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The Counter-Counterculture 

Ah, to be young and Republican at Cal

Wednesday, May 12 2004
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Page 3 of 6

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."

About The Author

Bernice Yeung

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