The American people sent a message to Washington, D.C., two weeks ago, and more than 200 participants descended on Santa Barbara, California from November 12 to 13 to learn how to send the same message to their professors and the Obama administration. Young America’s Foundation hosted their annual West Coast Leadership Conference at the Reagan Ranch Center, as student activists chose to immerse themselves in the Conservative Movement. It’s no secret that America’s colleges and universities are bastions of liberal thought, and this conference educated the attendees on conservative principles and offered innovative ways they can share these ideas with their peers.
Energized students from 17 states listened to speeches and panels on a variety of topics from the rise of the Tea Party to job creation and the triumph of freedom. Just as the students were motivated by the words of the speakers, the speakers were motivated by the presence of the students.
“I have never been more optimistic about that future than when I come here and see the folks that you are bringing up through the ranks,” declared Congressman Tom McClintock of California’s fourth congressional district. “The American Founders worried a great deal about a generation that might someday simply neglect to pass on the principles of the American founding to the next. They knew it only took one, to fail to pass on those principles. In fact, writing to John Adams late in life, Jefferson was surveying their life’s work and said this: “‘Yes we did create a near perfect union, but will they keep it? Or will they in the enjoyment of plenty lose the memory of freedom?’ The Young America’s Foundation has delivered this generation’s proud reply, ‘Not on our watch!’”
The array of speakers echoed Congressman McClintock’s optimism and outlook. The line-up included Utah’s conservative Senator-elect, Mike Lee, who appears to be an incredible asset to the Movement, author, talk-radio host and President Reagan’s son Michael Reagan; long-time conservative activist and author of A Generation Awakes, Dr. Wayne Thorburn; talk-radio host Mark Larson; Chairman of the California GOP Ron Nehring; former vice-chairman and consultant Jon Fleischman; strategist and analyst Arnie Steinberg; former Reagan official and GOPAC chairman Frank Donatelli; chief speechwriter to President George W. Bush, author, and Foundation alumnus Marc Thiessen; professor of entrepreneurial finance Dr. David Newton; president and CEO of CKE Restaurants, Inc. (which owns Carl’s Jr. and Hardees) Andy Puzder; and commentator, author, and actor, Ben Stein.
Not only did the students hear from the Conservative Movement’s leaders, but they also shared their own stories with their peers. Following Saturday’s lunch at the Reagan Ranch, five student panelists shared their experiences and what it takes to be an effective activist on a college campus.
Many students, including activist Ben Afshar, felt tremendously motivated after hearing from the student panel. “Listening to their experiences as activists really inspires you to do more on your own campus,” he said. “Everyone will leave here invigorated and determined to continue the spread of conservative values.”
The weekend concluded with a visit to President Reagan’s beloved Rancho de Cielo. The Reagan Ranch is a testament to the extraordinary work of a humble man. Ben Stein put it best when he said, “This house is history; it is an incredible honor just to be near it. It’s not an empire. It’s not the Forbidden City. It’s not Buckingham Palace. It’s just the home of an idea far more majestic than any of the ideas that came from those places—that man, under God, is in charge of his own destiny.”
That idea is very dear to conference attendee Konstantin Drabkin. A senior at Cornell University, NROTC cadet, and future naval aviator, Drabkin was born in the Soviet Union to a family whose living conditions were horrid but whose spirits could not be crushed. They sacrificed everything to come to the United States in pursuit of those three things that the Obama administration often seems to forget: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
“Seeing the home of my hero, the man who made it possible for my family to escape the Soviet Union was beyond an incredible experience,” Drabkin noted.
The opportunity to walk in Reagan’s footsteps and hear from those who knew him well, however, was not simply about idolization—but about motivation. The American people sent a clear message to Washington a few weeks ago in a referendum against big government, and Drabkin, along with the other participants attended the West Coast Leadership Conference to harness that energy to keep fighting the important battle for freedom.
There’s certainly something to be said about the young people that take a stand for freedom and aim to expose the spirit-breaking socialist policies of this administration. They are in a constant struggle on their campuses to defend the ideas of limited government, free enterprise, and American exceptionalism. Senator-elect Mike Lee from Utah sees promise in them.
“It’s one of the things I love about this organization, Young America’s Foundation. It really points to the youth of our country as perhaps our greatest strength,” said Lee. “The country itself is only a couple of centuries old, and still full of youthful idealism—the sort of youthful idealism that, I believe, will return us to greatness. It’s not going to be easy, but we’ll get there.”