Young Americans for Liberty: Too inflammatory to be persuasive

| Staff Columnist

Young Americans for Liberty is a student group on campus that claims to work toward providing a venue where people who hold different beliefs and ideologies can come together, express their opinions and agree to disagree. In the group’s apparent acceptance of such a wide variety of political opinions, however, the organization seems to have no coherent, focused or palpable direction.

The most obvious example of the group’s lack of coherence was the gulag display it constructed before Thanksgiving break. The exhibition was frankly distasteful. It is understandable that Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) aimed to make its audience uncomfortable and thereby question the “socialism” and “communism” that it claims are invading this country, but the display went too far. While it’s great that the group wanted to educate the student body about the horrors of communism in the Soviet Union, the group’s main purpose seems to have been to bring attention to itself, which it effectively did. The fake blood oozing from students’ painted gashes as they stared zombie-like from inside the wired barricades was eye-catching because it was so inappropriate and bizarre, particularly when the conditions were supposed to parallel the state of this country under the current administration.

There is an important distinction that must be noted. All student groups are free to hold and express their own opinions, and YAL is certainly admirable for promoting dissent among its members, as it claims. The trouble, however, lies with the way in which members of YAL have gone about expressing their opinions. Rather than holding educated and well-researched events, YAL’s programming seems mostly inflammatory, aimed to provoke a heated response from the public. Dirk Doebler, the group’s president, states the organization’s main goal is “to win students over while also showing the student body the superiority of capitalism over socialism, liberty over government intervention [and] the importance of preserving our civil rights.” What YAL has most successfully accomplished, however, is a characterization of itself as a reactionary, disgruntled group that grossly skews and hyperbolizes reality.

Although the group claims to pride itself on accepting and even encouraging diverse and conflicting viewpoints, it is quick to criticize those who disagree with what the group does. The Web site for the Washington University chapter of the national organization devotes most of its content to applauding the great “success” of the group’s events and the rest of its space to not-so-subtly criticizing people who do not buy into YAL’s claims, such as members of Students for Fair Trade and the officials from Event Services who shut down the gulag display.

Furthermore, a group member is quoted on their Web site saying, “I guess the students at Washington University were in a gulag all along, and the administration proved it through their stifling of free speech.” This metaphor is absolutely ludicrous. Gulags were penal labor camps used by the Soviet Union where inhabitants were forced to perform harsh physical labor and live in inhumane conditions with minimal food, clothing, housing, health care and sanitation. Anyone who goes to this school should be ashamed to compare him or herself to a victim of such a labor camp: Not only does such a student show complete ingratitude for the blessings we have at such a well-off university, but more importantly, such a comparison belittles the extreme suffering faced by victims of gulags over the 40-year span during which these facilities were in operation.

YAL has a lot of bark, but little bite. The group has made a lot of noise this semester and has drawn a lot of attention to itself, but ultimately its events seem far more inflammatory than thought provoking. If the group truly seeks to “win students over,” it ought to reconsider its tactics.

Sneha is a freshman in Arts & Sciences. She can be reached via e-mail at [email protected].

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