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The Counter-Counterculture 

Ah, to be young and Republican at Cal

Wednesday, May 12 2004

Page 4 of 6

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."

About The Author

Bernice Yeung


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