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"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."
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 Wingwith 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.