Julie Ershadi - Bryn Mawr College

Estimates have it that over one thousand people came from multiple continents to attend this year’s International Students For Liberty Conference at the Grand Hyatt in downtown Washington, D.C. on Valentine’s Day weekend.

This year’s gathering was the largest yet for the student-based libertarian organization. Growth has continued since the first conference, which had 100 attendees in 2008.

Alexander McCobin, an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania and the founder of Students For Liberty, announced in closing remarks that his organization would establish two new regional executive boards in the coming year, one for Africa and the other in India-Nepal. “We are not done growing,” he said.

Indeed, panel lineups for this and last year’s conferences reflect an effort to expand in reach with demographic minorities within — and not within — the libertarian movement. A panel on national security policy, held midday Saturday, featured journalist Jeremy Scahill, director Oliver Stone, and Peter Kuznick. Discussion between the left-leaning speakers and their audience grew tense when students from Latin American SFL chapters criticized Stone for praising Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. One of last year’s most popular panels, meanwhile, focused exclusively on women’s rights and strategies for drawing women into the liberty movement.

Students For Liberty advertises its annual conference as the largest gathering of pro-liberty students in the world, and it certainly must rank high among the most diverse of such gatherings. Café conversation among attendees this weekend focused on the varied ideologies within the movement, quibbling at times over the differences among anarcho-capitalism, left libertarianism, and the like.

Quantitatively, the nuances were there, too: in this year’s round of the straw poll held at every conference, 52 percent of participants described themselves as libertarian; 17 percent as classical liberal, 15 percent anarchist, 10 percent pro-liberty, and a spattering called themselves progressives, tea party conservatives, and other. A bewildering 11 percent of respondents said they preferred total government control of markets and civil life in a society, but SFL pollster Kyle Hartz said playfully that he attributed the prevalence of this very un-libertarian view to survey error. “Trolling,” some in attendance said.

When the straw poll asked respondents about their choices in the 2016 presidential primary, the ‘no vote’ won in the Democratic category with 57 percent of the vote, beating out Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and others. Meanwhile, Gary Johnson won the Libertarian ticket and Rand Paul won the Republican race, though the ‘no vote’ option came in high in these categories as well.

Megan Wood, a 19-year-old sophomore at Salem College in North Carolina, said the conference afforded her the chance to build her interest in becoming even more active in the libertarian movement, including reaching out to its rivals among conservatives. “Granted, we may not be able to get the older generation to agree with us,” she said. “But once they’re out doing their own thing, we have the power to make a difference.”

Julie Ershadi is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College.

Disgruntled citizens from around the nation’s capital gathered on Independence Day to rally against the U.S. government’s domestic surveillance practices at a protest inspired by recent revelations of the breadth of these programs.

“The abuse of power isn’t the problem,” Carla Howell, executive director of the Libertarian Party, told a crowd in downtown Washington, D.C.’s McPherson Square. “The problem is the power to abuse.”

The Libertarian Party was an official sponsor of Thursday’s Restore The Fourth protests, Howell said. Besides the one in Washington, Restore The Fourth saw events take place in cities around the country, including New York, Denver, Los Angeles, and Chicago, according to the organizers’ website.

Howell and a roster of other speakers decried the National Security Agency’s now notorious PRISM program, the use of drones for domestic surveillance, and the FBI’s warrantless searches and seizures, among other alleged abuses. By turns, they commended whistle-blowers, including Edward Snowden, who have revealed what Thursday’s crowd viewed as violations of the Constitution’s Bill of Rights.

CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who was arrested last week at a White House protest against the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, invited the crowd to send letters to Bradley Manning and attend his trial, in which he is being tried for multiple crimes after releasing government secrets to WikiLeaks in 2010.

IMG_2384She was seen later chatting with Thomas Drake, an earlier NSA whistle-blower who also spoke at the event.

“It’s very encouraging to know that we’re having rallies all over the country. It’s about time — I mean, my gosh,” Drake told The College Fix. “We have to shake the tree of liberty, and that’s what’s happening right now.”

Protesters came from around the region to demonstrate on Thursday, some carrying signs and wearing Guy Fawks masks. When helicopters flew overhead, eyes turned upwards, but police presence was low and no arrests were observed.

Julie Ershadi is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College

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(Photos by Julie Ershadi)

Sen. Rand Paul struggled to woo young people and minorities during his speech at the historically black Howard University on Wednesday morning. Nevertheless, a libertarian student group on the scene said many students signed up for its email list after the speech.

The Kentucky senator met with skepticism and confrontation from students in the audience. As he entreated his listeners to see that the Republican Party championed equality for blacks in the early days of abolition and emancipation, two Howard students ran to the front of the auditorium and hoisted a large white tarp with the words “Howard University does not support white supremacy” on it.

Brian Menifee, a senior mechanical engineering major at Howard and a member of the leftist campus group Political Education Action Committee, had pulled the sign from his backpack. As he and a companion were pulled away in a scuffle with campus police, Menifee could be heard saying, “Get the fuck off of me!” and “I stand up for my rights.”

Paul emphasized his view that racism and segregation are abhorrent realities of the country’s history. He also denied ever opposing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when confronted during the question-and-answer session about the controversy he faced in 2010 for questioning Title II of that law, which prohibits private businesses from denying customers on the basis of race.

“What gets lost is that the Republican Party has always been the party of civil rights and voting rights,” Paul said. “It is an uphill battle for me to convince you that we haven’t changed, but that’s part of me being here.”

Other students at Howard conveyed their own doubts about Paul’s olive branch.

Equilla Clark, a senior accounting major at Howard, learned of Paul’s visit through an official campus-wide email but was not attending the speech.

“I was kind of turned off because it was a Republican,” she told The College Fix.

“It wouldn’t benefit me to go,” she said. “If it was a Democratic senator coming here, probably more people would be talking about it.”

Besides the protesters, at least one group at Howard on Wednesday came in support of Rand Paul’s visit.

Four activists from the libertarian campus-based organization Young Americans for Liberty wore “I Stand with Rand” stickers and carried sign-up sheets for the group’s email newsletter.

Paul, though a Republican, is an outspoken advocate of limited government and remains popular among libertarians.

Edward King, director of programs and operations for YAL, said, “Our goal was to go there and find people who agree with us philosophically.”

YAL ended up filling 10 pages of email sign-ups. Howard students appear to make up 70-80 percent of the names, King said.

Julie Ershadi is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College

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How many libertarian rock stars does it take to make a roomful of economics and political science majors get up and dance?

Not a single one, as it turns out.

Dorian Electra Fridkin Gomberg, the keynote performer at this year’s International Students For Liberty Conference (ISFLC), said, “I don’t call myself a libertarian at all anymore, that’s just what other people call me for convenience.”

With somewhere around 1,300 free-market enthusiasts turned out for the conference, the singer and songwriter had a full house as audience on Saturday night. A small crowd got up to dance during the performance of Fast Cash, one of her most recent songs with a video on YouTube.

“That was unprecedented fun,” Dorian Electra said. “I could live off that feeling of everybody just losing it and going crazy.”

The 20-year-old junior at Shimer College and her team have produced her songs and accompanying videos under the patronage of various fellowships, awards, and internships, including a 2012 internship with production company Emergent Order and a 2009-2010 fellowship with Students For Liberty, the host organization of last weekend’s conference.

Emergent Order is also behind the production of a pair of videos that portray early 20th-Century economists Friedrich A. Hayek and John M. Keynes rapping the tenets of their respective conflicting theories. Together, the “Keynes vs. Hayek” videos have been viewed 6.3 million times since they first appeared on YouTube in 2010 and 2011.

Both Dorian Electra and Emergent Order seek to educate with the work they do.

Dorian Electra loves hearing about students and teachers who have used her videos in their classroom, she said.

When asked at the Students For Liberty conference her reason for making her videos, she said, “Definitely turning people on to the ideas.”

With 1,344 YouTube subscribers and 362,491 views on her videos, Dorian Electra maintains something of a following, though it can’t be determined whether her fans are after the ideas, the music, or both.

“It is fun to occupy this weird space of feeling like a rock star, but the only reason I’m rock star is this venue, in this small world of libertarians,” she said.

Fix contributor Julie Ershadi is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College.

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Image Source: dorianelectra.com

Libertarians might be just as worried about demographics as conservatives and Republicans are right now.

Something between 1,200 and 1,400 students, alumni, and supporters gathered at the Grand Hyatt hotel in downtown Washington, D.C. for the 2013 International Students For Liberty Conference (ISFLC 2013) this weekend. One of the dominant themes of conversation, from the escalators to the ballroom, was how to entice more ethnic, social and cultural minorities to embrace libertarianism.

In a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center, 67 and 85 percent of respondents who identified as libertarian also identified as male and white, respectively.

In the mainstream politics, the demographic statistics delineating the Democratic ticket’s back-to-back triumph in the past two presidential elections now form a crucible for the Republican Party’s survival. Similarly, at the conference activists from across the libertarian spectrum — anarchists, minarchists, voluntaryists, classical liberals, so-called big-L Libertarians who vote and campaign with the titular national party, and Republican-like conservatives — mulled over the dearth of other kinds of diversity among their collective ranks.

Of 96 breakout sessions, at least 7 dealt in some way with drawing different social groups into the free-market fold. Examples include a lecture on the libertarian tradition in black American history, 2 separate panels on the apparent lack of women who identify as libertarian, and panels on classical liberal approaches to the politics of immigration and homosexuality in American society.

The lineup was not a total departure from the last conference, but alongside panels on the familiar subjects of Rawlsian political theory and Austrian economics, the focus this year doubled down on strategies for promoting libertarianism as it pertains to the very social groups who turned out the most for Obama in 2012.

As Brandon Cestrone, the field executive and director of data for Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), put it while speaking from the stage before the closing ceremony, “If we don’t grow, we die.”

YAL is a pro-liberty organization active on college campuses nationwide and partners with the similar Students For Liberty (SFL), the organization that puts on the international conference every year since 2008.

Cestrone’s warning echoes the post-election hyperventilation of Republicans, such as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, who see rebranding and expanding as necessary for their party’s survival, with a policy focus on immigration reform.

In keeping with the current focus on demographics, this year’s CPAC schedule shows 3 events on immigration: a book signing with former Florida Gov. John E. “Jeb” Bush, a screening of the film Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration, and a panel entitled “Respecting Families and the Rule of Law: A Lasting Immigration Policy.”

Fix Contributor Julie Ershadi is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College.

Image by Arasmus Photo / Wikimedia Commons

A rising libertarian group on college campuses around the country wrapped up its pre-election debate series at American University in Washington, D.C. on the evening of Nov. 1.

Sarah Harvard, president of the Young Americans for Liberty chapter at American University (AU), said, “The whole main idea of this event is a lot of American students are not satisfied with the presidential debates. A lot of questions were left unanswered, or they were dodged, or they weren’t even asked.”

According to the organization’s website, Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) is the largest and fastest growing pro-liberty organization on college campuses in the United States. The Nov. 1 debate at AU was filmed by C-SPAN and hosted in an auditorium in the campus’s Kreeger Building.

“I’ve always had this passion for people-formed policy, economic issues, and civil liberties and I feel like libertarians pull a lot of weight to that,” she said.

“I was actually a borderline socialist before being a libertarian,” she said.

Harvard is a 2nd year transfer student at AU and a contributor to the 6-month-old online magazine Define: Liberty. Her tipping point into the liberty movement took place when President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 (NDAA).

Jack Hunter, a columnist at The American Conservative and the moderator for YAL’s campus debate at AU, began the debate with a question about that same act of Congress. He asked Bill Scher, the liberal representative on the debate panel and author of Wait! Don’t Move To Canada!: A Stay-and-Fight Strategy to Win Back America, how he justified the NDAA’s provisions for the indefinite detention of Americans suspected of terrorism.

“I don’t accept the premise of the question,” Scher said.

“There isn’t really a singular liberal foreign policy vision, nor is there a conservative one,” he said.

Scher said that Obama ended the systematic use of torture that existed under former President George W. Bush, but he did not outright answer Hunter’s question about the NDAA.

The debate lacked a discussion of gun laws or a dissenting voice on the war in Iraq, which all three panelists agreed was a mistake. The panelists still covered a wide range of issues largely or entirely left out of the presidential debates, including the war on drugs, the drone campaign, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other public works as compared to private enterprise.

Coming via a delayed public transit system, conservative and Editor at The Daily Caller News Foundation Jim Antle arrived 1 hour and 11 minutes late to the debate and said, “Well, I think my experience getting here has kind of altered the composition of the panel. I’ve become now a radical anarchist as a result of this process.”

Members of the audience laughed.

“I’m now in favor of privatizing all streets in addition to all forms of public transportation. I don’t see how it could be a more disorderly process than what now exists,” he said.

By way of summary, Tim Cavanaugh of Reason magazine and Suck.com fame said, “After 8 years of Bush and 4 years of Obama, I’m not really sure what conservatives or liberals stand for.”

(Click here to watch a video of the entire debate at C-SPAN.org.)

Julie Ershadi is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College.

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