With the fall academic term in full swing, now is the time for libertarian student groups to be heavily recruiting new converts to the cause. While the art of persuasion can often be tricky to pull off properly, especially while talking to strangers from behind a table, these fourteen rhetorical tips should put your club on track to finding new members and, most importantly, help your avoid being “that guy.”
#1: Focus on the positive. Why complain about campus conservatives or liberals? If a student stops at your table, they want to learn about why your group deserves their valuable time, not how ignorant the other groups are on campus. Be pro-liberty, not anti-everyone else. Curmudgeons don’t attract as many people as optimists.
#2: Free candy. Who doesn’t love a free candy? Even the most apathetic individual who ventures to retrieve a ball of sugar must listen to your 10-second pitch about liberty, so make it count!
#3: Be mindful of what you say. Most people don’t care about the Federal Reserve or how the political system shafts the rich. However, they will leave with a terrible image of liberty-minded students if you say something callous or dismissive about the plight of minority groups, or call anyone who advocates more government a “statist.” Start a conversation, not a lecture.
#4: It’s a discussion, not a competition. Approach outreach as if you lack enemies. Remember that everyone is a potential convert or ally. With this mentality in mind, you can learn about others’ perspectives instead of condescendingly lecturing them. Never be dismissive or arrogant to a student who cares enough to talk with you.
#5: Never argue while tabling. Arguing almost never convinces the student and wastes time. If a student persists in haranguing you, don’t be afraid to end the conversation and politely ask him or her to email you if they wish to continue at a more convenient time.
#6: Your reputation is fragile, so don’t ruin it. Regardless of your favorite interest or issue, sometimes you don’t want to emphasize it. Don’t give others the opportunity to malign or label you.
#7: Don’t defend the rich and powerful. After all, the rich and powerful already have a strong defender — the government! No one wants to hear about how tax rates should be cut for billionaires. Libertarianism roots itself in power decentralization and individual opportunity. The free market enriches the poor and topples large conglomerates. Indeed, if it doesn’t, its desirability rightfully becomes questionable. Above all, the disadvantaged have the most to gain from a more libertarian world, and it’s time we start emphasizing this more confidently.
#8: Libertarianism isn’t left or right. We aren’t conservative or liberal, but we are inclusive of various political opinions. Crafting an image as a group committed to honest dialogue and discussion should be a high priority. As Leonard Read wrote, ”‘Left’ and ’right’ are each descriptive of authoritarian positions. Liberty has no horizontal relationship to authoritarianism.” Develop your group’s niche as a legitimate alternative to the status quo.
#9: Collaborate like crazy. If your group can work with the College Democrats, College Republicans, the Second Amendment group, Democratic Socialists, the LGBT group, the conservative publication, or any other group, do it. If they aren’t crazy and you agree on a single issue, your club can spread goodwill and run an awesome event.
#10: Humility always trumps arrogance. Students already hear enough arrogance and pretension from their professors and obnoxious roommates. Pursue truth with honest inquiry, not with ideological fervor.
#11: Doubt is powerful. Be the alternative with a unique outlook on events that destroys the left-right paradigm. As Henry David Thoreau wrote, “there are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.” Use the petty squabbles and inane bickering that comprise the American political system to clarify fundamental principles. When students realize the Republicans and Democrats worship at the same altar of the false god of power, the task of persuading them becomes nearly finished.
#12: Emotion rarely loses to logic. As much as libertarians hate to admit the fact, emotional responses persuade people more than logical arguments. Stale pro-government maxims usurped moral superiority from liberty, and we need to reclaim what has been taken. Arbitrary power and legalized theft of others is not charity or compassion. Rather, a compassionate society necessitates a free society. Use real world examples rather than abstract theories. Make students feel the importance of the liberty they hold, and lament for the ones that governments and society pilfered.
#13: You’re a role model. You may be the only libertarian an individual will meet for years. Remember that, regardless of the fairness or accuracy, you are libertarianism incarnate for many of your fellow students and friends. Develop the reputation of a Milton Friedman (intellectually honest, tolerant, and kind), rather than an Ayn Rand (dogmatic and scornful of disagreement).
#14: Evaluate your premises. Libertarians have more than a marketing problem. We lack omniscience, and it’s quite likely that we’re wrong on a few ideas. Be honest and challenge yourself; we should demand rigor, not an echo chamber.Published in