By Cecilia Cervantes in DC

Like many before me, my “How I Found Liberty” story begins with a book.
In the 9th grade, I read Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neal Hurston, and it changed my life. The book challenged me to think about what it meant to be a property owner, a worker, and a free woman.

A story about self-discovery, the novel captures the growth of a woman from a unique, vibrant, and yet, voiceless, girl into an independent individual with her “finger on the trigger” of her own future. Through this novel, Hurston inspired conversations about racism, identity politics, sexism, property rights, the dignity of work, and even the challenges of democratic rule. The novel’s main character, Janie, pushes beyond the established structures of thought, shattering stereotypes across the board. Hurston succinctly showed me what it means to be human; to be independent and to be free. To me, that meant metaphysical freedom and, especially, the freedom to grow.

With this book as a foundation, I set forth to find a university experience that would challenge my rather conservative views about the world. With a few Ayn Rand books and the 2008 election under my belt, I set forth to move to the most progressive city I could think of, Portland, Oregon, to attend the University of Portland. There, I was challenged by philosophers, political theorists, and theologians. I encountered a faculty member that noted my keen interest in ideas and, specifically, classical liberal thought. A low-key libertarian himself, he shared his passion for these ideas by recommending books and introducing me to thinkers that I had never heard of.

Fast forward many years and many books later, and I am actually now working at the organization, the Institute for Humane Studies, that introduced this faculty member to libertarianism, and working on the programs and with the thinkers and faculty that changed his life. Part of my choosing a career in ideas is the element of intellectual growth that libertarian principles espouses; community, critical thinking, intellectual humility, and open inquiry.

To me, liberty means responsibility. It means being a responsible, virtuous individual when no one is looking and without coercion. It means making the right choices because they are right, and not out of political convenience or force. It means respecting the human dignity of the individual to experience perpetual growth through making their own decisions and taking responsibility for their decisions.

That’s why I am proud to be a member of the Ladies of Liberty Alliance and even run my local chapter. Empowered by a deep care for the ideas of freedom, I am working toward a society where women can find their voice and be free. I want women like Janie to grow from being full of life but overlooked, to becoming an intellectual powerhouse. That’s what LOLA does. LOLA equips women with the community and tools to achieve their potential and grow in their field. LOLA helps me and many, many other women share the responsibility of empowering each other to change ourselves and change the world.

No government. No politics. No coercion. Just free women and free minds.