By Mike Cunningham
Growing up in Southeastern Indiana, you learn a few of life’s most important lessons. A strong community and loving parents passed on to me the values of hard work, individual responsibility, respect, and the desire to lead. More importantly, they instilled in me the strong conservative ideals that celebrate freedom and the very morals bestowed upon me. But, as I went on to college at Purdue University, I quickly found out that I needed to stand up for my beliefs.
During the first couple years of school, I joined the conservative club on campus; one of the most influential groups with active membership. But after the election of President Obama, the wheels came off. It seemed that everyone had lost hope in the fight for conservatism. As a result, interest in the club plummeted, so much so that in the summer going in to my junior year I received a call from the chairman, letting me know that he was stepping down. At that point, I was left with an ultimatum- take over, or the club would cease to exist. I reluctantly took the job, not knowing where to start, until I attended Young America’s Foundation’s National Conservative Student Conference.
The National Conservative Student Conference was truly where I got my start in the Conservative Movement. During the five-day conference, I was motivated by some of the greatest conservative leaders including Bay Buchanan, Herman Cain, and Jason Mattera. Their courageous speeches of standing up for conservatism even when it seems unpopular gave me the confidence to take a stand. I was also given The Campus Conservative Battleplan with ideas of how to effectively combat the Left on campus. I was ready to start rebuilding conservatism at Purdue.
After my experience with YAF and NCSC, it was my intention to rigorously overhaul the old model of conservatism and the view that most people have about it. For too long, the Left has portrayed conservatism as being too boring, too silly, too evil, and too un-cool. In reality, conservatives represent what my generation yearns for- independence, a sense of self, and helping others by helping them help themselves. With all of this in mind, our club decided to change the face of conservatism at Purdue; we vowed to be the alternative voice in the classroom and to speak against the liberal university machine.
Through the Foundation we held the 9/11: Never Forget Project, No More Che Day, and Freedom week. As I became more comfortable in my leadership role as a conservative activist, I began to speak out in class, pointing out the bias of my liberal professors. As you may know, trying to present a more balanced view point in a place where leftists lie, pun intended, is never welcomed. By advancing what Ronald Reagan called the “battle of ideas,” I was shouted down by my instructor. In one instance, my instructor cursed the “evil” free market capitalists commonly known as the “Robber Barons.” But, thanks to Foundation speaker Burt Folsom, and his book The Myth of the Robber Barons I was ready to refute his statements using factual information. When my instructor couldn’t prove me wrong he called me a racist, sexist, and classist because in his view that is what free market conservatives are.
I took those comments to heart and shared them with my fellow activists. We set lofty goals and tackled tough subjects that many on campus felt strongly about. We held panels and film discussion on the ills of America’s education system, hosting Bob Bowdon, the director of The Cartel. We stood up against the anti-Israeli bias at Purdue thanks to Foundation speaker, David Horowitz. But perhaps our greatest accomplishment was hosting Herman Cain through YAF. For Herman Cain, we were able to bring in over 220 people from around campus and the state of Indiana.
Our level of activism invigorated the Conservative Movement around Purdue and the community like never before. Conservatives young and old offered support and encouragement, while the leftists tried hard to demean our efforts, a true testament to our success.
The Foundation has given a small town kid like me many wonderful opportunities in the Conservative Movement in less than a year’s time. I have visited Ronald Reagan’s cherished Ranch, delivered a speech at CPAC, and I have been able to spend time with great conservative activists like David Horowitz, Ann Mcelhinney, and Andrew Breitbart at the Foundation’s Club 100 Retreat.
Now, I have the privilege of working with the Foundation as a Sarah T. Hermann Intern Scholar. It will be a great honor to pass on to the emerging student activists, the fire and passion that I have for the conservatism. The Conservative Movement truly starts with Young America’s Foundation and I am excited to help lead the way.
Mike Cunningham is a Sarah T. Hermann Intern Scholar with Young America's Foundation.