Abigail (Abby) Alger is the Director of Digital Communications for the Leadership Institute. I spoke to her at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC.
This is Part 1 of a two-part interview.
LH: You graduated from Duke. Were you involved in political activism at Duke?
AA: This is a shameful confession: I really wasn’t. I came to Duke afraid to admit that I was a conservative. And so I interned off-campus for a free-market think tank, the John Locke Foundation, which works in state and local politics. I worked in the Research Department, and learned a lot about analyzing local and state government policy. They also had a fantastic student reading group. So they had us read a bunch of texts on economics, and I finally understood economics, really, for the first time, after several years of “real” education.
AA: I was accidentally “outed” as a conservative Republican right before my senior year in college when a blog I’d written while interning for the David All Group got picked up by a local newspaper, which mentioned I was a Duke student, which Duke Public Relations picked up, which they then forwarded out to the Public Policy Department where I was a student.
AA: The Duke reaction was really interesting. Where they were never actually friendly toward my policy views, they were very friendly to me as a representative of being conservative afterward. I got invited to these different events for trustees of the Public Policy school, because several of the trustees were conservative. So they could trot me out and say “Hey, here’s one of your people. She thinks like you. (The other nine students are liberal.) But hey, here’s one of yours! Just one, just one, but she’s here and she’s alive. We haven’t killed her yet.” So I became more active that year, and volunteered for a local campaign, which is how I got my first job.
LH: How long have you been out of school?
AA: I graduated in May, 2009, so 2 ½, almost 3 years. I took over online communication for the Leadership Institute in January, 2011.
LH: One of the things that’s near and dear to my heart is the get out the vote effort. The Leadership Institute offers classes on a full range of skill levels. For someone just getting active in politics — a tea partier, or conservative who has discovered the online conservative community, but they don’t really have any training — what is the most important thing for them to do?
AA: Yeah, that is really a question, because so many people in the Tea Party movement especially are people who have never been involved in politics. And politics is more than figuring out the issues and who stands where. It’s about organizing and mobilizing people, and making things happen. Which is more of a science than it is an art, which I think is the perception anyway.
AA: I think the most important thing 1) get your ducks in a row as to what you believe and why, and why you’re motivated and what you care about, and number 2) is to learn how to win, which is what LI has always taught. In the long run, the side that wins in politics is not always the side that’s right, it’s the side that’s better organized, and has the best-equipped activists and leaders. And we need to be that side. The left has that in droves. They have an activist training army, really, where they will feed you up through the ranks, unions, other left-wing organizations, and that’s something that we are still building an infrastructure for.
AA: And so it’s to get training, whether that means you do the research on your own, through the Leadership institute we do training all across the country. We’ll bring training out to people if you have a large enough group. We also do training online.
LH: It’s not really expensive either, is it?
AA: No. Not at all.
LH: So what would you charge for say a group of 30 people?
AA Well I’m not giving a quote, but generally we look for a group of 30-40 people, and we generally have the group charge a small registration fee, because we’re just trying to offset some of the costs we have in sending out staff and speakers, and providing all the training materials. But generally speaking it’s pretty affordable and on top of that it’s a great fundraiser for your group.
LH: Are you for-profit or not-for-profit?
AA: We’re non-profit. We’re a 501(c)3, so we’re non-partisan. We’re conservative. We’ve been around since 1979, funded predominately through lots of conservatives who care about these issues and think it’s important to train up the next generation of conservative leaders.
AA: I think a lot of the battle is taking place on America’s college campuses. Because when you’re 18 you’re still trying to figure out what you believe about politics and frankly about life. So parents ship their kids off to different universities, thinking they’ll be better rounded, better educated, entertain them with stories of historical battles or engage them with philosophy at the dinner table and they’ll be so proud of their offspring and how much they’ve achieved.
AA: But really it’s a hostile environment for conservative students. You’re told that your values are wrong. You’re told that the way you see the world is wrong. You’re told that the way you see politics is wrong. And it’s not just wrong, it makes you a Bad Person. So it’s this sort of siege mentality that I think is very, very difficult to explain unless you’ve been through it.
AA: It sounds dramatic. It sounds like it can’t possibly be true, but it is. It’s terrifying. Some of the stories – the few stories we’ve published that have made national news represent tens of thousands of stories that remain untold.
- A director of a multicultural center accused a Leadership Institute field rep of passing out materials for a white supremacist group. He was passing out copies of the Constitution.
- We had an LSU professor who told students blood would be on their hands if they didn’t support his global warming policies, and then conduct a class exercise in which they had to determine the probability that they themselves would die in a horrible way because of their political positions, and the probability their children would die in horrible ways because of their political positions.
You just get these crazy stories, and they happen — daily.
AA: So it’s so important to not only have organizations reach out to college students, but to have conservatives of all ages reach out to students. Talk to people about politics. Talk to young people about politics and get them thinking about it, and get them to just see new ways of thinking. Because on campus it’s monolithically liberal, and if you’re just around people who think only way you not only think it’s the only way you think it’s the only right way. So when you meet conservatives, it’s just the smart way.