The Counter-Counterculture

Ah, to be young and Republican at Cal

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."


Amaury Gallais is a board member of the Berkeley 
College Republicans and managing editor of the club's 
magazine, the California Patriot.
James Sanders
Amaury Gallais is a board member of the Berkeley College Republicans and managing editor of the club's magazine, the California Patriot.
It's hard to be young and Republican at UC Berkeley, 
say Andrea Irvin, Ashley Rudmann, and Jen Kolin, but 
Adam Borelli of the California Young Democrats (far 
right) says the Berkeley College Republicans 
overdramatize their plight.
James Sanders
It's hard to be young and Republican at UC Berkeley, say Andrea Irvin, Ashley Rudmann, and Jen Kolin, but Adam Borelli of the California Young Democrats (far right) says the Berkeley College Republicans overdramatize their plight.

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.

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