As the semester comes to a close, we decided it would be a good idea to shed some more light on the progress that Berkeley College Republicans, Berkeley Students for Life, and the new Students for Liberty chapter have made over the past three months.
Berkeley College Republicans
Spencer Doyle: How has BCR membership fared this semester?
Chris Odneal, Internal Vice President, Berkeley College Republicans: BCR membership is doing well this semester. Our events have been well-attended and our members are excited about what the club is doing on campus such as the memorial for 9/11 and our speaker event with Fox News’ Greg Gutfeld.
SD: What is your main concern going into the spring semester?
CO: As the gubernatorial primaries get closer during the spring semester, the goal is to get members excited about the Republican candidates. We have the most experienced and knowledgeable candidates in our field and with the current budget crisis in California, this is one of the most important gubernatorial races in years.
SD: What keeps you going? What are your main motivations as Internal Vice President?
CO: At its core, I still think the Republican Party is conservative and has the best solutions to offer our country. In California, we are fighting an uphill battle as we try to convince voters that our party’s policies are best for our state’s future, but it is still important that we are ready and willing to provide the answers when called. On campus, conservatives are definitely in the minority and I believe the club offers an outlet for students who don’t feel like they necessarily belong in the “radical” Berkeley atmosphere. As internal vice president, I am motivated by the passion I hear from every one of our members for the conservative cause. They are excited and vocal about the issues they see as crucial for our future as a nation and they motivate me to keep promoting the Republican Party on campus.
SD: How do you see BCR making an impact on campus in the future?
CO: In the immediate future, I think the greatest impact our club can make is educating Cal students about the upcoming gubernatorial election. California is in desperate need of leadership in Sacramento that offers real solutions to the problems facing our state. As the Democrats only have one candidate, I think our club and our party have a great opportunity to bring new students into the Republican fold with the wide range of candidates our party is offering California next year. With the ongoing disputes surrounding funding for public higher education in California, the stakes have never been higher in the upcoming election and student interest will probably be at one of its highest levels next year for a statewide race. The best way to attract these students is to convince them we have the best solutions for funding the public university systems.
SD: What do you believe is BCR’s role as a club?
CO: I think BCR’s main role on campus is to be a conservative voice among the noise that is Berkeley. I’ve found since coming to Cal that although students may lean to the left on a lot of issues, much of the student body is apathetic on political issues. I think we have the responsibility to answer students’ questions and also to question the reasons students hold the beliefs they do. We can do this through debating clubs on campus, bringing conservative speakers to campus, and also through engaging in discussion amongst ourselves and with students we meet on campus.
BCR meets Thursdays at 7PM in 24 Wheeler. You can view the website at http://berkeleygop.com
Berkeley Students for Life
SD: How has BSL membership fared this semester? I’ve noticed a few new faces in addition to more activity from members who were here last year. What do you think has contributed to BSL’s growth and relevance as a club on campus this semester?
Alberto Gonzalez, President, Berkeley Students for Life: A great part of our present success has to do with the recruiting we did in spring ’09. At that time, we reached out to many groups which were likely to have members that would be interested in our own group. (BCR was one of these groups. We also tried to reach out to the Cal Dems, hoping to find some Bart Stupaks among them. Unfortunately, all of our requests to speak to the group were left unanswered.) This recruitment method provided us with a small, but committed group of individuals who were willing to take on a leadership role for our group and propel forward. According to my recollection, this is the first time that BSL has ever had enough commitment to form a full executive board. This has been a goal of mine for quite some time; the fruitfulness of a group’s efforts is infinitely greater when more people are involved. This has been instrumental in our success this semester. It’s also true that we have a good number of new recruits, most of whom signed up at the beginning of the year at Calapalooza. They are all new students – one transfer, the rest freshmen.
SD: The GAP demonstration was perhaps the most striking of all the various clubs on campus this fall. How did that come about? Was BSL asked or did it volunteer? There was quite a lot of emphasis on Obama in that demonstration. How do you see Obama’s role in regards to your club’s efforts?
AG: Last semester, BSL co-hosted the California Students for Life Conference here at UC Berkeley. Gregg Cunningham, who is the Director of the Center for Bioethical Reform (which organizes GAP) was one of the speakers. He approached me after the conference and expressed his desire to bring GAP to Berkeley; it had almost happened about five years ago, but then it fell through. At that time, I had assured him that GAP would come to Berkeley the following year. I contacted him early on in fall ‘09. The Berkeley GAP exhibit was in fact the debut venue for CBR’s new Obama signs. Many will misconstrue the Obama signs as being outlandishly partisan, but such comments are unsubstantiated. The signs consist of a picture of Obama that has appeared in any of a variety of respected magazines/media sources in the US, accompanied by an Obama record statement and a picture of an aborted fetus. The Obama quotes are general statements that most people would agree with in principle. Unfortunately, those who have been tracking Obama’s abortion record can ascertain that Obama is undeniably the most virulent supporter of abortion to have ever occupied the White House. Everything that he says about caring for the least fortunate or of protecting our liberties or of creating a better future for America’s children are blatantly hypocritical so long as he remains an ardent abortion advocate. Obama is a master of rhetoric, and far too many people have been effectively duped by his well-crafted speeches. In fact, we’ve encountered many people who actually believe that Obama is pro-life! We hope that these images, which put Obama’s words next to the gritty truth of abortion, will make people see Obama for the hypocrite that he is. He is two different men when it comes to comparing his words with his deeds.
SD: What are some of your club’s priorities going into the spring semester? What have been your accomplishments this semester?
AG: Our basic priorities are a constant work in progress: we want to continue to grow as a group, and we want to continue to serve and educate the campus and local community, particularly by networking with off-campus pro-life groups and on-campus groups of many varieties. We also want to be an active component of California Students for Life, a coalition of pro-life student groups from around the state. This semester, we continued some successful practices from the past, but we have also managed to include many new activities. GAP, of course, was the most notable of these. We have also begun volunteering at a local pregnancy resource center. The Diaper Drive is a BSL staple, but it has been expanded to become a week-long, on-campus event this year. We have brought two film screenings to campus this semester: Maafa21 (abortion & genocide) and Lines that Divide (stem cell research). Both events attracted students who are not members of BSL, as well as people from various parts of the Bay Area. These events are essential to our outreach/networking efforts.
SD: Diaper drive, volunteering at pro-life clinics, praying outside abortion clinics, the GAP project, giving out free cupcakes on Sproul, these have been some of the more noticeable activities of your club and of any club I know of for that matter. How do you decide what to do and how to have the most impact for your causes? Who’s idea was it to have the free cupcakes? How effective do you believe these efforts have been?
AG: Our activities are planned in advance through the efforts of our executive board, which includes Jonathan Paul (Secretary), Andrew Lee (Treasurer), Katelyn Sills (Director of External Affairs) and me. We meet on a regular basis to brainstorm group activities, and how to best execute them. Of course, we’re always open to suggestions, and we have considered many ideas from some of our newest members. The free cupcakes, for instance, were suggested by Anne Morse, a freshman. The on-campus Diaper Drive is the brainchild of Katelyn and three new members: Anne (again), Lindsey Cook and Katherine Mullin. We have noticed that the buzz around our group has grown. We have gotten a great deal of on- and off-campus media coverage since last semester. I think that the campus has “rediscovered” BSL after a relatively quiet period. This process started last semester, but took off this semester. More people come by our table now; there is a genuine interest in what we do. One of the most rewarding experiences is meeting people who come up to us to express their support. Some people may feel timid when it comes to the matter of having to express their pro-life views in the midst of a largely indifferent campus environment, but our visible presence lets them know they’re not alone.
SD: What are some of your plans and goals for the next semester?
AG: We always start the spring semester with a bang: the Annual Walk for Life West Coast in San Francisco and our Annual Celebrate Life Week. These are held within the first two weeks of the new semester. We are currently planning the events for Celebrate Life Week, but they will include a noon rally on the Savio Steps, at least one speaker and a ribbon memorial on the Sproul Trees. In February, we will have a guest lecturer – Mary Meehan. We expect to be going to the Oakland abortion clinic for prayer vigils more often, as another 40 Days for Life campaign gets underway from February to March. Finally, in the spring, we will once again co-host the California Students for Life Conference. Currently, we’re hoping to have that event at UC Irvine. It would be the first time ever that the Conference is hosted in Southern California.
BSL meets Tuesdays at 7PM in 203 Wheeler. The Berkeley Students for Life has a website where you can find out more about their activities, who they are, and useful advice and resources should you ever find or know anyone who needs help at http://berkeley4life.org. All services and visits to the website are confidential.
Berkeley Students for Liberty
SD: How did Students for Liberty come about? I remember John Wyrwas held discussion groups last year. Did the club evolve from those?
Casey Given, President, Students for Liberty: Essentially, two specific things happened that stimulated the beginning of Students for Liberty. First, last semester, Ashok Krishna and I became friends. We discovered we were both libertarians and had vague idea about starting a libertarian club at Cal. Second, John Wyrwas told us he wanted to start a Young Americans for Liberty chapter at Cal. Although Ashok and I had a general idea for starting a club, we were not really planning on doing so until John told us his idea. With a graduate student at our side, we figured this would be a great opportunity to actually make our idea come to life. So, at the end of last semester, we officially became Students for Liberty.
SD: What are some of the motivations for having your club? Does it have anything to do with Obama being elected?
CG: The main motivation for starting our club was basically because there was no liberty oriented club on campus. When I first came to Cal, I was eager to find a club dedicated to promoting freedom. Instead, I found that all the political clubs on campus are lovers of government and want the state to manage their lives. The cofounders and I felt that Cal needed a voice that would promote the idea that the individual has the right to control his or her own life, not the government. Cal needed a voice to promote individualism, limited government, and freedom. So, we started the club.
SD: I’ve been told that writing a piece on conservative clubs on campus would be a mistake, since SFL wouldn’t consider itself one. Is this accurate? Specifically, I’ve been told that whereas Republicans and Democrats, conservatives, liberals, think of the ideological spectrum as a line from right to left, Students for Liberty see it in three-dimensions… Would you agree? How would you describe SFL’s ideological tendencies?
CG: I would agree that our club generally does not see itself on the two-dimensional line because that spectrum has a huge logical contradiction on it. Although conservatives claim to like “small government,” they promote large government on social issues. And vice versa with liberals. Although they claim to love “active government,” they essentially want complete freedom on social issues. This is a blatant contradiction. Our club tends to see itself on a three-dimensional spectrum that measures both economic and social issues. On that spectrum, we are on the top right. We consistently believe in freedom, both fiscally and socially. However, we do not have a collective position on issues. We have made it very clear from the beginning that Students for Liberty is a group of like-minded individuals, who think for themselves and can have dissenting opinions. So, there are quite a few different perspectives in our club, from constitutionalists to libertarians to anarchists. However, the basic tendency among club members is that we consistently believe in freedom, fiscally and socially.
SD: After attending the debate a few weeks ago between BCR and SFL, it seems to me SFL has become somewhat of a formidable rival to the College Republicans, if not just another politically-oriented club on campus with similar (or more) turnout. How many members does SFL have? How many more have joined since your first meeting? What do you think are the major factors contributing to the growth of your club?
CG: As far at the numbers in our club, we consistently have about twenty people show up to each meeting. Our speaker events can draw a few more. Our Facebook group has 62 members and our ListServe has over 100 emails. So, the club has been fairly successful for its first semester. I think the major factor that has caused people to join is apathy. Students are fed up with seeing politicians in Washington and Sacramento just make America’s situation worse. With endless war, continual bailouts, and government only growing and growing, students are beginning to see the failed policies of our government. Under these circumstances, our message of freedom for all sounds very appealing.
SD: You’ve had several speakers throughout your inaugural semester, more than BCR had, I believe. What is your club’s selection process for speakers and how has the turnout been for these events? I’ve read in recent emails that you have even more planned for next semester. Who will be speaking next semester?
CG: We have had three speakers this semester. Ashok happens to be well-connected in the Bay Area’s libertarian circle, so he was able to network with these individuals. And next semester, we already have more speakers planned (many of them fairly big names). Patri Friedman, Milton Friedman’s grandson, has expressed interest in speaking. Kevin Takanaga, the chairman of California’s Libertarian Party, wants to speak. And, most interestingly, John Dennis, the Republican candidate running against Nacy Pelosi in San Francisco’s congressional district, has contacted us about speaking (for that one we will probably get a joint event going with BCR).
SD: What would you like to do better? How do you see SFL improving in the near future? How do you see SFL’s role at Cal?
CG: As for improving, I would like to see Students for Liberty be more active with the campus community. Although we have a strong internal circle, I feel we need to get our message out more. So, we plan to have more events like speakers, debates, and possibly even a rally on Sproul. We want to get our message out there so everyone can hear it.
Students for Liberty meets Wednesdays at 7PM in 263 Dwinelle. You may find their website at http://studentsforliberty.webs.com.