Tips for Libertarian Activists

Outreach to High Schools

Last updated 1995-09-05 by Tom Isenberg

I have spoken to almost a dozen high school and college classes and I find it one of the most personally rewarding activities. It's also very important to reach students (and teachers) with our message. It legitimizes the LP when they get invited to speak to your class. And when they see what a good job you do (whether they agree with you or not) it gives a good image of the LP.

Our primary goal is to expose these kids to Libertarian ideas and to give them enough information so they can progress on their own (by giving them a solid info packet.)

The following ideas assume that you want to organize a speaker's bureau in your area (check with your county LP first to make sure there isn't one already.) However, you'll find plenty of ideas to use even if intend to go solo.

Identify Good Speakers

Interest in having political speakers is usually highest in October (because of the elections in early November) but I've been invited to speak throughout the school year. At any rate, get into the routine at the beginning every school year of identifying the volunteers who would be good speakers. They don't need to be awesome orators, they just need to be nice, friendly people who don't come across as raving kooks.

They need to be comfortable with public speaking, obviously, but they also need to dress respectably (i.e., business suit.) You want to look like you're ready to assume public office. If you don't take yourself seriously, they won't take you seriously either. People who have (or want to) run for office should practice their public speaking by talking to high school classes.

Solicit Speaking Engagements

Once you've identified your stable of speakers, assign each one of them a local school district. Have them draw up a list of all the high schools in their district (don't forget private schools). Focus on high schools in upper-class neighborhoods (the kids are better educated, college-bound, and, who knows, you might get their rich parents interested, too!) Get the address and phone number for each school. Then, call up each of the schools and ask for the names of all the Civics/Social Studies/Politics/Government (or whatever they call it in your area) teachers that teach seniors. (Juniors are ok, too, but don't waste your time with younger kids.) Make sure you get the spelling of their names right and get their personal phone numbers as well.

The coordinator then creates a database with all of this information and sends a form letter to all of the teachers. The letter might read as follows:

Dear Ms. Jackson,

The Libertarian Party often gets requests to send a representative to speak to local high school classes. Many teachers would like their students to be exposed to alternative political parties, and we are happy to oblige with classroom presentations on the third largest party in the country (and its history, positions, and unique role in American politics.) We have already done well-received presentations at Churchill, Gateway, and Penn Hills High Schools.

I am writing to let you know that we are again booking speakers in your area. Please contact me as soon as possible to ensure that speakers are available when you need them.

We are also happy to provide schools with reference materials on the Libertarian Party, including books and videotapes, and to provide participants for debates, political fairs, or materials for class projects.

I have enclosed materials to acquaint you with the Libertarian Party and its views.

Tom Isenberg, 206-555-1111

Send your standard prospect kit to the teacher (it should include the National LP Program and the Nolan Chart survey.) To see the awesome prospect kit that we use, contact the Libertarian Party of Washington state.

Two weeks after these letters have gone out, have your speakers do a follow-up call to the teachers in their assigned schools. The call might go as follows: "Hello, this is Tom Isenberg. I'm with the Libertarian Party of King County and I wanted to make sure you received the information we sent you on our speakers program. Would you like a representative of the Libertarian Party to make a presentation to your class? Etc."

Arrange for a mutually satisfactory time, get directions, find out how many students you will be speaking to, and call back to confirm the day before the speech. Try not to schedule more than two classes on a given day, you'll be exhausted. If possible, schedule for early morning classes (teenagers get sleepy after lunch.)

Prepare Handouts

Image is everything in politics. That's why you have to look and act first-class. Also, your literature has to look sharp. We want to make sure that students have something to take home and show their family and friends, put up on their bedroom wall, and maybe even act on later.

So bring enough copies of the Nolan Chart survey (with your membership form, reading list, etc. on the back) and the "Bill of Rights: Void Where Prohibited by Law" handbill for each student. Have your assistant hand them out before class begins.

Also, you'll want to bring some prospect kits for students who want them (about 30% of the class.) Start with your standard prospect kit and add a free issue of Reason magazine, the Cato books catalog, the Freeman, and the Laissez-Faire Books catalog. (These organizations have provided free supplies for distribution, so ask them.) For more information on professional-looking prospect kits, contact me. Also, include photocopies of contests/scholarship/seminar info for college libertarians (you know, the full page ads you see in Reason.) Many kids are college-bound and may be interested in such things.

Make sure you give a copy of this prospect kit for the teacher, in addition to a copy of Robert Ringer's Restoring the American Dream or other introductory book for his classroom library.

Give the Presentation

To get a copy of the standard high school speech I give, contact me.

Always bring an assistant with you. Bring someone who would like to give speeches, so they can see what it's like (to see that it's not so hard.) You'll want them to dress as professionally as you do, because you're both representing the Libertarian Party, a serious political party. Have your assistant distribute handouts and take notes (ideas for improvements, questions that were asked, etc.) You'll use these notes to improve next time.

Dress for success. Wear a suit. Look like you're in office already. If you look like a schmoe, go give a speech on behalf of the Socialist Workers Party instead, you'll help our cause more.

Hang out with the teacher before and after class. Make conversation. Let him get to know you as a decent normal person (not a fanatic kook). Don't debate politics with him, make friends with him. You want him to invite Libertarians back, year after year.

Solicit the Junior Statesmen Foundation

Finally, check with your state and county LP to see if you should make yourself available as an LP representative to the Junior Statesmen Foundation chapter in your area: call 1-800-334-5353, in Northern CA, call 415-347-1600. Or write to: The Junior State of America, 60 E. Third Ave #320, San Mateo, CA 94401-4032. This nationwide organization is geared towards high school students who are interested in politics. They hold annual conventions complete with debates, keynote speakers, seminars, and political fairs. The 1994 Junior State of America regional conventions were held in Spokane, Austin, Anaheim, New York, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Santa Clara.

In Washington state, they always invite the Libertarians to set up a literature table. We do the Nolan booth there, and it's always the hit of the political fair. If you can address the entire convention (by giving a speech or participating in a debate) that'd be awesome. Push for that. But at least participate in the political fair. Obviously, you want to encourage libertarian students in your area to attend this and give presentations.