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The Counter-Counterculture 

Ah, to be young and Republican at Cal

Wednesday, May 12 2004
Andrea Irvin's college bedroom is at once a suburban schoolgirl mecca and a shrine to the Republican Party. The UC Berkeley junior, who studies business and economics, has affixed a neat row of bumper stickers to her door ("Viva Bush!" reads one), and on the peach-colored walls has hung a Breakfast at Tiffany's poster near a Bush-Cheney '04 campaign sign. On a dresser laden with cosmetics rests a picture taken at a political fund-raiser in which Irvin stands next to Bush's former press secretary, Ari Fleisher, whom she "likes a lot." The room smells faintly of perfume. It is also the unofficial headquarters of the Berkeley College Republicans, of which Irvin is the president.

Irvin's twin bed often goes unmade, but it's from this corner perch that one of the most unabashedly conservative students at the notoriously liberal Cal dreams up club events, runs board meetings, and makes phone calls to local Republican campaigns to advance an agenda that will surely, if sometimes unintentionally, rankle most of her peers.

Though only 21, Irvin exudes a cool confidence, in part cultivated through defending her unpopular political positions on a campus best known for nurturing the free speech movement and anti-war protests. She runs the club in the same self-assured manner -- sometimes to the point of inspiring fear within the membership. Irvin says she has no desire to hold public office, yet she exhibits an innate political savvy; in her sure, careful way, she knows how to tug on the heartstrings of potential donors and unify a club that's not monolithic in its views.

She's a die-hard Republican -- entirely conservative on fiscal issues and a little bit libertarian on social ones -- and publisher of BCR's glossy magazine, the California Patriot, known for lambasting Democrats, hippies, and the homeless. (The most recent issue features a story on the "personality disorder" of presidential candidate John Kerry.) But she's sensitive to the wide swath of conservatism the organization represents, and rarely declares her political positions publicly in order to keep the disparate group cohesive.

"We don't talk about abortion in our club," Irvin explains. "We have differences of opinion on gay marriage. People are really passionate, and we can have competing ideas, but I try to stay neutral.

"If you're conservative but pro-choice, we're not going to say that you're not a Republican. We're in a left-leaning state, and you can't alienate people on one issue. ... The success we've had here at Berkeley -- we were named the best chapter in the country last year -- is because we have a unified front. We don't let petty issues get in the way."

For Irvin, power comes in numbers, and the club is thriving. In recent years, thanks to her predecessors, it has grown from five to approximately 550 members, with about 30 very active participants. As one of the larger political organizations on the UC Berkeley campus (it's on a par with the Cal Democrats), BCR has won the respect of local and national Republican politicians, who say they're impressed with the professionalism of its members and their ability to work from within the "belly of the beast."

The Berkeley club comprises a right-leaning but motley crew of jocks, nerds, sorority girls, immigrants, and loners, though there's a noticeable contrarian streak to all of them. If the unflappable Andrea Irvin is the polished, people-savvy strategist, then sophomore Amaury Gallais, for example, is the spirited, in-your-face activist.

Gallais, who like Irvin has taken on a number of leadership roles within the organization, is a political bulldog, a steadfast, unapologetic conservative and devotee of George W. Bush. Deeply religious and both fiscally and socially conservative, the French-born 19-year-old will wander through Cal's Sproul Plaza looking to launch a debate with apparent lefties on hot-button issues (currently, creationism is one of his pet topics). Or he'll pin Bush-Cheney '04 buttons to his backpack and roam the campus; if he gets a rise out of someone, so much the better.

Irvin and Gallais don't reside at the same place along the Republican spectrum, and they've adopted vastly different survival strategies, but in one respect they're in agreement. Like everyone else in the club I spoke with, both Irvin and Gallais insist that their school presents an extra challenge beyond the typical college trials. UC Berkeley professors, they say, are biased toward the left, and many of their peers have knee-jerk reactions to their ideas. In extreme cases, they claim, they or their friends have been spit on and their views shouted down.

"There's a fight that might not be taking place on other campuses, because it's Berkeley," says Gallais. "It's just outrageously liberal at every level. So we definitely have a different kind of fight. In every case, you're the minority."

It's high noon on a spring afternoon at UC Berkeley, and Amaury Gallais stands in the shadow of Sather Gate, the landmark arch that separates the main part of the campus from Sproul Plaza, ground zero of lefty politics. It's a few days before the student body elections at Cal, and Gallais is running for a senate position within the student government as a representative for the Berkeley College Republicans (he'll find out if he wins this summer). In his hands the bespectacled student carries a stack of fliers in which he pledges to "build the foundation of excellence -- a legacy of competency."

Nearby, some of Gallais' BCR friends hand out the latest issue of the California Patriot, of which Gallais is the managing editor. The magazine has endorsed him for the election, and the student -- who usually favors jeans paired with either a Ralph Lauren polo or shirts emblazoned with the UC Berkeley logo -- is pictured on the back cover in a dark suit, smiling broadly. (Gallais is also known for sporting colorful socks featuring French cartoons.)

Students stream past, and he waits patiently. He's looking for familiar faces in the throng of passers-by, forgoing big signs and flashy campaign paraphernalia for the more personal approach. He's being selective, he says, because students are tired of receiving so much election literature. Quite wisely, he's chosen to address only the select set that he knows will be sympathetic to his Christian Republicanism.

Several minutes pass without a single flier leaving Gallais' hands. "I guess I'm not very popular," he jokes.

During his two years at UC Berkeley, Gallais has earned a reputation as one of the campus' most determined defenders of conservative politics. In addition to his roles within BCR and on the Patriot's editorial staff, he has also served as the Bay Area region vice chairman for the California College Republicans, a statewide organization. As such, he may be one of the most reviled -- or at least the most baffling -- figures at the school.

Being a vocal conservative on a campus that is among the most politically charged in the country, the school itself surrounded by a vibrant ultraliberal community, has proven challenging for some of Gallais' Republican buddies. But Gallais thrives on it. He's fueled by a passionate belief in the party's ideology and a sincere admiration for George W. Bush (he has a cardboard cutout of the president in his rented room at a frat house, and his friends joke that he has a "man crush"). Whenever the unrelenting liberalism of UC Berkeley wears on him, he says, he is fortified by his faith in God (he's an Evangelical Christian) and his love for this country (he'd like to become a naturalized citizen and join the military, not necessarily in that order).

"I really like having my views challenged," he explains. "I always enjoy debating whoever is on Sproul, either them giving me a hard time or me giving them a hard time. ... When we hold controversial activities ... in my opinion it's a lot of fun. Because you get people aware of an issue -- they get really mad! -- but the debate that goes on is very interesting and I enjoy them. You yell at me; I yell at them. It's awesome."

Born in Saint-Nom-la-Bretèche, a scenic suburb of Paris, Gallais moved with his parents and sister to St. Lambert, Canada, when he was about 10. After four years there, they all moved back to France briefly before relocating to the North Bay in 2000. In every town it was the same: current events and international politics discussed at the dinner table every night.

Gallais landed in California as a junior in high school. He was immediately swept up by the excitement of American politics, as the country prepared for the presidential election. He watched all of the debates with his father, who identifies as an independent. Together they weighed and dissected the issues, and though Gallais had considered himself a Democrat, Bush eventually won him over.

"When I came here, to me Clinton was the greatest president and the Republican Party was this evil machine," Gallais says.

But the second debate between the candidates changed everything. "I thought Bush won that debate; he did an outstanding job, and I really identified myself with what he had to say," Gallais says. "First, it was Bush himself. He's a man I really admire: his charisma, his personality, the fact that he really seemed a genuine candidate, not a politician. And his economic policies -- ever since I can remember, I've been outraged by the concept of welfare. Especially in France and Canada, welfare is very important. You have people who spend their entire life on welfare, and I just couldn't comprehend. I watched my dad leaving insanely early in the morning and coming home late at night, working his ass off, and his money was going to other people. That perspective was the first one to make me change."

Though he had switched to the Republican Party by the time he graduated from high school, Gallais insists that the decision to attend UC Berkeley was a no-brainer. "It has such a prestigious image abroad," he says. "I knew about the hippie movement, but I didn't know it would be such a liberal school."

Yet here he is, watching a group of Socialists sign up new members at a table nearby while he searches for someone -- anyone -- who'll be receptive to his campaign literature. After standing in the same position near Sather Gate for about an hour, Gallais decides to relocate and stops to talk to Carrie Holt, who's been distributing the California Patriot nearby.

"Some people say nasty things [as we pass out the magazine]," she reports. "Like, 'Sorry, I don't read fiction.' You just smile and nod, because if you let them think that they got to you, then they've won."

She shrugs. "It's Berkeley," she goes on, "and it's amazing how people who are supposedly open-minded are so closed-minded. ... [W]hen it comes to opposition, they don't want to hear it."

Gallais, meanwhile, continues to scan the people walking toward him in search of a friendly face. The morning had been uneventful -- no shouting or spitting this day -- and his eyes eventually land on a woman reading as she walks. As she nears the gate, the cover of her book comes into plain view: It's American Dynasty by Kevin Phillips (which bears the subtitle "Aristocracy, Fortune, and the Politics of Deceit in the House of Bush").

Gallais shakes his head and mutters, "What a Berkeley book to read."

On a recent Thursday afternoon, Andrea Irvin finds herself in the private room of a strip mall restaurant in Lafayette for the monthly luncheon of the local chapter of the California Federation of Republican Women. Irvin, her blond hair carefully styled and her lips shiny with gloss, is the guest speaker.

When she's not in a professional setting, Irvin opts for jeans and stylish tops, but for this occasion she has dressed in a more subdued manner, tucking a fitted button-up shirt into black slacks. She has barely arrived when Jacquie Cloidt, vice president of the Orinda chapter, begins to whisk her from one cluster of people to the next. The attendees -- primarily ladies with white hair in Nancy Reagan-inspired styles -- seem delighted to meet the young conservative leader, and cluck sympathetically when they hear she's a student at Cal.

Irvin smiles gamely and fields a torrent of questions about Berkeley life, a number of them related to the perceived "liberal bias" in the classroom. In one circle of women about 40 years her senior, she presses palms and offers endearing remarks.

"Isn't she just darling?" the women say among themselves after she moves on to another group.

After a buffet lunch of pasta and potato salad preceded by a prayer, the group stands for the Pledge of Allegiance. Irvin, at the front of the room, holds her hand to her heart and gazes at the flag that the organization has placed in a corner.

"Our speaker today is one of the bravest young women we know," the federation president says. "Not only does she face her contemporaries, but also a faculty noted for its liberalism. ... Please welcome Andrea Irvin!"

Irvin strides to the podium amid hearty applause. Though she says she's uncomfortable with public speaking, she's a natural on the stump, and she quickly wins over the audience with her conversational yet bold delivery.

"There's definitely a group on campus that takes [politics] too seriously," she says at one point. "Those are the people who, when we're on campus passing out the [California Patriot], will purposely bump into us. I've been spit on, and so has another girl in the club. Things like that are inappropriate reactions."

Audience members "tsk-tsk" and shake their heads.

After about 25 minutes, Irvin closes her speech by highlighting the power of young people at the ballot box. "The College Republicans ... do make a difference, because those people that are 18 to 25 are forming their political opinions, like, today. Those are the people who will be voting for the next 20 years. The goal of our organization [is] to make people feel that being politically active as a Republican is a worthwhile experience."

Then, without hesitation, she launches into a pitch for money.

"The point is," Irvin says, after informing the crowd that she needs to raise $35,000 a year to keep the publication going, "[the California Patriot] is the best magazine on campus. For every person who spits on me, there's actually a person who wants to take it. And the more people who want it means there are more people accepting what we do."

Skillful as she is at giving speeches on Republican life at Cal, Irvin, who hails from a middle-class Southern California suburb, hasn't always been conservative. Like Amaury Gallais, she dabbled in liberalism -- because of peer pressure, she now says -- and even defended the activities of the ACLU during political discussions with her conservative father, a registered Republican. But in high school she discovered Ayn Rand novels while researching a term paper on Frank Lloyd Wright (Rand's The Fountainhead is based on an architect similar to Wright). She was struck by Rand's message of individual power and personal responsibility, and began adopting more libertarian views. For Irvin, Rand's ideas were emphasized by real-life examples: Her twice-divorced single mother, who raised three children on her own (Irvin's parents split up when she was about 2), never complained as she worked long hours at an insurance company so that her children could grow up comfortably. As Irvin's views developed in college, she became an unabashed cheerleader for competition and capitalism.

It has taken time to build up that confidence. As a freshman, Irvin (like everyone else) was primarily concerned with making friends and fitting in, and during one of her first political conversations in the dorms, she realized how alienating her perspective could be.

"I said, 'Why don't the wealthy deserve to keep the money they earn?' [A friend] said I have no sympathy, that I was mean, and [asked], 'Where is your humanity?' Then she started crying. I realized, 'Well, this is not a place where there's going to be a reasoned discussion.' Then you get scared to lose your friends if you talk politics. So then you get disillusioned and angry and you're filled with self-doubt. At first, I thought, 'Maybe I'm wrong about all this stuff.' But once I got comfortable with the idea that not everyone is going to agree with me, it made it easier.

"It's hard to feel like you're up against everyone else," she concedes. "That's why the club is so good. It's a place where people can go. We don't all agree, but we don't hold it against someone. It's shelter from the storm."

At Berkeley Irvin has shifted steadily to the right, a phenomenon many club members say they've experienced. "I became conservative," she says. "It was very gradual, which grew the more I saw what was happening in Berkeley." Yet she didn't become politically active until she attended a candlelight vigil on campus after the attacks of Sept. 11.

"[T]hey got to the open mike session and it started getting really awful," she explains. "People were saying, 'This is what happens when we're such a bad country: People want to blow us up.' I had been crying all day, and now I was getting mad. Maybe you can have this discussion later, but not now -- all these people had just died. To me, I just lost respect for a lot of people that day. People are passionate here, but they're naive and immature with the way they handle their passion.

"I went to the Berkeley College Republicans meeting that Thursday. What I was looking for at that vigil, I found at BCR. It was a real outlet for the appropriate reaction for what had happened."

Still, she's proud to be a student at Cal, a school she chose because she fell in love with the campus, its architecture, and the collegiate feel of the town.

Irvin is just as proud of her leadership role in BCR, which she frequently refers to as "my club," perhaps an unconscious reflection of her tireless work on the organization's behalf. She even has nightmares about the group and its activities. (In one, a banquet she's been organizing for the club bombs because she forgot to line up speakers.)

Her obsessive dedication is exacerbated by her round-the-clock BCR lifestyle. Irvin lives in a house on Chilton Way, not far off the famous alternative playground of Telegraph Avenue, with Jen Kolin and Ashley Rudmann, two of her closest friends, who also happen to be the club's vice presidents for internal and external activities, respectively.

The house looks like most college digs: a stolen street sign propped up near the fireplace (inherited from the club's previous leadership, who also used to live there), a beat-up couch, a clean but dingy kitchen. But it's clear that this is Republican territory -- a Bush-Cheney sticker greets visitors near the front door, and titles by conservative pundits like the Hoover Institution's Dinesh D'Souza and the Fox News Channel's Sean Hannity are crammed into a tall bookcase. The young women regularly conduct club business from "Chilton House," as they call it. They paint posters for their "Support Our Troops" rallies on the living room floor, watch election returns on the giant TV in the common room, and hold meetings for the club's board of directors every Sunday in Irvin's bedroom.

In fact, there seem to be few boundaries between Irvin's social life and her political one. Kolin might take a seat on Irvin's bed for a heart-to-heart, for example, but it'll often digress into a discussion about BCR business. Irvin's idea of downtime is to schedule an hour a week to watch The West Wing with her roommates.

"West Wing is my favorite show ever," she gushes. "Maybe it's because I'm a Republican going to Cal, but I love watching shows I disagree with now. My roommates and I sit and watch, and we scream at the TV: 'No, that's not how it is!'"

By the time Andrea Irvin and Amaury Gallais arrived at Cal, the Berkeley College Republicans were already experiencing a revival. In 1999, only a few years before they joined the organization, the group had consisted of five members who got together every week for an anti-Berkeley bitch session.

"If you've seen Fight Club -- the beginning, where this guy goes to support groups, and he becomes addicted to support groups? -- [BCR meetings were] a lot like that," says Rob McFadden, a 2003 Cal graduate and the man largely responsible for increasing the membership to more than 500. "It was a group of tired, haggard, forlorn people sitting around at 1970s desks with armrests, with fliers in the background from the Green Party, talking about how bad life was on this campus. But they were an impotent group. Their hearts were in the right place, but they just didn't do anything about it.

"We were really motivated by the lack of voice we had on campus, in the student newspaper, on Sproul Plaza, and in our classrooms," McFadden continues. "All of us were frustrated. A lot of people were feeling that the left on our campus was totally out of control, that they were monopolizing the political thought, and that there was no alternative."

A series of controversial events helped the struggling group gain notoriety, and its membership exploded. Sept. 11 was one. Like Irvin, McFadden and his friend Kelso Barnett, founder of the California Patriot, were so horrified by the angry, anti-government sentiment vocalized at the candlelight vigil that during the open mike portion, the twosome joined the Cal Democrats president to lead everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance.

"People came up and said, 'Thank you,'" recalls McFadden, who is now the executive director of the California College Republicans. "After that, membership started to grow. People saw us not just as the Republican National Committee who likes to bicker over taxes, but as people who actively stood up for our country and the principles this country stands for."

More publicity followed. In early 2002, boxes of the Patriot -- which featured a scathing critique of MECHa, a progressive Latino organization that promotes "Chicana/o nationalism" at Cal -- were stolen from the club's offices before they could be distributed. BCR leaders publicly blamed the theft on MECHa and painted the organization as a "government-funded hate group." (The university said it could not find enough evidence to file charges against the club.) It was an ugly episode, but it got the College Republicans more attention.

Later that same year, Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates admitted to trashing more than 1,000 copies of the Patriot when the magazine endorsed his opponent, former Mayor Shirley Dean. Then there was the February 2003 "Affirmative Action Bake Sale" -- during which members sold cookies at different prices according to the race of the buyer -- which took place simultaneously on a number of campuses across the country. Cal's event, however, sparked a vigorous protest from the liberals at the university, and as a result BCR garnered a great deal of national press on such outlets as the Fox News Channel.

McFadden and others in the club, including Irvin and Gallais, have been skillful at using such confrontations to preach tolerance, frequently adopting language that has historically been associated with liberal causes. "You'd never think that this kind of thing would happen on a college campus," McFadden told the conservative Web site Accuracy in Academia in response to the MECHa incident. "Colleges are supposed to be a place where a free exchange of ideas takes place."

Though the BCR leaders will acknowledge that the club has done inflammatory things, there's always a logic to it, they say.

"I helped organize the 'Affirmative Action Bake Sale' because no one was hearing the other side of the debate," Irvin said recently at a speech to a local Republican group. "So we had the bake sale, and we passed out literature on why we felt affirmative action was wrong. Nobody wanted to take it. One girl came up to me and she started calling me all these awful names. I said, 'Look, why don't you read this flier and then come back and tell me what you disagree with.' And they don't. They don't want to read. They just want to yell."

Irvin's and Gallais' dramatic representations of the Republican experience at Cal do not go uncontested; some of their liberal compatriots think the club adopts too much of a victim ideology. "They like to say they're the 'oppressed minority,' but that's really not the case," says Adam Borelli, a Berkeley sophomore and a national representative for the California Young Democrats. "It helps recruit people. They get more funding for it from the Republicans -- all they have to do is write a letter saying, 'We're Republicans in Berkeley. Can you help us out?'"

Every weekday morning, a member of the Berkeley College Republicans takes the elevator to the organization's tiny third-floor office (which BCR shares with two other campus groups) and gathers a folding table, stools, a box of California Patriots, a club banner, and a roll of Bush-Cheney '04 stickers. Using a dolly decorated with Bush-Cheney re-election posters, the student wheels the haul to a high-traffic location on Sproul Plaza and sets up alongside a number of other campus associations.

On Fridays Amaury Gallais mans the BCR table, hoping that passing liberals will challenge him to a debate. As a freshman he got so engrossed in discussions about American foreign policy and affirmative action that he'd skip classes to spar with strangers. But his enthusiasm for these confrontations had a negative effect on his grades, and this year, he says, he's more conscientious about attending his classes.

In addition, these debates would initially escalate into all-out shouting matches, but since he "got saved" about a year ago, Gallais says, he's learned to be more open-minded about other people's positions.

On a recent blazing-hot Friday, he's eager to flex his rhetoric skills. Gallais has just rushed to the BCR table directly from his job at the library, where he listens to Rush Limbaugh online during his three-hour shift. He'd recently come across a press release produced by the conservative Pacific Research Institute that claimed the environment had improved and liberals were being too alarmist on the issue.

"Bring me an environmentalist!" Gallais cries as he wanders down the aisle of tables in search of a worthy opponent. He passes a cluster of church groups, ethnic student associations, a gay rights group, and an animal rights group, but none strikes his fancy. Back at the BCR table he joins Alisa Farenzena, a freshman from San Francisco.

He waits for a "crazy Socialist" to approach, but most of the table's visitors are BCR members greeting him on their way to class, plus a handful of students and local residents asking for copies of the Patriot.

Finally, a trio of quintessential Berkeley types -- an assemblage of long hair, tie-dyed shirts, and peasant blouses -- wanders by and, noticing the club's banner, pauses in front of Gallais to make pained faces at one another. Gallais readies himself.

"Are you Republicans?" he asks sweetly.

"No, we don't vote," says the youngest of the group. The young man fishes a hemp wallet from his baggy jeans and pulls out a red scrap of paper bearing a large "W" with a slash through it, presumably referring to George W. Bush. He tells Gallais, "We took a pledge not to vote."

"If you like living in a democracy and you enjoy your freedom, that's the stupidest thing you can do," Gallais counters.

The three shrug and walk away wordlessly.

Clearly disappointed, Gallais watches them disappear down a set of stairs. He continues his rant to no one in particular: "It's OK to be wrong on the political issues, but it's not OK to not vote!"

On a rainy Sunday evening in April, Andrea Irvin has settled onto her bed with a notebook and her cell phone. She listens to Reba McIntyre songs on cable TV as she waits for the rest of the club's board of directors to arrive.

On top of her TV set, which she passes every morning on her way to the closet, is a picture of herself with George W. Bush, taken last summer after she volunteered at a campaign fund-raiser in Southern California. The president is flanked by nearly a dozen students, but Irvin stands right next to him, his hand resting loosely on her shoulder. "I fought for that little spot right there," she told me during my first visit to the house, pointing to the picture. "You see how my foot is kinda at a weird angle? I stepped on his foot! I didn't say anything; I hope he didn't notice."

There's a banging on the front door. It's Gallais and the club's secretary, Rhianna Bauer, who stomp up the stairs and shake off the rain. Gallais takes a seat on the floral couch next to Jen Kolin, who has come into the room and stationed herself there with a laptop; Bauer positions herself at the foot of Irvin's bed. Ashley Rudmann joins the group last, pulling a chair from Kolin's room on her way in. The students chatter like old friends, but after a few minutes, Irvin cuts in to begin the meeting.

"I just wanted to remind you that [club] elections are coming up [on April 29], so those of you looking to run again ...." She leaves the sentence hanging.

The board members launch into a discussion of the positions that need to be filled, and Irvin declares that she will run for a second term as president. (She won handily.) The other board members cheer -- and then tease Irvin for making some volunteers "scared that you'll yell at them."

They assess the pros and cons of various candidates being considered for leadership positions. All but Gallais, who is more reserved in this discussion, speak in dramatic, gossipy tones.

Rudmann describes one candidate: "He was totally a freak at the debate."

Irvin interjects. "My freshman year he was, like, yelling at me, saying, 'Your dad buys you everything.' I'm like, 'Uh, single mom, thank you very much.' So anyway, I don't like him."

She runs the meeting casually, and though there's a fair amount of banter, it's clear Irvin is in charge. The group briefly visits other topics, such as the upcoming End of the Year Banquet that Irvin and Kolin have been organizing (John Herrington, a secretary of energy under Ronald Reagan, will be the keynote speaker). But soon it's back on the topic of fresh blood for the board.

"Maybe I expect too much from the people I appoint," Irvin says. "It's not just telling them to do this; you have to hold their hand through the entire process, and it's actually more time-consuming. And that's what happened this year. So even when people were told what to do and they had training, they messed it up and we had to go back and fix it, or they gave up entirely and said, 'You do it.'"

"So what does that mean for the future of BCR?" Bauer asks.

"Exactly. That's the question," Gallais replies.

"Like Andrea said, we need to get younger people on the board," Bauer continues. "If we don't, in positions that are important, then we're all going to graduate and BCR is going to drop. They're probably going to go back to having, like, 10 members."

Eventually, someone tosses out the name of a sophomore, a dedicated California Patriot staff member.

"Now I know why he doesn't do Patriot distribution anymore," Kolin says. "Because somebody hit him one time."

The group gasps.

Kolin rises from the coach to re-enact the incident, charging aggressively toward Rudmann and pretending to shove an imaginary person. "He rammed right into him," she says.

This comment unleashes a flood of Patriot distribution war stories.

"I love how guys who are really bigger than you, and you're a girl and you're passing out the Patriot, and they somehow slam you, and you're like, 'Wow, that was mature,'" Rudmann says.

"It happened to me," Irvin reveals. "There was this guy with a bike, and he was walking with his bike but his elbows were out, and he ran into my back, and I had to take a step to keep my balance, and then I looked at him, and he kinda smirked at me and walked on, and I was like, 'Jerk.'"

"If we were as bad as the liberal groups at this school, then we'd go into [student body] senate chambers and say, 'The hate on this campus must stop because our members get hit and we're just standing there!'" Rudmann says in a mocking tone. "'Cause that's what they do."

The meeting has become something of a throwback to 1999, when the club was primarily a forum for bitching about Berkeley. Except that these members are no longer "impotent," but emboldened: They know they have a sizable, undaunted club to back them up.

Gallais smiles wryly at the stories of confrontation and feigns a horrified look. "'Oh, no,'" he says, "'the Republicans!'"

About The Author

Bernice Yeung


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