Becoming involved with Students For Liberty, first as a volunteer and later as a member of staff, has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. To say that my journey with Students For Liberty has been life-changing would be an understatement. I am truly grateful to have found such an amazing global community of fascinating individuals united in the pursuit of a freer future. However, all of this could so easily never have happened.
How it started: the SFL Regional Conference I almost didn’t attend
In 2017, while I was completing my master’s in history, a good friend of mine happened to see a Facebook ad for a Students For Liberty Regional Conference in Belfast. Neither of us had ever heard of Students For Liberty before, but we both shared a keen interest in the ideas and principles of classical liberalism and libertarianism.
Being curious, my friend and I both registered to attend the conference. However, the evening before the event, it became clear that the journey might be complicated due to a significant amount of fresh snowfall, which is relatively unusual in Ireland. I had an internal debate over whether it would still be worth trying to attend.
Thankfully, I decided to go ahead. I woke up at 5:30 AM, went to collect my friend, and set off on the long journey to Belfast from the snowy north west. We arrived on time for the conference, still not sure exactly what to expect.
Upon arrival, we were greeted by leaders from Students For Liberty who led us to a room where we could pick up leaflets, free books, and SFL t-shirts. Newcomers were given a warm welcome, quickly becoming part of conversations on the sort of fascinating topics that I believe warrant more frequent discussion in everyday life.
Distrust of government authority
Having always been a skeptic of government power and centralized control, I had begun to consider myself a liberal, in the proper sense of the term, after studying aspects of classical liberalism in some of my undergraduate university modules.
In saying that, during my undergraduate years, I did often doubt the efficacy of free markets. A lot of this centered on generational inequalities for which I now see cronyism, nimbyism, and excessive regulatory burden as the main culprits.
Although the weather conditions meant that fewer people than expected were able to make it to the conference, I had some fascinating conversations with those who did attend, many of whom I now consider good friends. I found it genuinely inspiring to see so many people gathered to discuss matters of philosophy and politics from a variety of pro-liberty perspectives.
The conference presented an amazing opportunity to meet and discuss issues with broadly like-minded individuals representing schools of thought including, among others, classical liberalism, objectivism, libertarianism, and anarcho-capitalism. I remember thinking about how much I wished I had found similar events sooner!
Getting involved through the Local Coordinator Program
Some of the people I met at the conference were Students For Liberty Local Coordinators, and they told me a bit about the program and how to get involved. I knew that I was interested, but had some doubts about what all it would involve and whether I would be a good fit. Nonetheless, I decided that I would travel to Belfast every other week to attend a series of Students For Liberty meetups.
After attending several of these informal group discussions, I made the decision to apply for the Local Coordinator Program. Thankfully, I was accepted. By that stage, I had decided that the ideas and values embodied by Students For Liberty were so important that I wanted to do whatever I could to help in the effort to promote a freer future.
The LibertyCon Europe experience
As soon as I became aware of LibertyCon Europe and the opportunities it would present, I decided that I simply had to attend. I did not want to miss a chance to listen to an incredible lineup of speakers, meet new people, and learn more about the ideas and practical application of liberty. Furthermore, it was held in Belgrade, Serbia, a city I had wanted to visit for a long time anyway.
Upon travelling to Belgrade in April 2018, my expectations were extremely high, but the unique LibertyCon Europe experience ensured that those expectations were easily surpassed! So much more than a conference, LibertyCon Europe provided an opportunity to form lasting friendships with many amazing people from all across Europe and beyond. It felt almost surreal to be able to engage in conversations with some of the speakers whom I had seen in interviews on YouTube or whose work I had previously read.
The following year, I was delighted to be able to attend LibertyCon Europe again. Although hosted in the same city, a place that I have so many fond memories of, no two editions of LibertyCon Europe are ever the same. Just like before, when the activities drew to a close, I wished the experience could last another day or two!
Seeking further involvement in the liberty movement
With my commitment to promoting the ideas of liberty cemented, I sought opportunities for further involvement. After attending the European Students For Liberty (ESFL) Top Leadership Retreat in Gummersbach, Germany, I saw an opportunity to advance the cause of liberty by joining the editorial team at Speak Freely, European Students For Liberty’s blog.
Thereafter, I also became the National Coordinator for Northern Ireland, and acting National Coordinator for all of Ireland. I would not say that pro-liberty student activism is easy in any part of the world, but the context here is certainly quite challenging.
Unlike in some countries, this is not because of political repression, censorship, or even extreme hostility towards our ideas, but more so because of a widespread apathy towards ideas like classical liberalism or libertarianism. This could even be said for engagement with political or philosophical ideas more generally, especially when compared to other parts of the world, such as Eastern Europe or South America.
Nonetheless, our small team managed to organize modest events and share our ideas with as many people as possible. I won’t pretend it was never frustrating, but I enjoyed the challenge! We held meetups in pubs, had a presence at Freshers Week, spoke with community groups, and took part in a debate. In May 2019, some of us were in Belfast to take part in a rally for marriage equality, which finally became legal in Northern Ireland several months later.
Through my role on the Speak Freely editorial team, I was able to develop existing skills as well as learning new ones. Although it was something I had done on occasion as a Students For Liberty coordinator, I never thought that I could ever enjoy or be comfortable with public speaking. However, at LibertyCon Europe 2019, I took part in some panel discussions with the other Speak Freely editors and decided that improving my public speaking skills was something I wanted to do.
My journey with Students For Liberty: joining staff and continuing to promote liberty during the pandemic
In 2019, even though I had completed my master’s degree and was no longer a student, I had no intention of ending my involvement in the liberty movement. As such, when I heard of an opening for a Global Content Marketing Specialist position within Students For Liberty, I saw this as an ideal opportunity to bring my advocacy for liberty to another level and continue promoting the ideas and values that I care about.
I was always extremely grateful for this opportunity, but I appreciate it even more in hindsight, given the events that have unfolded since. Working to promote liberty in the age of COVID-19 lockdowns has given me an avenue through which to channel my frustrations around how unthinkable today’s world would have been in 2019.
There has never been a more crucial time to stand up for individual rights against disproportionate authoritarian measures. We must continue to advocate for liberty, and convince others of the merits of a free society.
To me, Students For Liberty represents a wonderful community of individuals united around a shared idea of a future world that is more just, more prosperous, and more free.
When I think back to 2017 and my decision to brave the snowy roads in order to attend a conference I’d signed up for off a Facebook ad, I can’t imagine what would have happened had I reached a different choice.
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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.