Conservative activism has completely changed our lives. It’s fostered unlikely friendships and conversations among high-school students from Parkland, Florida, college students from Berkeley, California, and young professionals working in Washington, D.C. The community we are developing has fostered formative conversations about the strengths and weaknesses of conservatism, helped us establish important mentoring relationships, and taught us critical life skills to become more effective activists in a world largely embracing the progressive agenda.
Fortunately, there are many young people eager to put in the effort to become better conservative advocates and activists. The three of us are often asked by other young people how to get involved in the conservative movement or advocate more effectively for a particular cause. Those conversations inspired this article. Here is our best advice for championing your positions and advancing the tenets of conservatism.
1. Get Educated.
Credentials matter, but credentials do not confer intelligence. Everyday is a series of choices and opportunities to learn more. Think of education like athletes think of training. Taking a day off means your opponent got a leg up on you, and with time mercilessly ticking away, every “cheat” day you take, your opponent grows stronger. Education is similar in that we need to crave more knowledge and learning.
In a world that rewards quick reactions and fake news over deep thought and considered debate, be a force for change by preparing a sturdy foundation for a more rounded worldview. Gain a wider perspective by breaking out of the ideological silos where so many Americans find themselves. If you arrive at a conclusion, be constantly asking whether you have considered the full scope of angles in approaching the issue. Where there are gaps, fill them with facts, data, expert opinions rather than prejudices, feelings, or lazy research.
2. Get Involved.
If you take issue with the undeniable liberal dominance of college campuses, the only way to change course is to get involved. Leadership positions in student government or non-political organizations provide an outlet to express your conservative ideals and tap into the droves of students who have conservative views but are silent for fear of being ostracized by their peers. From positions of leadership, these individuals can inspire others who share their values. Connecting with these leaders fosters community. From community, a movement can expand its influence.
Perhaps leadership is not in your arsenal; there are other ways to get involved. Reflect on your skillset, find your cause, and tailor your skillset to furthering that cause. The writer, the creative artist, or the event planner are often more vital than the head of the organization anyways.
The point is that your voice matters, and everyone involved in the movement has moments when we feel alone or unimportant to the greater movement; but if we don’t get involved, who will?
3. Find Mentors.
Mentorship is paramount to political growth. No one knows everything. But there is someone that has walked the path and they can help guide you through the tough places. Admitting ignorance is a strength, and in order to excel in any field, you must be able to reach out for assistance. Many conservatives are enthusiastic and willing to help out — all you have to do is ask.
Kyle is a great, recent example of the conservative mentoring community. After the Parkland school shooting, Kyle decided that action had to be taken to prevent future tragedies. He reached out through email and Twitter to leaders in Washington, as well as conservative pundits. Most responded to the call. Guy Benson outlined for Kyle many of the nuances in the gun debate after Kyle left his meeting with Senator Chuck Schumer confused about the current gun laws and loopholes. Weeks later, Kyle was slated to debate Piers Morgan. Ben Shapiro generously offered to help Kyle prepare; Ben walked Kyle through a mock debate and gave his perspective on several gun policy points. All Kyle had to do was ask for help.
Want to grow? Have the humility to ask for help and seek out strong individuals willing to teach
4. Principles Over People.
The conservative policy gains of President Trump will mean nothing if they are so closely tied to the President to be indistinguishable from him. Policy has to be separate from personalities. While prominent individuals can be effective vessels of conservative policies and ideals, the movement is bigger than all of them. If we believe in the movement, then we must hitch our wagon to the values that have defined conservatism since its birth. Limited government, personal responsibility, and individual freedom were in vogue long before Trumpism, the Reagan revolution, and the Lincoln origins of the GOP. It’s easy to be seduced by toxic celebrity worship rampant in pop-culture. The movement will continue long after we’re gone if we maintain our focus on ideas rather than the people currently leading the movement.
5. Don’t Debate Harder. Debate Smarter.
Successful activism requires debate (and, no, not the kind of “debate” on Twitter). Persuading your opponents is crucial, but far too often conservative activists are more into owning the libs than convincing them to switch teams. Facts might not care about your feelings, but feelings do play into how well someone will receive your facts.
Pick the right battles. It takes some savvy to differentiate between an argumentative opponent and someone genuinely curious about your beliefs. Labels and ad hominem attacks are a good indicator of a futile cause. Choose wisely.
Know your audience and customize your message. In a debate, active listening is important. Without understanding your audience, you can’t know what they care about. This allows an easier time drawing a line between what they care about and your activism. If they lack connection to the issue, you shouldn’t expect them to learn about an issue, let alone advocate for it.
Constantly prepare for game day. Learn your message, know the facts. Practice applying principles to new situations and re-calibrating when gaps in thinking arise. Despite what many want you to believe, we have more in common than we have things that drive us apart. Find things to agree on, and build on those mutually held values.
Young conservatives, take this advice. Get engaged, learn, practice, and join our movement. Effective, immediate activism is necessary because if we fail to advocate for these issues now, we will inherit a world that does not reflect our values. To reap the benefits tomorrow, skillful, thoughtful work is required today.