Election Day is upon us! Voters from many walks of life and from both sides of the aisle have the opportunity to cast ballots in favor of the candidates they wish to see on the November ballot. But that’s just the visible tip of the iceberg. More importantly, primary elections mark the biannual day when the citizens of our democracy can and must voice the powerful message that the status quo is not static.
Entering into the primary election, Californians are split between two camps, both ideologically and functionally: Democrat voters, who feel that tomorrow is the critical determinant of (potentially) the next president, and Republican voters, who for many years have felt neglected and irrelevant in this state and for whom the presidential nominee is already decided. It is both possible and probable that many Republicans stayed home, as their votes mean little-to-nothing in the crowded-out U.S. Senate field and absolutely nothing in the presidential race.
But this lack of engagement and excitement in the democracy of our nation’s most populous state is sickening. I could not disagree more with any fellow Republican’s decision to self-select out of participating in this — or any — election.
Here in Berkeley, Republicans exist in the shadows or appear only in gossip about “the crazies” or the “other side.” As a 22-year-old female Republican UC Berkeley student, I am consistently trivialized for my beliefs, dismissed and marginalized by my own communities — students, women, young people, Bay Area residents. On campus, my beliefs are fodder for mockery by both professors and students alike, and, rather than engage in debate with me, I am instead dismissed without any inquiry into the validity of my positions.
As the Republican candidate for state Assembly in a district with about 7 percent GOP registration, I am routinely ignored and cast to the side as naive, immature or irrelevant. But my like-minded peers — grassroots activists, philosophers, writers, students — and I are none of those things. We are motivated, and we refuse to be silenced.
What do I, the Berkeley College Republican, have in common with Maya Dillard Smith, the Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union interim director who resigned from her position this past week? We are both bucking the status quo. We are both asking questions that seem to find no answers. We are both looking more closely at the situation and challenging the agenda of authority. We both dare to be different.
Smith justified her decision by explaining that the ACLU allowed little room for dialogue and discussion over controversial issues. Interestingly, the ACLU claims to champion civil liberties — but in practice, it truly only protects those of its chosen groups, and fails to consider all perspectives on its initiatives. This discourse-stifling environment is quite reminiscent of Bay Area politics.
In Berkeley, we make a lot of assumptions about our peers. We assume they drive hybrids or at least want to; call themselves environmentalists, feminists and, more recently, socialists; donated to President Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign; support dramatic minimum wage increases and sugary-drink taxes; and are registered Democrats who are passionate about their beliefs.
These assumptions are appropriate because, by and large, they are the norm. And as a staunch advocate of the First Amendment (and all amendments), I support this! Smaller regions have a right to self-determine, and individuals should flock to communities that represent them.
But what progressives here and all over the country have failed to realize is that they no longer represent progress, and they no longer fight the machine — they are the machine.
Though today’s liberals fancy themselves a tribute to the anti-establishment revolutionaries of 50 years ago, they’re actually the antithesis of such radical thought. The visionaries who started the Free Speech Movement (props to 1960s Berzerkeley, the campaign’s birthplace) were battling the authority of professors, administrators and government officials, who sought to limit their political ideals and prevent organized discourse and uprising. These liberals — liberal in the truest sense of promoting openness — fought for their right to question and debate the popular, renowned memes spread by those with societal stature.
Fast-forward to 2016 and the “Left” is the system. In Democrat-saturated regions such as the SF Bay Area, individuals of the popular mindset appear to believe they’ve reached a critical mass of enlightenment and no longer need to question their own beliefs or the very powers that serve as their sources of information. They laud the uniform agenda propagated by education, the media and the government as revolutionary and progressive but fail to recognize or acknowledge that their “forward thinking” is just spoon-fed rhetoric coming straight from The Man.
The very fabric of a functioning democracy is debate and discourse, and for our nation and society to continually progress, we must constantly question — question ourselves, our peers, our leaders. In towns like Berkeley, the Republican voters are made out to be irrelevant and discouraged from voicing or even revealing their opinions. But it’s the Republicans that are the ones that matter. The Democrats across California who toe the party line solidify the status quo, but the valiant Republicans, especially those in the deepest-blue districts, are the fighters.
Uniformity of opinion is a common characteristic of oppressive and authoritarian regimes, and in order to battle this, we must constantly speak our minds as the minority. A Democrat in Berkeley is like a tree falling in the forest: No one hears anything new. But a Republican in California is what a feisty college protester was in 1964 — a disruption in a culture of white noise.
Claire Chiara is a student at UC Berkeley, a candidate in the state Assembly District 15 election and a former news reporter at The Daily Californian.