As activists, we are always questioning how to bring the most people into the movement as we can. For a State Chair, this is especially imperative — yet even more difficult because we have to not only convince students to engage in the ideas of liberty, but we must convince them to create their own student groups to have even more join still. It is often difficult to inspire individuals to take the minimal action of attending a YAL event let alone organizing their life around leading a YAL chapter of their own.
Our task as state leaders, then, is to answer how we can either identify existing leaders or inspire others to assume this mantle. I have found that, surprisingly, the former is far more difficult than the latter. The methods outlined below have helped me form five active chapters this semester, and I hope you consider them for your own efforts.
1. Get off Facebook
Whether you want to identify or create a leader, however, the best way to do that is to get on the front lines and stop acting remotely. Although Facebook is great in that it allows us to locate individuals with similar interests, it is far from perfect. Many libertarians reject social media, do not post or share openly, and are skeptical of those who add them as friends.
Even if you get through each of these obstacles and locate someone who is sympathetic to the message of liberty, you still are likely to have only found a student more interested in promoting liberty on Facebook than through real activism which is what YAL is all about. I have found that social media resources are more useful for finding supporters (followers), and these people will often not be those willing to be the president of a new student group. You are far better to take the extra time and resources and plan a campus invasion well, which will allow you to know by one handshake whether a student has the potential to lead your new chapter.
2. Plan effectively, but don’t overthink it
When you are gearing up for your campus invasion, don’t worry about the things you presume matter — securing a table, reserving a meeting room, and having all of your talking points down. At every one of my campus invasions I have innovated on each of these, and everything ended up fine. All you need to remember are the approaches to recruitment that YAL taught you, and have a go-getter attitude. Here is how I typically start a chapter.
- Identify a day you can devote all day to recruiting, print off a campus map, and identify the central place on campus where the most foot traffic will be. Don’t be afraid to ask a student once you get there for their recommendation.
- Don’t worry about a table. Although helpful, it can weigh you down and all you really need is a clipboard. This means, however, that you have to be doubly assertive.
- Engage with every student that passes by you that day. Offer quick pitches to them to keep their attention. The two I almost exclusively use are: “Want to learn about a new student organization on campus?” and “Want to help promote personal freedom on campus?” This is sure to spark their interest. Then, don’t forget the close.
- State YAL’s general principles and inform them that you will hold your first meeting in about a week’s time. I do not recommend holding your first meeting that day. People need some notice to work meetings into their schedules. Tell them that there is no harm in coming to one meeting and that the sign-up is only for you to follow up with them. It is also important that you ask them for their information and write it down yourself. This ensures legibility, and people are more apt to offer their information if you personally ask for it.
- Bring along a provocative sign. This is important not for attracting most people’s attention, but for identifying future leaders. Notice that the one I made above is one that people, upon seeing it, either agree with or disagree with instantly. It reads at the top over Obama’s picture, “I’ve said a lot of things, but they all turned out to be wrong.” On the bottom over Ron Paul’s image it reads, “Ron Paul was right. Join today.” Any Ron Paul fans on campus are sure to stop and talk to you, and be sure to note who they are on your contact sheet. They might be your future chapter president.
- Follow up with all of your contacts with a personal call and at least two emails. Be sure to give proper advanced notice, but not so much that it falls out of their mind. Three days ahead usually works well enough.
3. The meeting
Host your meeting at a central location, even if it is informal. Be sure to have a presentation prepared that introduces YAL and offers some of the valuable personal experiences that you have. I also show them what chapters have done across the country to inspire them for what they can do as a chapter.
Make it conversational, but don’t allow the philosophy to be undermined. A meeting can be turned south very quickly if you ask “What do you think of liberty?” Instead ask everyone “Why is liberty important to you?” Make them feel like they are already in the group, and they will stay in it.
Ask for volunteers, and assign tentative volunteer roles. Be sure to stress that the chapter is entirely their own, and that you are just there to help.
Lastly, do not leave without ensuring that everyone has agreed on their next meeting to be held a week or so from that date. Make sure that everyone knows their next steps as well, usually finding an academic advisor and getting registered through the university.
Although much of this seems like common sense, there are some important points worth underscoring. First, you don’t need contacts at a university already to form a group. My best ones have been built from one or two days on site, and it is more effective to meet students personally than through social media.
You can identify leaders more easily, and they are more likely to support you if they know who you are and see your passion in person. A clipboard, proactive attitude and provocative sign go a long way. You already know why liberty is imperative, so you don’t need a flyer to remind you or others.
Lastly, the most vocal libertarians are not always the best chapter presidents. It takes real leadership potential to lead a chapter, and remember that when you offer your recommendations to your new chapter when they assign leadership roles.
Good luck growing the movement, and I’ll see you out there on the front lines!Published in