Tips for Libertarian Activists

College Libertarian Activism

Last updated 1997-01-12 by Tom Isenberg

I think that college groups are the most important front in the libertarian movement. The most important function of a college group is not to establish a small club of libertarians who discuss libertarian theory, but to expose the entire campus community to the libertarian message. Unfortunately, most college groups fall into the trap of becoming miniscule debate societies and not doing any outreach (Nolan booths being the most efficient way to find new libertarians.) I think this is a tremendous waste of an opportunity. That's why I strongly advise against setting up monthly discussion meetings. The point is to do outreach, not drink beer with the choir.

Run Regular Nolan Booths and Introductory Seminars

I would argue that a college group should do nothing else until it is successfully running a "Nolan survey" booth every month and at least one introductory seminar on "What is the Libertarian Party?" every semester. A Nolan booth, by the way, is basically a survey table that lets passersby give their opinion on political issues. You use this booth, not to debate or to convert, but to discover who on campus is already a "libertarian" (at least philosophically.) You collect the names and addresses of these libertarian sympathizers and later on you invite them to the introductory seminar. Of course, you can hand out introductory literature at the booth as well.

You can get bulk literature from the National LP (your state LP may have some pamphlets gathering dust, so give them a call first.) I recommend that you hand out the "Libertarian Party Special Report" booklet available from the National LP. It is advertised in the LP NEWS along with some other well-done literature. The International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL) also publishes an excellent series of pamphlets.

Stock the University Library

Does your library stock your favorite libertarian books, journals, and magazines? If not, find out how to submit purchase requests. Also ask if the library will accept gift subscriptions and purchases, and if so, contact the author or publisher to get free copies/subscriptions. Frankly, I can't imagine Liberty or Reason or Cato refusing to donate subscriptions to university libraries willing to display them (it's a great way to get in front of future subscribers and donors.) Or you can contact your state Libertarian Party to ask them to make the donation.

Bring Speakers to Campus

For those in your group who are not interested in doing Nolan booths (which are actually a lot of fun) they can form a committee in charge of bringing libertarian speakers (authors, think tankers, etc.) to campus. Depending on your college's rules, you may need to form a nonpartisan student group to access the college's funds and resources to bring these speakers on campus. So, you might have the Whatsamatta U. Libertarians be the LP group that does the Nolan booths and you might have the Whatsamatta U. Students for Individual Liberty be the nonpartisan group that uses college funds to bring libertarian luminaries to campus.

Write Columns and Commentaries

An easy way to promote your group is to have your members write editorials and letters to the campus newspaper or, if anyone actually listens to it, participate in campus radio (e.g., host a weekly political talk show.)

Host Debates

Another good way to promote your group on campus is to sponsor debates. Once a month (or whatever) you can debate a controversial issue. One of you guys provides the libertarian position, and a speaker from another campus group provides the statist position. Don't set up a three-way debate between Republicans/Democrats/Libertarians, just do a two-way debate (pro and con.) Allow the other group to set up their literature table as well.


If you need help raising funds (after milking the Student Activities Office for all it's worth), you should approach the local Libertarians in your area. You can get a list of their names and addresses from your local Libertarian Party. Better yet, you can put an ad in your state's LP newsletter. People would be glad to invest in college LP groups, especially if you make it clear what you will use the money for (purchase literature for distribution at our monthly literature booths, etc.) You could offer "sponsorships" each academic year: for a donation of $25 or so, donors would receive notification and invitations of events (including receptions with the speakers that you invite to campus, etc.)

Mentors Needed for Campus Groups

A key to successful and long-lasting college groups is having at least one dedicated off-campus mentor. If your group doesn't have one, find a good one now so that your organization doesn't die when the seniors graduate. Your mentor may be a faculty member or a dedicated libertarian. This person would help organize Nolan booths at the start of each school year, and be the institutional memory of the group, year after year. The mentor would become familiar with university policies governing your group and would help guide groups through the process. The mentor could also purchase and own any "durable" goods the group needs (Nolan booth kits, answering machines, computers, bulk literature, etc.)

Other Projects

Once your group is already doing the high-priority items (Nolan booths and hosting lectures/debates), you might consider doing some activism focused on making your University a more libertarian place. For example, you might work to repeal bad University policies, like bans on nonlethal weapons (such as pepper spray) on campus. Or are students at your campus forced to subsidize Ralph Nader's PIRG groups? Probably. Why not start a project where you fight this coercive financing? Here's a quote from a Web site that features lots of [WWW]dirt on Saint Ralph: "Penn State's Board of Overseers declined Nader's PIRG group's coercive funding and voted instead to let students check a box to make a donation (like presidential campaign funding on 1040 tax forms) -- a perfectly reasonable compromise."

Resources for College Groups