When the PCC chapter of the national organization Young American for Liberty came to the Inter-Club Council for chartering, which typically accepts clubs en masse and uncritically, ICC members had some questions for YAL’s president, Woodrow Johnston.
“Who do you endorse?”
“Is this legal?”
“What organization are you from again?”
Woodrow smiled wide and deftly took questions as three of the things he seemed to most enjoy came together in his very first ICC meeting: political opposition, a captive audience, and the chance to spread the ideas of liberty.
Young Americans for Liberty is a grassroots organization founded on the heels of Ron Paul’s popularity among college-age voters who don’t see their interests served in the dominant political parties. However, at least this chapter stresses political activism of any kind over advocacy of their ideology.
Their meetings focus on “liberty,” not necessarily libertarianism, and Johnston is quick—and seemingly sincere—in offering help to any club that wants to become politically active, no matter which side of the aisle.
That point was made clear after Student Affairs Advisor Carrie Afuso explained the school rules the ICC representatives were to follow in running their clubs. Including, crucially, that all club events are to be sanctioned by an activity request form, and all off-campus activities must be approved eight weeks in advance.
During the next ICC meeting, Johnston had an announcement for everyone.
Walking up to Afuso while still addressing the club representatives, he explained how YAL had circumvented the eight-week notice rule, publically handed Afuso a book from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and offered his help to any club also interested in liberty on campus.
Although the other clubs in the ICC have yet to make a serious collaboration with Johnston and YAL, representatives are at least intrigued with the idea of challenging school rules that at times seem confusing, unnaturally encumbering, and porous—given the right connections.
Policies and procedures throughout this campus from the Board of Trustees to Associated Students and down to the smallest clubs are either largely unknown or unenforced.
Whether you agree with rules—does AS need conference hours if they are not followed anyway? Do clubs need to be babysat for every event?—or whether you don’t know which are to be followed—when have committee agendas last been posted for committees, either online or on campus? Does every vote, club by club, need to be counted in the ICC?—the school has a problem following its policies.
“We’re just looking to clarify the rules,” Johnston said. The rules, according to him, appropriately flow down from the constitution and should in theory align with the Non-Aggression principle, the moral guide for most libertarians which states that all forms of non-defensive violence and coercion are illegitimate.
YAL is a smaller organization on the PCC campus, but it’s backed by a national infrastructure. And despite making a public show of taking no ICC funding from the school, (Rather than just not filling out a request form, Johnston made a point to ask for $0 in funding and had it announced to the ICC), YAL travels to leadership conferences, pulls in big-name speakers, and even held a candidate forum for the PCC board election.
If YAL is poised to become a force on campus for as long as the club exists, it will have to continue without Johnston as its president next semester.
Though YAL has the benefits of a national libertarian organization on campus, it also has the pitfalls. Meetings often focus on what the “liberty position” of an issue is, and although that draws in people from diverse ideological backgrounds who think independently, it also can draw those who think independently for the sake of being different.
Discussion can often veer into very detailed, side-tracked recounts of history, politics, and culture–incredibly entertaining and learned discussion, but ones that require a map to find your way back to the point.
An amendment to the club’s constitution took all meeting, points of order and filibusters included. Their next and final meeting of the semester, filled with grandstanding, PowerPoint presentations, and tension, led to the ousting of the club’s vice president and the revelation that Johnston would step down and away from the club starting in the spring.
Every club board goes through turnover and turmoil. However, with the dynamics and politics of YAL in particular, it would be hard not to notice this as a feature of an organization whose platform is made to clash with administration and establishment instead of as the growing pains of a school club’s first semester.
The final act of Young Americans for Liberty with Woodrow Johnston as president, if they have their way, will be to burn an ISIS flag on campus on the last day of school. Although Johnston is in principle in favor of this act of free speech and still technically the president of YAL, he said he does not want to associate with this demonstration.
The club itself though, including the YAL leadership in California, are supporting this protest, which is now led by YAL outreach director and parliamentarian Marshall Roe.
During their last meeting, YAL had a visit from AS Vice-President of Internal Affairs Emilie Melder and AS President Irving Morales.
“Think about what this could mean for students,” Melder implored.
“If we’re so afraid to do this, the terrorists have won,” Johnston reasoned.
According to Roe, the demonstration will carry on amid student and faculty leaders holding meetings to discuss the event. The Associated Students have called a special meeting Thursday to discuss the planned flag burning.
A Pasadena fire marshal representative said the fire department has not been contacted by Roe, but the club has discussed destroying the flag in some other way if they are not permitted to burn it and have expressed their commitment to meet all legal requirements.
“If you don’t mind sticking your heads out, do it individually, not related to PCC.”
“You legally can’t stop us,” Johnston added before the AS representatives left.
Contributed by Hannah Gonzales
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