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The Battle Over Free Speech

CPAC 2013: Failing the Next Generation

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

2013’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) claimed to be focused on the next generation, but the speaker lineup said otherwise.

I had an absolute blast networking at CPAC 2013. I met awesome young conservatives who were fired up and ready to fight in the name of freedom. We talked, exchanged information, shared new ideas, and debated the differences of opinion within the tent of conservatism. It was constructive, productive, and exactly what needed to be said after November’s big loss. Unfortunately though, barely anyone heard these new ideas, because young conservatives were not given the podium to let their voices be heard.

CPAC’s focus this year was, “America’s Future: The Next Generation of Conservatives.” I was initially thrilled when I heard this news. I couldn’t wait to get to the conference and hear some of my favorite young conservatives, along with major conservative icons, talk about solutions for the problems that face this country. But when the final CPAC schedule was released, I was sorely disappointed. Instead of focusing on the next generation’s prominent leaders, CPAC invited the same speakers we’ve all heard too many times. There was no new blood.

Popular and talented young conservatives like Katie Pavlich, Steven Crowder, Charlie Kirk, Francesca Chambers, Bethany Bowra, Katie Thompson, Brittney Morret, and Amy Lutz were used only as emcees for the event. They introduced speakers who should have been introducing them. They are bold leaders in the conservative movement, and it was shameful that CPAC did not give them prime speaking slots. And other movers and shakers of the future, like Brandon Morse of Misfit Politics, weren’t even invited to participate. Instead, CPAC invited stale Jeb Bush and Newt Gingrich. Bethany Bowra, creator of Next Generation Voters, weighed in, saying, “While a lot was said at CPAC about the youth, very seldom were we actually given the opportunity to represent ourselves on the stage… Engage the young people and your principles will be carried on for generations to come.” Benji Backer, a 15 year old conservative, also said, “Young conservatives are going to be the leaders of the movement someday. It is time to recognize the young conservatives of America.”

Another facet to CPAC’s next generation fail was the fact that majority of the parties at CPAC were designed for conservatives 21 and over, even the supposed “Young Conservative” events. Attendees who did not fall into this age group, were left out in the cold to do their own thing. Emily Baxter, writer for College Patriot, said, “The next generation is 30 and under, not in their 40s and 50s. CPAC sure got this idea backwards. After all, what’s the use of having a party for under 40 folks when you have to be 21 to go?”

No one is denying that the next generation has much to learn. But adults also have much to learn from the next generation. When there is a panel put on to discuss youth outreach, there needs to be youth on the panel. A healthy dialogue between the ages of conservatives is vital. If the conservative movement wants to reach the youth, they need to ask the youth how to do it. Because without igniting the passion of young conservatives, there will be no future for the conservative movement. Michelle Godbold, a college student who attended CPAC, said, “The conference would have been a lot more vibrant and entertaining had speakers such as Steven Crowder, Katie Pavlich and Francesca Chambers been allowed to have prime speaking slots. CPAC is dominated by the 18-25 age group, so in the future, the younger generation should be highlighted.”

Embracing the next generation is vital to the future. Instead of talking about standing up for the future, it’s time that the conservatives stand with the future. Or else, CPAC, and the rest of the movement, will sink fast into irrelevancy.

PS: Playing One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” when speakers walk out is not “youthful.” It’s weird.

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