In defense of Young Americans for Liberty

| Staff Columnist

On Friday, Dec. 4, Sneha Thakur’s column, “Young Americans for Liberty: Too inflamatory to be persuasive,” grossly mischaracterized our organization in a way that demonstrated her underlying bias. I hope that through this article I will be able to set the record straight about the purpose and accomplishments of the Young Americans for Liberty and to refute Thakur’s troubled piece.
Thakur begins her article by characterizing the mission of Young Americans for Liberty as a group that seeks to “work toward providing a venue where people who hold different beliefs and ideologies can come together, express their opinions and agree to disagree.” While we at YAL may be open to individuals of all ideologies, this is certainly not our most prominent goal. YAL is a political activism organization that seeks to challenge, educate, and mobilize students on the ideals of political, social and economic liberty. Even a half-hearted evaluation of our events will demonstrate that this goal has been more than fulfilled.

Young Americans for Liberty began the year with an event that distributed Constitutions to the student body on Constitution Day. In one of our less provocative events, which Thakur fails to mention, we were successful in distributing nearly 300 Constitutions to the student body. Our next event was a free trade versus fair trade coffee tasting, which distributed information on the problems with the supposed “fair” trade system. We then held a film screening for “Not Evil, Just Wrong,” which questioned the veracity of claims made by global warming alarmists. Thakur attacked this film in a different article despite the fact that she admittedly did not bother to watch it. She mistakenly claimed that YAL was an arm of the Republican Party and went on to attempt a film review based on the movie’s trailer. Next came our infamous, yet fantastically successful gulag event. Finally, we held a well-attended rally outside the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis building that called for transparency in our nation’s central banking system.

Thakur, however, seeks to characterize YAL based solely on her poor interpretation of our gulag event. The gulag was not intended to represent the state of the country under the Obama administration as Thakur suggests, but rather to show the inevitable consequences of continuing down the road to serfdom on which the United States has been marching for nearly 100 years.
Thakur describes our gulag as distasteful, inappropriate, bizarre and offensive to those who actually suffered under the tyranny of the Soviet Union. This description is wildly inaccurate and does not in any way reflect the success of the gulag event. Following the event, YAL received considerable donations from political groups around St. Louis who praised our activism and initiative. We then went on to receive a $500 award from the national Young Americans for Liberty organization for the best Berlin Wall event in the country. We have received praise for our event from several other national political organizations such as Campus Reform, Campaign for Liberty and

Furthermore, Thakur’s assertion that the display was offensive to those who suffered under the Soviet Union simply does not reflect the response we received. For instance, I was recently approached by a German immigrant who thanked me for the event, as it called attention to the oft-forgotten horrors suffered by her father, who was imprisoned by the Soviets many years ago. Also, this Tuesday, Wash. U. YAL will be holding a lecture by a retired Washington University professor, Dr. Gregory Nikiforovich, who lived in the Soviet Union until 1989, was very grateful for our event, and will be speaking on the implementation of socialism in his former country. It seems to me that the only people who were offended by the gulag were not those affected by the horrors of socialism, but rather socialists themselves who were made uncomfortable by the frank portrayal of the results of their ideology.

Thakur then makes the patently false claim that we devote the majority of the space on our Web site to attacking individuals who disagree with us. Despite her claims to the contrary, there is nothing on our Web site that attacks the Students for Fair Trade. The Web site merely acknowledges the fact that the group refused to engage us. There is a video of the Event Services personnel conspiring to shut down our gulag; but neither the video nor the post contains commentary on the nature of Event Services’ actions.

Thakur spends the rest of her article attacking a comment made by John Burns and posting on our group’s Web site. She characterizes Burns as an ungrateful student of Washington University and another “disgruntled” member of YAL. A quick perusal of our Web site, however, reveals that Burns is neither a member of YAL nor a student at Washington University, but rather the owner of the construction company which erected our gulag.

Thakur should just be honest: She doesn’t approve of our group’s message of liberty. That is fine; she certainly isn’t the first. But to cherry-pick and mischaracterize  facts in an attempt to cast our organization as some sort of band of vicious reactionaries is incorrect and inappropriate. I encourage Thakur to attend one of our meetings if she wishes to better understand our goals.

  • Nenita

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  • I sent this extra credit essay question to all my students:

    Who really won the Cold War? Was the real winner, as a recent guest speaker at Washington University’s Conservative Leadership Association has suggested, what the Catholic philosopher G. K. Chesterton called the “Servile State”? Are we, here in the land of the free and the home of the brave, converging with the People’s Republic of China, in the worst way, as some have suggested?

    Please see “Are Americans a Broken People? Why We’ve Stopped Fighting Back Against the Forces of Oppression,” Bruce E. Levine, AlterNet, posted December 11, 2009.

    Here is a quote from the article:

    “Do most schools teach young people to be action-oriented — or to be passive? Do most schools teach young people that they can affect their surroundings — or not to bother? Do schools provide examples of democratic institutions — or examples of authoritarian ones?”

    “A long list of school critics from Henry David Thoreau to John Dewey, John Holt, Paul Goodman, Jonathan Kozol, Alfie Kohn, Ivan Illich, and John Taylor Gatto have pointed out that a school is nothing less than a miniature society: what young people experience in schools is the chief means of creating our future society. Schools are routinely places where kids — through fear — learn to comply to authorities for whom they often have no respect, and to regurgitate material they often find meaningless. These are great ways of breaking someone.”

    “Today, U.S. colleges and universities have increasingly become places where young people are merely acquiring degree credentials — badges of compliance for corporate employers — in exchange for learning to accept bureaucratic domination and enslaving debt.”

    What do you think of this? Have we lost the ability to defend ourselves, and each other?

  • J

    So why was Jon Burns all over the local media acting as the official spokesperson of YAL? It seems like characterizing him as “the owner of a construction company” ignores the fact that it was his idea to do the gulag in the first place.

  • I agree that we lefties have to get our act together. The campus conservatives have the Conservative Leadership Association (not “Alliance,” as I misstated in an earlier post; thanks to their program coordinator Caleb Posner for the correction). Many YAL members attend their meetings.

    Let’s bring back the Progressive Action Coalition, a broad center-left group, to counter and complement the center-right CLA.

    You can call me a leftie if you wish, but everybody is conservative about something. A few years ago, on my own initiative and with my own money, I posted flyers all over our campus exhorting you all to “Call Me Old-Fashioned.” One of the things you can call me old-fashioned about is my notion that one function of an American university is to prepare our students for life in a democracy, not a police state.

  • CP

    I wasn’t there and haven’t been on campus for a couple years, so I have no opinion on the event or reaction to the event, but one thing hasn’t changed: Libertarians are almost always better at argumentation than liberal progressives, and they are winning the rhetoric war. Anyone reading the comments section can see that. Come on lefties — use some thought, logic and reason!

  • stupid.

    Unfortunately, Thakur is right- this display was idiotic. You condemn other dictatorships and totalitarian governments for using silly scare tactics on their citizens, yet you do the same thing to warp people into believing that somehow, our government is quickly approaching the horrors of the communist soviet union.

    And no, it’s not that I have some stupid bias against you- I’m also a libertarian. you guys were embarrassing, to say the least.

  • Dirk Doebler

    Anonymous: It wasn’t a foolish mockery. It was a very serious way to show the horrid atrocities that occur under Socialism and Communism. Had you presented it to them in an unbiased manner informing them over the information on our handouts they might not have felt that way, but possibly. YAL actually received. support from former Soviet citizens and had one come and give a lecture on life under socialism in the Soviet Union last Thursday. I think most of the people who were appalled were probably those that didn’t like the lack of political correctness more than anything else. How anyone who isn’t Soviet could be offended and appalled makes no sense because it can’t even be misconstrued as an attack on them like it could be for former Soviet citizens.

  • anonymous

    Nope. Thakur is absolutely correct. It was a bizarre, highly offensive display. I have relatives who survived those events, and seeing your foolish mockery of them for political gain disgusted me as a WASH U student. I expect more out of my fellow students. And to be honest, YAL should not delude themselves: perhaps other extreme groups praised their display, but most students did not. My conservative, libertarian, liberal, and moderate friends were all equally appalled at YAL’s attention grab.

  • Everybody please look up “libertarian socialism.”

  • Ruth

    Politicians on both the Right and the Left try to use hyperbole in soundbites; however, I would argue that this is different than students using hyperbole to engage students in useful discussions about history and political philosophy.

    For example, Sen. Reid recently comparing those who oppose moving to a nationalized medical insurance system supporters of “slavery” isn’t any more accurate than Cornyn’s comparison.

    Students taking the time to remind other students of the potiential dangers of putting to much power and trust in government, such as Students of Liberty’s gulag demonstration, seems different to me than politicians throwing out 30-second soundbites. Since many college students are political apathetic, it’s great that the YAL student group is thinking of and implementing creative ways to engage the larger student body on the realities of socialism from a historical perspective.

  • Ruth

    Well said, Phil.

  • anonymous

    Haha, that link is great!

  • Jeff


  • Steve Howerton

    Looks like the whole healthcare reform=gulag thing is really taking off: