Voices of Liberty have political ring

Program: Western Maryland College students invite a diverse group of speakers to campus for Liberty Week.

March 24, 2002|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

In a throwback to 1960s activists, a group of rabble-rousing Western Maryland College students wants to shake out the apathy of its generation so that it does not see life in America as a spectator sport.

It took Jeremy Keil and his six-member Students for Liberty most of his senior year at WMC to organize Liberty Week, which starts tomorrow and runs through Saturday.

Pooling $8,000 from the school, they secured Green Party star Ralph Nader, Carroll Republican Del. Carmen Amedori, Cato Institute senior fellow Doug Bandow, Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne and Carroll County Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge to come and speak - one every night this week.

"We wanted one person from each political party, so that everyone in the audience has one person who really resonates with them, someone who'll inspire them," said Keil.

The goal is to encourage both students and the community to become more active in social action and the political process.

Observers might notice one glaring omission: a Democrat. Keil said he tried in vain to get Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley and Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry. Keil said it was more important for him to book an elected official than a Democrat, which didn't sit well with one local Democrat.

"If they're going to have Republican elected officials, it's very important that they have both points of views represented, otherwise you're not offering anyone a real choice, and that's what liberty is all about," said Gregory Pecoraro, a Westminster city councilman.

Keil said he felt the efforts he made to secure a Democrat were adequate. No Democrat holds countywide office, although several of Carroll's towns have elected council members and mayors who are Democrats.

Keil, a physics major, said the road to Liberty Week began long ago in his strong sense of civic involvement.

"I've always been interested in politics," said Keil. As a high school student in Glen Burnie, he used to read his father's international relations textbooks for fun.

The 21-year-old is now an active Libertarian who espouses the belief that "as long as you're not violating the rights of others you should be able to live the life you want to live."

In November, at the National Conference for Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, Keil heard Nader speak about legalizing drugs, advocating treatment instead of incarceration. Keil went as the president of the WMC chapter of the group. He felt that Nader was just the person to send Liberty Week into high gear. Nader reduced his standard fee 90 percent to make this speech for $3,500.

When Nader speaks Saturday, Keil said, he will be plugging his new book, Crashing the Party, which addresses his role in the 2000 presidential election. He'll also talk about why a two-party system isn't the best for most people.

He's got a believer in Keil: "With only two parties," he said, "they tend to drift toward each other, like Pepsi and Coke - no one can tell the difference."

Bandow leads off the week tomorrow night with a talk about freedom and virtue.

On Tuesday, Amedori will discuss the politics of the minority as a Republican state delegate - Democrats hold the majority in the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates - and how she works to advance her beliefs and her constituents' concerns.

It's also a chance to get feedback from her constituents directly. As the mother of two college-age students, she said, "Oftentimes high school and college students feel neglected. I try to listen."

Though she may be in the minority in the General Assembly, she's comfortable in Carroll, which has more than 42,500 registered Republicans out of nearly 83,000 voters, according to the Carroll Board of Elections. Democrats have more than 30,000 registered voters. There are about 9,500 independents. The Libertarians are far behind with 300 registered voters.

Keil said Brown, the Libertarian, will speak about how freedom has eroded in our lifetime, and about the hope that present and future generations will bring it back.

Gouge, a Republican, will draw on her experience in Carroll politics and tell how residents can become more involved in local issues, said Keil.

"This is about broadening horizons," said college activities director Mitchell Alexander, who helped Keil with the contracts and logistics necessary to pull off the event. "If we're in higher education it's nice to try to expose students to alternative thoughts."

Another way Keil is trying to engage his peers is through what he calls "Operation Politically Homeless." Students will distribute "self-government compasses" - business card-size leaflets that provide a quick quiz as a way to determine political identity.

In turn, he'll connect the participants with local representatives of the political parties they seem to lean toward.

Liberty Week

Events will be at 8 p.m. and free unless otherwise stated:

Tomorrow: Doug Bandow at Decker Auditorium

Tuesday: Del. Carmen Amedori at McDaniel Lounge

Wednesday: Harry Browne at Alumni Hall

Thursday: Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge at McDaniel Lounge

Saturday: Charity concert featuring student groups, noon in the Forum ($5). Ralph Nader at 8 p.m., Alumni Hall

Information: www.libertyweek. org.

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