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PanAm Podcast with Wolf von Laer: SFL President Takes Liberty Message Worldwide

By: David Unsworth - @LatinAmerUpdate - Aug 22, 2017, 3:53 pm

In just under a decade, the libertarian organization Students for Liberty (SFL) has exploded in campus chapters and membership, not just in Europe and North America, but worldwide as well. It is active in 102 countries, with chapters at hundreds of American college and university campuses, and thousands worldwide.

A college campus is not always the most hospitable terrain for libertarian movements, but Von Laer emphasizes the need to cultivate positive relationships with faculty and administrators, and the need to maintain the focus on the ideas: don’t expect SFL events to become magnets for the kind of free-for-all screaming matches that have dominated headlines over the past years.

Von Laer notes, “the main thing that we are doing with SFL is that we are training students to become better communicators, so every campus coordinator that goes through our programs…learns about communication for liberty; how to talk to the other side, because what you see on campus right now is the fundamental lack of civil discourse. People are just yelling at one another and that is not how you spread ideas, and so we at SFL try to build bridges to the other side, so to speak, but also really make a positive case for liberty, because so much of the libertarian movement is complaining about yet another regulation, and the growth of government, and we should complain about that. However, how do you make the ideas appealing…which excite you and me…we need to make the case that they’re wonderful, that they’ve changed millions, if not billions of peoples’ lives for the better, and it has to be an invitation to have a discourse about that.”

SFL has truly become a global movement, with chapters sprouting up in places like Latin America, Africa, and South Asia. Von Laer is particularly excited by recent developments in Brazil, where several years of political and economic turmoil have created an environment where young people are interested in a bold new message:

“The biggest growth we have seen over the last couple of years is really in Brazil…we had Kim Kataguiri on the Time list of most influential teens. Kim…created youTube videos to talk about the ideas of liberty, and why the regime in Brazil is corrupt, is very much focused on socialist ideals, and why this is harming their country…he became very quickly very popular, so much so that he brought over 200,000 people to the streets. We have many different groups there where we have 500 people attending events about classical liberal ideas…and what has contributed to this is that it was the right time: there was a vacuum of ideas, politics has failed the country, the socialist policies of Latin America have failed Brazil specifically. But also using the right tools…so we are very sophisticated with social media, identifying people who are interested and then inviting them.”

While SFL is enjoying rapid growth, Von Laer emphasizes that he’s keen on seeing the right kind of growth, “focusing on quality over quantity. We want to see growth, and we want to show to our donors that we are growing every year; however, we need to make sure that we have the right people within the movement. We don’t want to have people that yell at other people in the face, we want to have good libertarians there, and people who can represent the ideas well.”

If you are interested in starting an SFL chapter on your college campus, then visit their website for more information.

David Unsworth David Unsworth

David Unsworth is a Boston native. He received degrees in History and Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis, and subsequently spent five years working in real estate development in New York City. Currently he resides in Bogota, Colombia, where he is involved in the tourism industry. In his free time he enjoys singing in rock bands, travelling throughout Latin America, and studying Portuguese.