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Kinder, Gentler Libertarianism: A Call To Action

Republicans aren’t the only one with a PR problem.

Libertarians are frequently viewed as either old, white guys who like to complain about taxes and big bureaucracies or a bunch of college kids who wax philosophic in their dorms rooms, quoting Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek but not doing much else.

Both generations are pigeon-holed, all too often, as heartless businessmen or curmudgeonly know-it-alls who like to debate.

Yet there’s an emerging trend among young libertarians, one that began to crystallize recently at the sixth annual international Students for Liberty conference, and that is a call for a kinder, gentler libertarianism of sorts – as well as a call to action: don’t just talk about concerns, do something about them.

“You will never argue your way into anybody’s heart,” said Magatte Wade, a Forbes 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa and TED Global Africa Fellow. She spoke at the event, which drew more than 1,400 to Washington D.C. in February.

“We don’t want another damn book,” she told the crowd, noting libertarians like to sit and write and talk, but the time now is for action.

Her speech highlights the main shift of libertarianism, whose members no longer want to be stereotyped as grumpy, intellectual free-market maniacs. There was talk at the conference of softening tones; highlighting libertarian stances on social policies, which are very “inclusive” and mirror how many Democrats feel on such issues; and of reclaiming the rhetorical battleground regarding the war against recreational drug use.

“I learned that although we may not all agree on the best method to effect change or see eye to eye on every issue, we are joined together by a common purpose and a harmonized vision for a freer society,” Barbara Sostaita, a junior who attends Salem College, told The College Fix of her experience at the conference.

While the fundamentals in support of a free society, liberty and freedom continue, the sentiments at the conference showcased that young people do not wish to be seen as left or right. A more understanding, transcending Libertarianism prevailed over typical ideologies.

Certainly the conference highlighted frustrations and concerns young libertarians share about big government, over-taxation and overregulation.

“A huge frustration that was relaid to me from a majority of the students I met was the issue of taxation,” Chelsea Close, a senior at University of North Texas, said in an interview. “They do not understand where our money is going if their roads are still damaged, our deficit is just increasing, and their already tiny paychecks are getting even smaller.”

Nevertheless, students voiced optimism about the future. There was a shared sense that social issues can bridge the divide and grow the ranks among the party’s young people. Gay and lesbian rights, for example, are very important to young libertarians, some students at the conference said, noting they’re their friends, peers, classmates – and it’s time to draw them in.

“I realized though that my frustrations with getting our message out are only temporary,” Close said. “These ideas cannot be stifled.”

Fix contributor Judith Ayers is a student at York College of Pennsylvania.

IMAGE: Filippo Pin Alfare

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