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"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."
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.