Cliff Maloney Jr. is the President of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL), a non-profit youth organization based in Arlington, VA that boasts over 900 college chapters across the country. YAL's mission is to identify, educate, train, and mobilize youth activists committed to winning on principle.
Before YAL, Cliff served as National Youth Director for the Rand Paul Presidential Campaign and built an apparatus of 507 "Students for Rand" chapters. He has built field programs for over 22 campaigns, including dog-catcher, state legislature, congress, senate, and president. Cliff has appeared on FOX Business, PBS, and Reason TV. He has been published in TIME, The Hill, Huffington Post, and the Washington Examiner. Cliff enjoys empowering freedom activists to find the most productive ways to advance the principles of liberty.
Hi Cliff,Thanks for hosting! Young Americans for Liberty is obviously a huge name in the Liberty movement. How did YAL build such an extensive membership network?
Hey Tricia, great question. YAL was founded in 2008 as a continuation of Students for Ron Paul. We started with less than 100 chapters and as of today have over 900 chapters across America. Since day one the organization has been laser focused on taking the principles of liberty and learning the most effective ways to reach new people. That belief in reaching new people is something that has helped our membership continue to climb and has forced us to always adapt our tactics and strategies to make sure we're a leading voice on campus for liberty.
Thanks so much Cliff,
So, you're well known for coining the "winning facebook arguments" meme, where people say ______ > Winning Facebook Arguments. By in large I'm inclined to agree with you, but do you think there is a place for debate of ideas over the internet? Does your opposition to facebook arguments have to do with the environment of social media that promotes name calling over substantive argumentation, or is it just because doing work on campus is generally more important than discussing ideas online? Thanks So Much!
Ha! I'm glad someone asked this Noah. This is actually a funny story... I was on facebook a few years back and I saw two liberty activists arguing with someone and they had about 3,400 comments in the thread. I sat back in my chair and realized it's time we actually talk about getting offline and start analyzing how we use our time.
So I randomly posted something like "Talking to your neighbors > winning Facebook arguments" and it just took off. To be clear: it's not that I don't think that winning facebook arguments is a great feeling, what I'm saying is this:
1. it rarely happens
2. are we really trying to have civil discussion? no we're trying to make it seem like we're more knowledgable on a topic for our viewers and followers
3. let's do something that actually has impact
Another thing that has come from this is people saying I'm anti-technology. No, not at all. The reason I'm writing this today is because I saw a youtube video of Ron Paul debating Rudy and lecturing him on non-intervention. There are plenty of ways for organizations and for content-driven outlets to reach people through social media, and they should. We, as a movement, need to be in front on this and continue to be creative with our ways of reaching people.
When it comes to an individual trying to "argue" or "debate" through social media... it's really about the purpose and the actual chance of reaching someone. About 99% of the time people aren't listening, they're typing. That's the problem and that's why I'm always pushing our activists at YAL and all liberty lovers everywhere to get offline for their activism and go speak to people directly about our ideas.
Also, see this video posted yesterday: https://www.facebook.com/NowThisFuture/videos/1858877750820063/?hcref=ARSUcfJIUg-7Xpu4vckpayqCUQ2RNDZLJxsF2pMm9UJwkWiEadbsf8xCtE3cHRBDTs
Thank you, Cliff, for doing this Ask Me Anything Session. Could you please explain what "winning on principle" means? and how does it look like?
Thanks David. For those that don't know, 'winning on principle' is the ending to YAL's mission statement: "to identify, educate, train, and mobilize youth activists committed to winning on principle."
The breakdown of YAL's mission statement, in an over simplified way:
identify: identify competent liberty leaders and build a network of chapters so we can be organized and robust in our efforts
educate: through campus activism (street theatre), educate students on campus and RECRUIT new people to YAL and our cause
train: through national trainings, empower our top leaders with the skills they need to succeed
mobilize: place YAL students in jobs and connect with opportunities at nonprofits, think tanks, capitol hill, state legislatures, campaigns, etc so that our people represent our ideas in many industries that deal in social change and influence
The winning on principle represents the call to remain principled in all that we do. Whether it's winning the hearts and minds of fellow students on campus, whether it's winning a ballot initiative to get rid of income tax in your state, or whether it's winning a campaign... we want our people to remember the WHY behind what we do at YAL: the principles of liberty.
Hi Cliff! Thanks for building an organization that has genuinely changed my life.
1) In your experience, what political issue are college students generally most concerned about? What is YAL doing bring a pro-liberty perspective to this conversation?
2) What direction do you see Young Americans for Liberty going in the future? What space is there for the organization to grow and improve?
1. It's always tough to find one issue that is the top issue for college students. Luckily, YAL isn't a single issue group (as you know), but we're able to use certain issues to present our ideology. We typically plan an activism event an entire 7-8 months out so that we have cool swag and lit that will excite not only YAL members, but prospective students. Building activism projects might seem simple, but we have to be able to package something together that 900 chapters can pull off... not an easy task! But overall, civil liberties seems to be the issue that has resonated most with students: privacy being the lead(because we're tuned into tech)
I also add that I think political vs. cultural vs. philosophical issues can sometimes be different avenues... and talking about activists vs. average joes who only care about getting a beer on saturday and getting their diploma... are also different conversations. It's about knowing your audience, not pandering, but taking our message and simplifying so people can understand it.
2. I see YAL continuing to be a voice of sanity on college campuses. We need to continue to bring new people to our cause and our systems are working. Now it's about continuing the success and making sure we're continuing to adapt and improve our methods and messaging.
I love the approach #MakeLibertyWin. In your eyes, what does this mean and how can lovers of liberty be more effective advocates to do so.
Thanks Justin. "Make Liberty Win" is a call to action as YAL's tagline. It makes sure we are always looking in the mirror and asking ourselves: is our work... working? are we creating new liberty lovers?
To become more effective we need to continue to measure our success. YAL state chairs and national staff have access to YAL's tracking system and back-end so they can see where we are growing, where we need to grow, and where we are stagnant. Measure your growth and impact honestly and then work to improve your results. It's that simple.
Cliff,I first met you at ISFLC my junior year of high school and I've been following YAL ever since. Since YAL is committed to "winning on principle", that requires you to take certain stands that might be unpopular with other student organizations and other donors. How exactly have you been able to win while remaining on message? YAL is clearly winning and growing, so I think it would be good for us younger guys to know how you've managed to stick to your principles AND succeed.
Very solid question Mr. Young. The libertarian brand, message, and principles can be different depending on who you talk to. That's why I actually try to avoid being labeled anything. I believe in free markets, civil liberties, and a sober foreign policy. I'd consider myself to be a libertarian. Others would consider me to be _. But who cares?
This is when we start to get in the weeds on labels and we become entrenched with identity politics. I always ask activists to think through the issues, not identities. Identities are different and ever-changing... whereas issues are real, tangible concepts.
Focus on creating more liberty lovers by getting them to embrace our positions on the issues. Not because they embrace the title or group-think of just being part of a club.
What has the been most rewarding part of leading YAL and what are you looking forward to in the organization's future?
It's so rewarding to see the empowering resources we give to students. Members become chapter officers, officers become chapter presidents, and chapter presidents become state chairs. Imagine being 21 and having a network of 15-20 chapters in your state that you assist? That's an amazing network for that age and something that will last for years.
Creating that ripple effect for so many is what changes lives, and we're doing it every day at YAL by letting people fight for the cause they believe in. Most people will go their entire lives without taking a stand or feeling empowered to take action. The future of YAL is continuing to make these moments happen for youth liberty lovers.
In a time where people are finally fed up with voting for the "lesser" of two evils and the two party system, how many "big L" Libertarians will YAL be supporting in 2018 and beyond? Can we finally #MakeLibertyTripartisan ?
YAL Foundation, as a 501c3, does not support candidates.
As for my opinion as an individual... we need to focus on two things:
1. being viable (the ability to win)
2. being principled (not wavering on the principles of liberty)
I'm always looking for candidates who hit both of the marks above. Libertarians don't like that I've worked for Republicans. Republicans don't like that I've worked for Libertarians. I don't care about parties. I care about principles. Find the best vehicle to advance our cause and you'll see results.
I do push back on those that say politics is a waste of time. I think there is a healthy balance between political and educational fights. Winning office gives you a microphone and the ability to have credibility with average joes. We need more microphones and we desperartely need more credibility as a movement.
Also, you'd be surprised how energized individuals become by campaigns. It might be for dog-catcher, but pushing back and winning against the establishment is a great feeling and can rally more people to our cause.
What are your thoughts on the libertarian in-fighting in the liberty movement? What should we do to move forward?
What's the most important issue moving into 2018?
Where can we best promote liberty in 2018?
Look at the math: 20% of Americans see libertarians in a positive light.
Get off facebook (See answer above for full explanation). Stop fighting with other libertarians. Go out and talk to the 80% of people that need to hear our message.
Heard a poll once where when asked "what is a libertarian?", 10% of poll-takers responded with "someone who works at the library"
Funny, but eye-opening. We've got work to do. No time for bickering among our own.
How did you get the nickname "Crash Maloney"
I have dealt with many political individuals in my life who want to vilify "the other side"
Why is this not a strategic tactic for YAL and how does it not contribute to winning on principle?
If you spend anytime in the political world you start to see the reasons "why" these things happen.
Donors and activists get excited by pointing out how BAD the other side is. So politicians begin to focus on that more than anything else.
I can't tell you how many times a conversation with a candidate ends with... "Cliff, I might not be the perfect liberty candidate, but I sure as hell am better than _ (insert opponent name)."
So yes, we need to lead with a positive message of liberty, but we need to find ways to point out our opponent's policy flaws and show why liberty will solve the problem.
One big note: I'm talking about policy flaws, not personal flaws. I can respect anyone who sincerely wants to call out their opponent's positions, but not those who call out their opponent's personal traits or personality. We should be better than that. See above about "winning on principle"
Hi, Cliff. YAL's Facebook page is huge! What have you and your team discovered works well at bringing in the newbies on socail media?
MEME WARS and WINNING FACEBOOK ARGUMENTS!
No, but seriously. YAL built it's facebook/twitter following without spending any $$$ on social media. Pretty crazy and kudos to the YAL leaders before me for having the vision. We were one of the first to understand that share-able items will pentrate and so we started sharing not just articles, but memes and videos to expand our reach.
Now, we've started to focus on the same model, but with a heavier emphasis on videos. Videos are what reach these days, although our memes are still a fun way to share the message.
Do you see it worthwhile for YAL to reach out to high schools to impact the next generation? I have heard of socialist groups attempting to do this already.
A priority? no.
We currently have over 900 YAL chapters and there is still plenty of room for us to not only grow our chapter base, but the membership within our chapters. Our niche has always been college campuses and I think it's why we see success at a higher rate than some orgs who focus everyone at once. We have a system both to identify, educate, train, and mobilize college students. It works.
The book Good to Great by Jim Collins really made me think sincerely about the role of YAL. He talks about the Hedgehog concept (see image):
I sincerely believe YAL can meet all three of these categories on college campuses. By the way, anyone and everyone should read this book who plans on being a leader for our cause or in any cause. It's something unlike anything I've ever read before and has helped me take YAL to new heights.
Let me also throw a few more points out:
1. Yes, it's valuable to be in high schools and working to recruit at that level.
2. High schools typically will not let you table. Think back. When were you able to table to recruit people? Lunch with the same 250 kids everyday?
3. We have YAL high school chapters. We don't actively recruit them, but if they come to us, we don't say no. In fact, often times High school leaders are the best YAL college leaders because they've had experience.
This is about figuring out where we can have the most impact.
Love the work you are doing.
Can you start an organization that young outraged people can join to fight against the debt burden they are being saddled with? Call it the Coalition of Involuntary Debtors (CIDs), with the basic premise that they will simply refuse the honor the bonds that are piling up as we older Americans borrow money to enrich ourselves. Just say no. I don't know the exact logistics of how to refuse to pay certain debts - someone smarter than me can figure that out. People and governments have been doing it for centuries, so there must be a way. It will be disruptive, but that's the point. If enough young people commit to this, it very well could stop people from making these corrupt loans to our politicians and bureaucrats.
Joe, thanks for the question. I love the idea, but it highlights the same challege we face daily: getting people to care about an issue that they don't care about.
We can talk all day about how bad the social security issue is. Most young people won't care.
We can talk about debt. Most young people won't care.
We can talk about __ (fill in the blank). Most young people won't care.
The problem isn't the content of our arguments/beliefs, but it's the audience's interest. That's why we work so hard at YAL to build campus activism projects that reach people where they are at.
The simple answer to your question: find a way to get young people to care about debt and then let me know!
I will say that I personally think the student debt bubble will be one of the most crippling moments in American economic history. I could spend an entire afternoon explaining why I think that, but here's my quick prediction:
1. Student debt continues to grow and becomes MASSIVE
2. Americans call on Congress to forgive all student loans
3. Congress balks as a showcase of some fiscal sanity for the value of the dollar
4. Americans push harder as millions are not able to make monthly payments on $100,000 worth of student debt while making < $40,000 a year
5. Congress forgives all federal debt
6. The value of the dollar plummets
7. All Americans that have a fixed income will be crushed by this (social security, welfare, etc.) because their monthly income is now worth 50% of what is was before
8. Congress increases domestic welfare programs to match demands. GOP asks for military spending for compromise, shake hands and pass budget
9. Government deficits and spending rates break all time highs (as they do every year, but this time at an even more alarming rate)
10. Federal reserve artificially manipulates interest rates and continues to print money to make up for the shortfall
11. Americans look to currency alternatives because the dollar is not sufficient
Hopefully I'm wrong!
Can you tell me about the YAL position on climate change and what can be done about it?
YAL hasn't done an activism project on climate change. We don't have a set of "issues" that we've taken stances on, but we focus on issues like privacy, government spending, free speech, free markets, sober foreign policy, criminal justice reform, taxes, and the Bill of Rights.
Thank you for doing an AMA!
In order to reach people where they are at, we have to know where they are coming from. Are there any strategies you practice on a regular basis that help you with that?
Yes, great question.
If they're political/philosophical: First thing I start with is asking folks what their most passionate issue is. Then from there it's about steering the conversation.
If they are not interested at all: talk to them about current events and see where they bite.
This is not an easy task. It's really about thinking on your feet and finding ways to connect with people. Their interests are the only thing they will connect with. You need to tap into that.
There is extensive scientific evidence that all humans on earth have descended from common human ancestors who migrated out of Africa about 50,000 years ago and have populated the entire planet.
Do you think that American high school and college students who truly understand the implications of “all human genes are African” and “all humans are cousins”, might support this non-partisan, biological rationale for racial equality, civility, and harmony as a winning argument to counter supporters of identity politics and collectivism?
If you're a student leader with YAL and you're curious about student leadership opportunities through FEE, pop over to my AMA! https://community.fee.org/topic/i-m-tricia-beck-peter-head-of-fee-s-campus-ambassador-program-ask-me-anything-friday-december-22nd-12-4pm/#e9224b85-84ec-4cb4-a6f1-a8510122c69c