Six decades ago on Sept. 11, 1960, the crafting of the Sharon Statement at William F. Buckley Jr.’s Connecticut estate created one of the conservative movement’s most influential and consequential organizations — Young Americans for Freedom.
As many YAF activists over the last 60 years can attest, one of the most important yet underappreciated gifts provided to those getting involved in Young Americans for Freedom is leadership development.
Sure, we had our economic and political literacy and expertise enhanced through exposure to the greatest minds in conservative thought, but most of us also became better speakers and debaters, thanks to YAF.
After all, if we could persuade or cajole volunteers to accomplish tasks, we could probably reach achievements later on in the “real” world from those relying on us for their livelihoods. For me, the single most successful and life-changing YAF efforts were in “Youth in Politics.”
Much has been written and spoken about the Youth for Goldwater efforts in 1964 and the national Youth for Reagan campaigns in 1976 and 1980. Both featured active YAFers and alumni in their leadership. We know about these two campaigns because they were national and provided invaluable lessons in youth organizing and achievement.
1970’s Youth for Buckley (YFB) campaign, like the 1966 Youth for Reagan for Governor effort, has been written about, but because these were “only” statewide, there are many conservatives, young and old, in 2020, who are unaware of these successful and exciting campaigns.
The YAF provided the leadership for Youth for Jim Buckley in 1970, and what an amazing campaign effort on which to cut one’s teeth in politics.
Of course, we had the irreplaceable asset of Jim Buckley, a principled, thoroughly decent, brilliant, thoughtful and witty candidate. The New Left and even central-casting liberals were charging ahead in 1970, primarily using opposition to the Vietnam War as an organizing wedge to attract college students and other young people to their cause.
Yet Jim Buckley was (and is, at age 97) a conservative who appealed to countless thousands of young New Yorkers. On the Vietnam issue, Jim Buckley favored victory, and appealed to youth with his advocacy for a volunteer military. Thinking students and youth received his low-tax, anti-bureaucracy, limited government philosophy enthusiastically.
University presidents, presuming their young charges to be reliably liberal or left, came up with the “Princeton Plan,” as a way to channel youthful energy into political campaigns. Participating universities cancelled classes for three weeks in autumn so students could campaign for candidates of their choice.
What liberal college administrators did not visualize, however, was thousands of pro-Buckley students seizing on their sudden free time to campaign for their hero. There is no doubt in my mind that the Princeton Plan yielded much more Youth for Buckley activity than for Democrat Richard Ottinger and incumbent liberal Republican U.S. Sen. Charles Goodell. The Buckley kids may have outnumbered both opponents’ young volunteers, combined.
Youth for Buckley enabled YAF to make first contact with hundreds of young conservative leaders across New York. The campaign also gave YAF members around the state the opportunity to develop as leaders, including me. Another YAF leader who grew in stature during Youth for Buckley was someone who would go on to be one of our movement’s most consequential leaders — Ron Robinson. In Buffalo and Western New York, Ron not only led and energized our Jim Buckley campaign, his efforts were critical to electing Jack Kemp to Congress, 52%-48%.
Other YAFers who took on increasing responsibility during Youth for Buckley (in no particular order) became an influential Catholic priest in the Washington Archdiocese; the president of Virginia’s James Madison Institute; the future NYC-area chief for what it is now the “ICE” agency; a prospective executive with NASDAQ and then a managing director of the New York Stock Exchange; the founder of the Second Amendment Foundation; a few future New York State senators and an assemblyman; legislators to-be in Arizona; and a future TV anchor and a radio talk show host to-be.
We achieved the primary point of all this energy by electing, amazingly, Conservative Jim Buckley to the U.S. Senate, and we developed all those leaders mentioned earlier, and more. Some are still achieving their apexes of influence just now, in 2020.
But the reason I cited “Youth in Politics” as the highest-impact activity of my YAF career is because we were able to capitalize on all that pro-Buckley enthusiasm by following up with each and every Youth for Buckley club after the election.
It only made sense, we said, for them to continue their commitment to conservative principles by forming a chapter of Young Americans for Freedom. In most instances, they did just that.
On Election Day 1970, New York State YAF was already the largest state organization in the country, with 59 active YAF chapters. But with Ron, myself and others following up with our young Buckley comrades, we had 121 YAF chapters chartered across the state of New York by June 1971.
To date, that was the highest chapter level ever attained in any state in the 60-year history of Young Americans for Freedom. I am certainly proud that I was New York State chairman when this pinnacle was achieved, but I share that summit with Ron Docksai, Ron Robinson, Jim Minarik and scores of other YAF leaders who helped to organize and charter so many new chapters so quickly.
Just as in the Youth for Buckley days, YAF chapters are still heralded as outposts for freedom, carrying the torch lit in 1960 for the next generation. Today’s YAFers are tomorrow’s leaders in government, business, law and the media.
Let us raise a glass on this 60th anniversary of Young Americans for Freedom to all the leaders and accomplishments YAF has earned thus far, and toast to the rising generation of YAFers. And as Ron Robinson heads in to his home stretch as president of Young America’s Foundation, let us also salute Ron Robinson for all his achievements on behalf of conservatism, most conspicuously the purchase and preservation of the Reagan Ranch for posterity.
• Herbert W. Stupp was an NYC commissioner appointed by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
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