Hundreds of young liberty activists are currently attending YALCON 2017, the national convention for the Young Americans for Liberty organization, which has swept through college campuses as a force for open markets, freedom, and small government. I got a chance to speak with the president of the organization, Cliff Maloney Jr., and here is what he had to say:
Q: What drew you to the liberty movement?
A: So, in 2011, I found a Ron Paul YouTube video, I fell into that black hole of Ron Paul YouTube videos, so that really got me interested in philosophy. I was apathetic before that. So, I started to read Hayek, Bastiat, Rothbard, and Mises. I also read some of the competing thinkers, I tried to get a better sense. All of the pieces started to fall in line. From there, I got involved with Youth for Ron Paul when he ran for President. From there, I came to the 2013 Young Americans for Liberty National Convention. That was a game changer for me, because it made me realize that there was a network out there, these ideas were not fringe, they just needed the right messengers. So, I focused on that. That’s how I got involved. There were other things that got me here too. I student taught in New Zealand and got a good glimpse of what free market education, or local education looks like compared to how it was in Western Pennsylvania which was all standardized testing (Maloney previously had plans to become a middle school math teacher before joining the liberty movement full time). In 2014, I decided not to teach because YAL recruited me to be a regional director, I ran YAL’s North East Region. Then in 2015, Rand Paul tapped me to be his national youth director, after he dropped out I got called back to YAL, and then took over as president.
Q: What do you hope attendees get out of this conference?
A: The theme of the event is to make liberty win, it’s the tagline of the organization now. What we are trying to do is have them leave with the skills necessary to advance our cause, that’s the first component. The second component is for them to have a better understanding of the issues. I always say we have dessert and we have vegetables. The desserts are the Rand Pauls, the Amashes, the Massies, the Napolitanos, and Kanes (these are all speakers at the conference). The vegetables are the training sessions. We do training on campus activism, we do training on how to reach people through persuasion workshops, we talk about campaigns, we talk about the public policy processes. That’s what separates us from other organizations and other ideologies. It’s not just about being right on the ideas, we want our kids to take those ideas and have the skills, resources, and tactics necessary to spread the message.
Q: What aspects and conditions of the current climate do you think makes YAL so attractive and successful among young people?
A: If you look at the whole election cycle, regardless of the side, the vast majority of it was “her emails” and “his hair.” It’s all identity politics. On campus, this was a huge opening for us. We talk about ideas, we talk about solutions, ways that policies and philosophies can impact lives and change things. We focus on doing fun activism, we want to reach people and we want people to engage. That takes a good discipline in figuring out what interests people. I think that the current political climate gives us a wide-open door, everyone is focused on nothing related to policy. Things that are more tabloid are being focused on, whereas we are focusing on the ideas and issues. That creates a playing field that’s great for us. Nobody on the left and none of the big government Republicans are pushing messages. They are all pushing against each other. The challenge for us at Young Americans for Liberty, and the wider cause, is that we cannot just be against somebody. We have to stand for something. I think it’s very important that we embody the principles of liberty, and figure out positive, proactive, and productive ways to reach people with that message. I don’t think that means you have to bash other folks. Look at Ron Paul. When Ron ran he was delivering his message, he wasn’t responding to anyone, it was the same message he had for forty years. So, consistency and principle matter to me. The ongoing challenge is to not take the bait, from either side. The fact that there is no real discussion on issues is something that we are taking advantage of.
Q: YAL has 900 chapters and has been around for close to ten years. What do you think the future holds for YAL?
A: I think that the snowball effect is occurring now, what I mean by that is we are playing the long game. Thomas Massie, a great mentor, once told me at an event “Cliff, everyone here is playing the here and now, you’re playing the long game.” I think that’s so true about YAL and our efforts. We are trying to develop the next generation of principled leaders, obviously we want them to be in positions of influence so they can push us towards the principles that we care about. Having 900 chapters is fantastic and I’m extremely proud of our team. But the chapters are not all what it’s about, it’s the events. The events show our efforts to reach new people with the ideas. If you have five people in the room at the beginning of the year and then you have the same five people at the end of the year, we are never going to change anything. We focus on the tactics to teach our kids how to grow and reach new people. The snowball effect shows where our people end up, we now have a State Representative in Missouri who was a YAL chapter president, we have a mayor in Ocean Springs, Missouri, we have a chief of staff on the hill. You start to see our seeds being planted, where our people end up in positions of influence. I want to continue to scale that up, I want to continue to give our leaders the resources and training they need to be the people of influence in the future.
[END OF INTERVIEW]
From what I gathered, the liberty movement is in great hands under Cliff Maloney Jr.’s leadership. The battle for ideas is more important than ever, and he is right to recognize that many other ideologies are ignoring ideas and focusing on things that are superficial. With the training of hundreds of young activists this weekend, it’s safe to say that the snowball (not the snowflake) of liberty is just going to keep getting bigger.
Disclaimer: Evan Maguire is the Communications Director for Young Americans for Liberty at American University during the academic year.