If you’re outside the liberty movement social media universe, you might not have known that The Happening was absolutely happening last weekend. What was The Happening, you ask as I admire your ignorance of the affair? Well, the International Students For Liberty Conference (ISFLC) was kicking off with movement darlings Ron Paul and Andrew Napolitano. Towards the end of this mostly hollow, but entertaining affair, Student For Liberty Mackenzie Holst decided to read a statement (falsely attributed to C4SS) in which she questions the former Congressman Paul on a lot of his shady-to-terrifying associations in the past. The Crowd did not take kindly to Holst’s uncomfortable accusations and, as crowds often do, shouted her into oblivion.
What transpired after that was an all-out-social media battle royale over The Happening, Paul’s troubling past (and present), and, mixed in for good measure, some gendered and non-gendered threats on Holst. But while we’ve all been discussing this, it’s important to be aware of what we weren’t discussing.
Were students discussing why Ron Paul was appearing before them? No, but I think they should have been. An organization which prides itself on youthful perspectives, voices, and activism should be looked at quizzically when they decide at least one solid hour of nearly ever conference-goers time will be dedicated to the same personalities saying the same things they’d been saying since many of us were in elementary school or before. As I watched from the back of the room at Ron Paul demanding we re-commit ourselves my eyes did a 360 roll, not because the federal reserve isn’t one hell of an evil organization, but because we all understand this. This hour of time, which seemed to stretch on to infinity while being constantly familiar and unchanging, seems to have been for one purpose: applause generation. As soon as someone raised their voice to break the applause and question the elder movementarian, the crowd woke from their slumber to attack.
Why no discussion of the purpose of these events? If it is simply a matter of applause generation and getting asses in seats, that’s acceptable, but students should be made aware that is where their money is going when they travel sometimes thousands of miles and spend much of their money to attend. No one that night was educated. The only young voices I heard were in the halls and at the bars afterwards having interesting conversations that I’d much rather have emanating from that stage. Why isn’t there more time dedicated to ideas that will change the world instead of the same tired talking points from the 70s? There are many timeless ideals from that era, but this new generation should be focused on establishing their own ideals, not solidifying their idols.
Another discussion point which made the rounds, but was unfortunately buried under threats of rape and relentless libertarian signaling, was the misgendering of Chelsea Manning by beloved former politician Ron Paul. Now unfortunately, Chelsea could not be there for obvious, tragic reasons, but is it not at all jarring to these new champions of liberty that a politician so many of them adore could not even bother to learn the gender and name of someone who truly fought for liberty? Chelsea fought for liberty not from the halls of congress. She fights it now surrounded by the walls of a prison cell, spared at least from the unrelenting cheering of a man who just misidentified her to the world.
These issues, among others, were not discussed because too many people were outraged with one of the few young voices breaking through the elder echo chamber with an important question. Unaware that this was actually an opportunity for Ron to say something new on a stage again, people view this as a personal attack. I’m not sure in what dictionary the definition of attack is, “Please give us a clear and concise explanation of your troubling past.” To attack someone on stage would be to interrupt them. Holst did no such thing. But this event isn’t so much about Paul’s past or the future of the liberty movement in light of its conservative holdovers. That would be too constructive and not ridden with self-righteous outrage. This was about personalities and that’s why my concerns above were not addressed. Ron Paul has established a cult of personality in this movement and it is unshakable. Skepticism of his associations seems to translate to most people as skepticism of the value of his identity and accomplishments.
As pointed out to me by a friend, Ron Paul has done an amount of non-negligible good, and not good simply for libertarianism. On multiple occasions, in the midst of a nation untiringly assaulting the middle east, Ron Paul got on stage and declared the foreign policy America represents blatantly evil. He declared the dignity of those slaughtered by U.S soldiers. He preached peace in a time where the debate was between exactly how hard we should bomb various brown people. That is significant and, if for nothing else, Ron Paul has my appreciation for saying those things to those people, for using his pulpit as a means of arguing for peace.
But this is not about Paul. This is about the people Paul has distanced from libertarianism and how much time we should continue to spend giving honors and hours to someone who either can’t remember or doesn’t care how Chelsea Manning identifies. This is about what libertarianism represents from here — from this point on. This is about making this a movement of students, people who, no matter their age, must remain youthful and dynamic in spirit. It’s not about blackballing Ron Paul from “the movement” because many of us don’t like what he’s come to represent. It’s clear he’s not done generating an audience. It’s about asking what better ways could we enhance the voices of students and of the disempowered generally: by shouting them down, or by putting those people on stage and challenging them to come up with something new and unique? There is not enough urgency among those who wish to hold up dusty idols instead of generating new ideas and new ways of achieving our goals. The time for these ideas is not the next conference, it’s now. When we convene to have our mass discussion groups, it should be to share what we’ve generated since we last met. It is time to move past idols and say farewell to the comfort of our established ideals. If you find a weak foundation, shake it like mad and build something better in its place.