Naomi Choulagh, from Ormond Beach, Florida, is a pre-med student at Florida State University and a Students For Liberty Regional Coordinator. She joined Students For Liberty in early 2018 after being introduced to the organization while seeking to become an officer for College Libertarians.
As the child of Chaldean (Assyrian Christian) refugees, Naomi Choulagh grew up immersed in the refugee mindset, with her family having fled religious persecution in the Middle East. Immigration policy and the effects of the war on drugs had a profound impact on her childhood. When Naomi was in the 6th grade, her father was faced with the prospect of deportation for selling cannabis.
“Despite not being in possession of any banned substances, my dad was threatened with deportation for conspiracy to sell cannabis. As Chaldeans had fled Iraq for fear of our lives, our family was once again in a position of living in fear.”
The hardship endured as her father fought a legal battle to avoid deportation gave Naomi some perspective on the issue of drug usage and immigration as a whole. She told us that:
“Throughout my life since then, I’ve had to go to hearings to see if they would deport my dad for a drug offense he committed in his 20s. His court cases played out over 11 years whereas it usually takes only 3 months – all due to the option of deportation. Despite the fact that our family had been established in the US for over a decade at the time of the offense, the courts were willing to consider uprooting our family. We’re still fighting the court to have his record expunged. My family was forced to live humbly due to the financial burden this placed on us, all to keep him from being deported.”
Being a victim of the war on drugs, specifically as it pertains to immigrants, motivated Naomi to promote the ideas of liberty so that more people can appreciate the importance of freedom.
We asked Naomi some questions about her journey with liberty, and about her experience as an activist with Students For Liberty.
1. What made you interested in the ideas of liberty?
Naomi Choulagh: I was always a bit interested. At a young age, I didn’t trust authority figures. Distrust led me to question authority. That led me to realize that freedom is what everyone needs.
2. Are there any moments from your childhood that hinted at you becoming libertarian later in life?
NC: My dad was a huge influence in my life – to question authority and consider freethinking. I was always craving individuality. It also had to do with growing up in a place that mostly had suburban culture. I was predisposed to resisting that. I wanted to take it further. My dad showed me a lot of pro-liberty content.
3. Is there anything that almost prevented you from becoming a libertarian advocate? If so, what changed your mind?
NC: I remember how, a long time ago when I first joined College Libertarians, I didn’t want to put a label on myself. I was scared about putting myself in a box and thinking closed-minded. But at some point you have to have answers. I believe in objective reality and I didn’t always understand the specifics.
4. How has your time with SFL shaped who you are today?
NC: I experienced major growth philosophically. When I was at FSU, I couldn’t dive into philosophy as much because I was really stressed between work and class, but when I was able to take a semester off, I had the time to dedicate to researching philosophy.
I always felt a bit different when I hung out with other libertarians because I didn’t know the philosophy – I knew what I felt, but struggled to express it. Despite not knowing the big names and writers, SFL and everyone was super accepting of how I arrived at the conclusions.
Being part of Students For Liberty affected me in so many ways – the feeling of community and love and support and family. And being able to interact with intellectual and intuitive people. I know I can go to any SFLer and be like “Hey, can I crash with you, and they’d be like yeah, just chill with me.” All this just by being involved in SFL. That’s how close people are in this organization. That’s how strong the connection is.
5. Describe your biggest win/success as an SFL leader (or libertarian advocate in general).
NC: We made it so that free speech was required on public campuses in Florida – we campaigned for SB4 and met with state representatives. Being a part of that at the Florida Capitol was amazing. We’ve had so many amazing debates and events. We grew the organization to 30+ highly engaged members. We created a family at FSU and I’m really proud of that.
6. What is your most memorable SFL moment so far?
NC: The times when I gave presentations were pretty memorable. There was a speaker from CATO that blew my mind with how much he knew about Middle Eastern foreign affairs. I’ll never forget that speech. Trevor Burrus came too – that was an amazing speech. My first presentation was on sanitization and the government’s role in water treatment.
7. With so many organizations out there, why should people join/support Students For Liberty? What makes SFL stand out?
NC: Because SFL is the best one. The others suck. I’ll save you the research. There’s so many reasons – the inclusivity. SFL’s goal is to educate. In the end if your group is dying for whatever reason and you’re not trying to grow, it’ll die out. But SFL becomes part of who we are, sharing our ideas with other people and no matter what, our numbers were big because we’re not afraid to get our hands dirty.
We have the best conferences. I’ve been to other organizations’ events, and SFL is way more professional and way less trashy. It’s humbling too because it’s international. It’s making leaders out of people who don’t know that they’re meant to be leaders.
8. What is the key to being an effective leader with Students For Liberty?
NC: I would say the key is to be a generally well-rounded person. Not just well-rounded, but also nice and genuine. That’s the key. Because of that you can build and grow. If you’re very smart, but you’re not social, you won’t get your points across. You need to be humble and become the best you can be. As long as you’re willing to grow, you can take off from wherever you are.
9. What has surprised you the most since joining Students For Liberty?
NC: I think what most surprised me is how comfortable I feel with other SFLers. I can talk about anything. Even if we don’t 100% agree, people will listen, debate, and hear each other’s points.
After she graduates, Naomi Choulagh plans to attend med school. Furthermore, she will no doubt continue to be a strong advocate for liberty and contribute towards the goal of a freer future.
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.