“We want viable, principled candidates.”
That was the message that Cliff Maloney Jr., president of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), emphasized to the crowd of several hundred college activists during his opening remarks on Friday in downtown Austin.
YAL is a non-profit, donor-funded organization that was started in 2008 with a mission dedicated to “identify[ing], educat[ing], train[ing], and mobiliz[ing] youth activists to make liberty win.”
The 2,700-member organization — which boasts 19,000 alumni — recently moved its headquarters to Austin, leaving the nation’s capital city for Texas.
The organization identifies itself as (small “L”) libertarian — not affiliated with the party known for a man baring it all on stage at their national convention a few years ago.
While their presence on campus is widespread across the country — and their record in defeating campus speech codes is quite prolific — YAL’s main focus is on its “Win at the Door” program. That program, designed to elect “liberty-focused” politicians to state legislatures, has thus far resulted in 39 YAL-backed elected officials in state legislatures throughout the country — including Texas House Rep. Mayes Middleton (R-Wallisville).
Reed Cooley, YAL’s director of public relations, told The Texan, “Operation ‘Win at the Door’ is our primary, flagship project.”
Cooley stressed that is the principal driver of YAL’s direction in both its near- and long-term future.
For reference, the Libertarian Party was founded in 1971 and (according to their website) cannot boast a single state legislator among its elected officials nationwide. YAL’s stated goal is to eventually reach 250 state legislators by the end of 2022. Their key to reaching that goal, as Maloney highlighted in his speech, is selecting both principled and viable candidates to support.
With their support comes an army of activists who travel the state knocking doors for candidates. And in districts typically as compact as statehouse seats, a team of full-time door knockers and volunteers can make all the difference.
But a key aspect of building that program and its sizable reach are conventions which serve as a recruiting boon.
The convention offers training and networking opportunities, as well as high-profile speakers that bring attendees from all over the country together. The convention from this past weekend hosted speakers such as Virginia House Delegate Nick Freitas, leftist-turned-classical liberal commentator Dave Rubin, Texas Congressman Chip Roy (R-TX-21), and consistent YAL crowd favorite former Texas Congressman Ron Paul.
Mitch Strider, a YAL chapter president at Mississippi State University, lauded YAL’s growth since inception.
About the convention, Strider said, “I am excited to take what I learn here and take it back and apply it on campus.” Strider specifically cited training in how to handle confrontations, both with fellow students and administrators, over political speech on campus.
At the convention, various other like-minded organizations are invited to “table” (handing out freebies and disseminating information). Strider mentioned this has allowed him to become more knowledgeable on various topics such as climate change and guns.
About the speakers, Strider mentioned the situation in Hong Kong as one of significant alarm, and he was excited to hear more knowledgeable speakers discuss the issue.
“It was reassuring to know that I’m not the only one that would find it hard to not at least do something to help them,” Strider stated, referencing Freitas’ comments of sympathy toward those in Hong Kong protesting against the Chinese communist government.
Tahmineh Dehbozorgi, born and raised in Iran and a member of the YAL chapter at the University of California Los Angeles, cited her interest in hearing about foreign policy and criminal justice reform.
“I like how people like Ron Paul speak out against unconstitutional wars, and the principled stance he and YAL take on the issue is one thing I’m looking forward to hearing again,” Degbozorgi stated.
On criminal justice reform, Dehbozorgi said she became interested in the topic when she read Orange Is the New Black, which detailed Piper Kerman’s account from a year in a female penitentiary.
“I read all these horrible accounts about how the inmates were mistreated in prisons,” Dehbozorgi stated, which caused her to research more about the prison population and the overall state of the criminal justice system.
While in Austin, Dehbozorgi found herself in a much friendlier environment compared to the UCLA campus. One popular demonstration YAL chapters do is to display what is dubbed a “free-speech ball” on which passersby can write anything they so choose — demonstrating a commitment to truly free speech.
But it is not always received very well.
“As we’re just standing by [the ball], someone came by and stabbed it,” Dehbozorgi lamented, describing an incident she experienced, the likes of which is all-too-common on campuses today.
While dumbfounded that someone would do that, Dehbozorgi remained steadfastly dedicated to the cause, which led her to Austin this past weekend.
“I’m excited to see all my friends and coworkers this weekend,” Dehbozorgi said of the networking aspect of the convention. Dehbozorgi also stressed how much being in YAL has allowed her to develop important skills and her courage to engage with fellow students on campus about political issues.
For Jose Nino, a freelance writer in Texas and supporter of YAL, the excitement for the convention amounts to making connections and honing his advocacy skills to better advance liberty principles.
The speaker Jose was most excited to listen to was Congressman Chip Roy, as Nino described, “someone who is willing to speak their mind against the political establishment in service to limited government.” Nino added, “I like bucking trends and raising hell.”
For Nino being born and raised in Venezuela until he was six or seven-years-old he clearly sees the stark contrast between his home country and his adopted one.
He said, “The U.S. has residual institutions from its classical liberal foundation that allow us to foster pro-liberty policies.” Nino continued, “We kind of lose perspective in terms of other countries in the world and what Venezuela shows is that when you don’t have a country built on the principles of limited government, it’s really difficult to get out of crises.”
Nino then lauded the “Win at the Door” program for “doing the hard work, that’s not sexy, but you have to do it in order be successful.”
Speaking to the importance and successes of the program, deployment leader Michael Anderson said he’s spoken to voters who tell them “I haven’t had anyone knock on my door in decades, much less for a liberty-minded candidate.”
Anderson likened YAL’s competitive advantage as doing the hard work and venturing into districts other groups rarely go.
“They find it refreshing to have someone come to their door on behalf of a candidate that wants to limit government and cares about the constitution,” Anderson continued.
He added placement can be difficult when taking individuals from one state and airdropping them in another, so YAL tries to deploy as many activists to races in their home state as possible.
Anderson’s local YAL chapter at the University of Houston participated in the effort advocating to change police body camera policy to pre-record up to two minutes before the record button is pushed by an officer. The former policy was set at 30 seconds.
Anderson said, “It helps increase transparency and gives police officers in tense situations the time they need to press the record button.”
Cooley says that the YAL staff are ecstatic about the decision to relocate to Texas. And with a more affordable cost of living, centrally located in the nation, and unique growth opportunities, the organization believes the decision will bear fruit in the long run.
Maloney emphasized in his opening speech, “For the first time, the liberty movement has a scalable, measurable movement.”
The barbecue is just an added bonus.
Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.