to the margins of political discourse because the majority of individuals didn’t believe it was a viable alternative. Opponents of liberty have been able to squelch the view by offhandedly remarking “no one believes that” or “but let’s talk about what’s actually possible.” The goal of this rhetoric is to defeat by dismissal. And it largely succeeded for a long time. Without enough pro-liberty individuals and institutions to promote the libertarian viewpoint and make substantive arguments for liberty that are worthy of respect, there was no need for our opponents to respond. Indeed, the argument wasn’t being made for them to respond to! By running a pro-liberty student group, you provide a forum for liberty, a source of argumentation and identity that cannot be overlooked. Every time a person sees your flier, reads your op-ed, hears about your speaker, or encounters a student recanting your arguments, they are forced to engage the ideas of liberty. If you run an effective group that makes your presence known and does so in a way that opponents of liberty cannot ignore it, you have succeeded in bringing the ideas of liberty to the table. And once they are part of the discussion, the power of the ideas will be readily seen by many. You want to people to reconceptualize their typical view of the political landscape so as to understand that social tolerance and fiscal responsibility go hand in hand. If you do that, you’ve changed their entire way of thinking about and responding to libertarianism.
To keep these goals in mind, here are some more general recommendations:
- Simply remember that you’re doing this for a reason so when the work becomes difficult, you have motivation to keep going.
- When deciding which events to hold, think about which events will have the greatest impact in relation to the reason you’re running the group.
- When working with potential leaders to replace you in your group, evaluate which ones understand the purpose of the organization the best. A leader who doesn’t realize the importance of what they’re doing risks the very existence of the organization.
- When drafting emails to your group, writing op-eds for the student newspaper, or communicating anything to the world, make sure you are somehow advancing your purpose in the process.
There ought to be and is a purpose to your hard work. You, as a student leader, are an integral part of the cause of liberty. Have fun, but take your role in the cause of liberty seriously. Your actions today will determine the future of our world.