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The Counter-Counterculture 

Ah, to be young and Republican at Cal

Wednesday, May 12 2004

Page 5 of 6

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.

About The Author

Bernice Yeung


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