Right now, it feels like much of the world has stopped due to coronavirus. You’re likely working from home, without being able to visit your favorite restaurants or go to the gym.
Like millions around the world, you might even be doing all of this with your kids or grandchildren home from school. School may not be happening in the traditional way, but the fight for liberty isn’t slowing down.
We know these are stressful times. There is a lot of uncertainty across every industry and nation. However, one thing is certain. Governments will always attempt to use a time of crisis to expand their power.
In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to James Madison. In this letter, he wrote:
“I own I am not a friend to a very energetic government. It is always oppressive.”
With a global pandemic, governments are feeling extremely energetic, but so are our students. The coronavirus has been part of our lives for a matter of month, but one doesn’t have to look far to see how much the government is overreaching. Our efforts to retain and expand liberty are only increasing.
In this letter, I’m going to share stories about students in different parts of the world and how their work is making a difference. Many of the students we serve are learning online now, and that’s how they’re doing their pro-liberty work as well.
Around the world, our students are very hard at work, and we remain dedicated to teaching them about liberty and responsibility and giving them the tools they need to be effective leaders. We have been holding online events and trainings during this time of social distancing which have been customized for different continents, nations, and localities to cover topics such as:
- How to Position Yourself to Build a Fulfilling Career
- Hustling for Harvard: How to Get into Elite Graduate
- Programs Panics and Privacy: How to Guard your Rights when Fear Takes Over
- The Fed and Your Finances: How Free Market Principles can Save your Skin
Before the coronavirus pandemic, students were able to meet and work in person, and I’m excited to tell you a few of their stories.
A national register of citizens (NRC) was instituted last year in the state of Assam, India, which forces a large number of people to prove their citizenship by procuring documents going back as far as 70 years. Now, there are talks of taking this nation-wide. In July, the Union government sent instructions to all state governments to set up detention centers in major cities. In a country where there has been a lot of internal migration, people have lost documents to natural disasters, and official paperwork is often not well-maintained. It will be extremely difficult for 1.3 billion people to prove their citizenship, and sheer statistical errors in government programs will render millions of people stateless. In Assam alone, 1.9 million people have been left out of the updated NRC.
SFL students have been risking their safety to join protests against this blatantly discriminatory new law which violates the pluralistic spirit of India.
Our student leader, whose name is not being disclosed for their protection, was at a December protest in New Dehli. In London, our program director for South Asia, Ayemen Fatima, was on the front lines as protestors gathered in London to protest against the CAA just days later. Then, SFL leaders Raufa, Naveen and Sukanti joined more than 25,000 other people in the Kranti Maidan in Mumbai for a peaceful protest. This is the same location where Mahatma Gandhi launched the Quit India Movement against the Britishers, and the large crowds gathered to stand in solidarity against the divisive bill.
After 63 days and nights of a peaceful sit-in by the women of Shaheen Bagh, an armed man fired shots, but no one was injured. Those dedicated to liberty and individual rights were not deterred and, later that same night, SFL leaders from north India visited.
“The work that SFL does in educating youth is of utmost importance in the tough times that India is going through,” said Fatima. “Still, there is a wave of nationalism that’s poisoning the minds of people of India.”
In March, these nationalist mobs entered localities in New Delhi where peaceful protesters were protesting. They entered with guns, petrol bombs, and sticks. More than 40 people have died due to this clash with more than 150 injured. Media outlets have termed it a state-sanctioned crime as the ruling BJP party and its leaders have been adding fuel to the fire with hateful, provocative speeches that encourage shooting the anti-nationals.
That wasn’t the only time our students stood up for liberty in Asia. For the first time ever, an SFL group has met in Myanmar. Back in 2013, one of our staff was visiting and looked up which pro-freedom groups were there only to find out that they were essentially illegal. Now, seven years later, we have a brave local coordinator named Nay with a small but growing group dedicated to liberty.
These students in Myanmar and India are among those taking great risks to share the message of liberty who need your support today. Students like these have been fighting for liberty in the most difficult circumstances, risking their safety to grow liberty.
As governments around the world take advantage of a crisis to expand their power, our students and alumni in the United States are working towards a better future, too.
Since joining SFL, Naomi Matthew has been consistent in organizing popular events at Truman State University in Missouri. She ran an event to show solidarity with the freedom fighters in Hong Kong, setting up a table on campus to pass out “Free Hong Kong” buttons. What Matthew expected to be a peaceful event soon turned confrontational. A group of thirty students set up a counter-protesting table supporting China and displaying the Chinese flag.
“[Our intent was to] both bring awareness to the situation in Hong Kong and identify other students on campus who are passionate about spreading freedom,” Matthew said.
She argued that freedom of speech in Hong Kong should be an issue on which many can agree, regardless of political ideology.
“Standing up for freedom and the right to free speech should be a non-controversial issue.”
Speaking about the protestors, she said:
“Most of the time it was civil. Toward the end, campus authorities arrived because there were many people present and it was loud. Two people started shouting and DPS came back in and told everyone that unless the shouting stopped, we would have to disperse and, if we didn’t disperse, they would arrest whoever was still there. That was when the protestors left.”
While protesters in Hong Kong might expect such treatment, Americans would not expect this to happen when supporting Hong Kong in the state of Missouri.
Matthews has also been trying to start a campus group, but has repeatedly been shut down. They were denied on the grounds of “emotional risk” to students who disagreed with the group and that, should police be called to any protests, their presence could further upset students. The university doesn’t have to agree with every group on campus, but rights to assembly and speech are not negotiable in the United States.
“It seems like the university has something against us,” Mathew said. “Truman State needs to stop making excuses and recognize our group.”
Our students are also investing in the economy. Federico Chavez-Torres and David Saucedo, two local coordinators in Austin, Texas, have recently co-founded a business called, Phin Coffee Club, which sells Vietnamese coffee online.
In addition to demonstrating a strong entrepreneurial spirit, these gentlemen have also incorporated philanthropy into their business model. They believe that we should leave the earth cleaner than when we found it. To mitigate their own carbon footprint and make the world a little greener, they plant one tree for every bag of coffee they sell.
Bryan Cheang has been promoting liberty in two different countries since completing SFL’s Local Coordinator Program. In 2018, Bryan founded the Adam Smith Center, the first and only independent pro-market think tank based in Singapore, the mission of which is to inspire and build a new generation of free-market humanitarians. The organization educates people on the principles of free exchange, permissionless innovation, private property, and limited government.
In response to the current political tide in favor of socialist ideas, Bryan also published his first book, Free Market Humanitarianism, in 2019, in which he addresses topics such as inequality, poverty, environmentalism, and civil liberties. He has also had great success publishing opinion articles on local platforms like Channel Newsasia and Singapore Business Review, as well as outlets outside of Singapore like CAPx and the Foundation for Economic Education.
Currently, Bryan is a PhD candidate at the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London. This is especially exciting to me since he joined the same department from where I received my own PhD.
Bryan is making his mark in both England and Singapore, and around the world with everyone who reads his work. You make that possible with your support.
Liberty has no borders
As for staff, in order to get the best talent from around the world serving our students around the world, we have remained a fully remote organization since 2016. Working from home is nothing new for us, as you can see from this screenshot of a recent staff call.
For students, we have intuitive online learning platforms such as SFL Academy and Learn Liberty that help users sharpen their knowledge on pro-liberty concepts.
Nearly 7,000 students have already taken part in online training and events in recent weeks. We also have had millions of viewers watch our educational videos on our Learn Liberty YouTube channel. We may not be able to currently meet with our students face-to-face, but we are undeterred in our fight for a freer future.
Wishing you health, happiness, and liberty,
P.S. You can support our students while staying safe and sound in your home. No trip to the mailbox is necessary if you make your donation online.