Students for Libertarian 2016, the 9th annual international Students for Liberty, felt a bit smaller than the 8th, which had nearly 2,000 attendees from every inhabited continent.
Held, like last year’s conference, at the Wardman Park Hotel in Woodley Park between the National Zoo and downtown Washington, D.C., there seemed to be fewer students from African and Asian chapters than in 2015, though eastern European and Latin American chapters were well represented, and activists and chapters and events from Latin America were nominated for and won many awards.
Friday night began with an excursion for gay libertarians to a local gay disco, a panel on the election with columnist George Will and reason magazine editors Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie, as well as an interview with a founder of the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot, who wore a Bernie Sanders T-shirt and asked the attendees to support Bernie Sanders.
The Koch brothers partially funded the conference, donating $100,000 toward its budget. So in a way, besides Charles Koch’s recent op ed on how Bernie Sanders is right that the system is rigged, ISFLC16 represented a kind of donation from the Kochs to the Bernie Sanders’ campaign.
The pro-Bernie theme continued during the annual taping of a John Stossel show at ISFLC. Stossel’s show (to air this coming Friday) will be much more lackluster than usual, with 5 segments, with a mainly female guest list, most discussing the campaign including Sanders. One, Jerry Taylor of the not-so-popular, “liberaltarian” Niskanen Institute, will be promoted in teasers as a libertarian endorsing Bernie (there is such a person, Terry Michaels, a former DNC spokesperson and contributor to reason). But Taylor really argued that libertarians should give up being principled and should become advocates of an expanded welfare state combined with a reduced regulatory state, like northern European countries that now outrank the U.S. on the various indices of economic freedom. In another segment the glamorous Emily Eakin (PhD) discusses poling results, millennial voters, and Sanders.
Overall ISFLC was somewhat muted. Besides Will, the major dinner speaker was P.J. O’Rourke. Other speakers included imprisoned internet entrepreneur Ross Ulbricht’s mom Lynn, NSA whistle blower Thomas Drake, Vermin Supreme, and the Prince of Lichtenstein. (Previous year’s speakers or Stossel guests included Mexican President Vincente FOX, shock jock Ann Coulter, civil liberties martyr Edward Snowden, and film maker Oliver Stone.)