February 16 saw the close of the 2014 International Students for Liberty conference, wrapping up the seventh year of Students for Liberty’s signature global gathering. Since 2008, conference attendance has increased by more than tenfold, bringing in hundreds (this year almost 2,000) of passionate and talented advocates for liberty.
Students for Liberty is an indispensable backbone of the liberty movement — a haven for students involved at all levels and in all ways. SFL’s presence not only provides resources and structure, but significant credibility. Gone are the days of politically active college students having to surreptitiously gather in cafés to grouse about the current state of things, scrape together supplies make a few banners, and be written off as angsty college kids who will “grow out of it.” Because of SFL, any student with a passion for liberty can become a well-informed, involved, and articulate advocate for world-changing ideas.
A Privileged Demographic?
Journalist Cathy Reisenwitz likens SFL to a “hub and springboard.” Cathy herself has an influential presence in the liberty movement, and while she’s best known for her writing on bitcoin and feminism, she is one of those wonderful few who can truly talk about anything. Cathy and Julie Borowski (a libertarian writer and video blogger) were featured on Stossel at the conference, discussing “Privilege and Libertarianism.”
In the segment, Cathy nods to the “well-educated white male” stereotype of libertarians, and encourages us to “check our privilege at the door,” to better understand the experiences of others and include them in the movement. Julie, on the other hand, posits that the “privilege crowd” doth protest too much, encouraging divisiveness and incorrect judgements about other people. For Julie, who considers individualism to be a main component of libertarianism, “privilege” boxes people into haves and have-nots.
Discussions like this are what make conferences such a pleasure. Some would look at the Stossel panel and consider it “infighting,” but we could all learn from Cathy and Julie’s willingness to “agree to disagree.”
Rigorously questioning ideas sharpens the truth. Who are we as libertarians, what do we believe, and how do we best communicate that to others?
Small “l” libertarianism or political-party Libertarianism, this movement can sometimes be misunderstood. Who are these furious bow-tie-wearing college boys and why do they keep spouting Rothbard? And where are all the women?
As I’ve become more involved in the liberty movement, I have been delighted to discover that I was totally wrong about libertarians. They are peaceful, optimistic people who fiercely challenge the status quo and boldly work towards their dreams of a better world. Ideological one-trick ponies whose arguments are just a mire of government hatred are few and far between.
Students for Liberty, in particular, proudly “embraces the diversity of justifications for liberty and encourages debate and discourse on the differing philosophies that underlie liberty.” Should you attend one of these conferences, you’ll notice that many liberty-minded people can point to a person, book, or idea that led them in this direction. I myself was “converted” by economic thoughts written by a mustached white man, but that’s not the case with everyone.
For some, that moment of reckoning came from the unyielding facts and figures of an economics course. For others, it was the realization that the war on drugs is not only failing, it unfairly targets minorities. For others still, when an unreasonable law posed a profound setback to them or someone they knew, they began to question laws in general.
The Future of Freedom
It seems that we are all students of liberty in some way, regardless of our enrollment status at a university. Although ISFLC is a “student” conference, there are just as many involved alumni, partner organization leaders, and other participants milling around, having a coveted headshot taken by Judd Weiss, or listening in on a seminar.
Speaking of seminars, Students for Liberty struck a perfect balance of historical happenings and contemporary issues with their choice of lecture topics — weaving past, present, and future into a comprehensive educational experience.
I particularly enjoyed a Future of Freedom Foundation seminar, titled “The Dulles Brothers and America’s Century of Regime Change.” I was born more than one hundred years after John Foster Dulles, and simply don’t have the generational context to grasp the tremendous implications of his foreign policy decisions. After the FFF seminar, however, I can identify a definitive pattern of 20th century events linked to the Dulles policy, and notice events and policy today.
Other seminar topics included “Ayn Rand vs. Jesus,” “The Battle of Ideas: Think Tanks and the Liberty Movement Around the World,” “Ten Tips for Success Working in Liberty,” and, my personal favorite title, “So you’re a libertarian, who gives a sh$t?”
This event was a privilege to attend, but not the kind of privilege that one has to check at the door. It is exceptionally rare for so many like-minded people to gather in one place — rarer still for an event to be so well-run and attended by such sharp, open-minded, and welcoming people. Students for Liberty provides the reason and the resources: watching the network expand, deepen, and grow stronger, I have an unshakeable feeling that history is being made at these events, and that we’re all part of it.
Keep your eyes open for the 2015 International Students for Liberty Conference, and consider spending a weekend meeting people who will inspire you to never once lose faith in humanity.