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After most staffers have left the Russell Senate building for the day, one group of people hangs around to work on matters a little less legislative: counting ums.
The Liberty Toastmasters club meets two Mondays a month to improve their public speaking skills, and they're just one of more than 120,000 Toastmasters International clubs around the world. Ralph Smedly founded the first club in California in the 1920s, and the organization now has branches in more than 115 countries.
Aaron Fitzgerald, president of the Liberty Toastmasters club, says that its members are from all different professions and mindsets, but most of them do have one thing in common: they're libertarians.
And just like any other Toastmasters club, Liberty Toastmasters follows the same basic structure.
The designated toastmaster of the evening calls the meeting to order, and evaluators, grammarians, and um counters all offer to play critic.
This is all standard procedure for any Toastmasters International chapter. But at Liberty Toastmasters, members have a platform to advocate for libertarian efforts and libertarian ideals.
Libertarians need effective public speakers
Romina Boccia works at a D.C. think tank that requires her to articulate why social security forms are needed. But she also believes she can use toastmasters to push the libertarian movement forward.
"I think that having more articulate speakers will help make the case for free market and economic freedom policies," Boccia says. "And if more people are able to talk about these ideas more persuasively, hopefully we can convince people to rely more on the community than the government."
Dan Whitfield, one of the founders of Liberty Toastmasters, believes that libertarians are at a disadvantage in the political sphere.
"Those who believe in free markets and free minds, we have a difficult, difficult task in front of us. Because those who believe in statism, they can dangle government jobs in people's eyes," he says. "We don't have that. So ours is a much more difficult job of conveying the ideas of freedom to people."
Whitfield believes that public speaking is about empowerment, which is essential to any movement.
"It means conveying ideas. It means empowering both yourself and also the audience," he says. "Even the greatest monsters in history were able to commit their crimes in no small part in their ability to dress up their evil ideology through a good speech."
Meeting in the Russell Senate Building: 'Liberty's in short supply'
When I asked Fitzgerald, the president of Liberty Toastmasters, why they meet in a senate building, he said a former member happened to be a hill staffer. And that staffer's boss happened to be a US senator, who granted them permission to hold their meetings in room 385 of Russell.
But Whitfield thinks the symbolism might be worth noting. "Liberty's in short supply in Washington these days," he says. "We're just sticking a tiny flag in the ground to say that we who believe in liberty, we few have not been forgotten."
And at the end of the meeting, little else is forgotten, as every um, er, and pop of gum is noted. But overall, the evaluators offer constructive criticism, a firm handshake and a round of applause.
[Music: "ABC" by Vitamin String Quartet from VSQ Performs the Hits of Michael Jackson]
Photos: Liberty Toastmasters