Something New is 'Blowing in the Wind' at University of California

A campus uprising in Berkeley? Student demonstrators swarming all over Sproul Plaza? Placards waved and slogans shouted?

No, this is not a flashback to 1964, to Mario Savio and the Free Speech movement, when Berkley was the epicenter of far-left campus radicalism. It is what happened April 26, as the College Republicans (CRs) at the University of California at Berkley staged demonstrations in favor of President Bush and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In an event that topped local newscasts and made the front page of the Los Angeles Times, more than 200 CRs marched to People’s Park-home to many an anti-Vietnam War rally-waving American flags and chanting, "Bush! Bush! Bush!"

As the Times put it, the march "represented a political drift to the right at California’s pioneer state university." U.C. Berkley CR President Dave Galich told me that with more than 500 active members, the Young Republicans are now the largest registered student club on that campus.

"We are growing because lots of college students look to the organization as a better place to interact and meet people who are going to listen to them," said Galich, a senior Business Administration major from Huntington Beach, Calif.

Admitting that he was "not very politically active when I came to Berkley," Galich recalled how, in dinners with classmates while a freshman, "I felt the atmosphere of intolerance that was the legacy of the Free Speech movement and the ’60’s. If you said, say, you were a Republican or you liked George W. Bush, you were called a racist and not even listened to."

Other signs of left-wing intolerance at Berkeley, Galich said, included "people who ran a sign-up table for the College Republicans were yelled at or even spat on, and conservative speakers such as author and social commentator David Horowitz being booed or shouted down when they came to lecture." But in the past four years these reactions have subsided, said Galich, and "a more congenial atmosphere for conservatives has been created."

He attributes this change to over-reaching protests against Bush and the war on terrorism ("seeing picket signs after 9/11 turned off quite a few people") and to the determination of CRs, who revel in defending unpopular beliefs and in their role as a minority battling the establishment. Much as Savio and other kingpins of the campus left zinged college administrators in the 1960’s, the Berkley CRs regularly roast Chancellor Robert Berdahl in their magazine California Patriot.

"Give War a Chance" and "Bomb France" were among the placards brandished at the CR march, which was held during the California College Republican convention hosted by the Berkeley CRs.

Interestingly, Galich and other Berkeley CRs do not condemn Savio or other long-forgotten leaders of the campus Left. In fact, Galich actually praises the Free Speech movement for showing that "younger people do have a lot of political power….There is a certain degree of virtue in the Free Speech movement of the 1960s, since it showed the adult world that it needs to listen to young people."

One Californian who saw the New Left first-hand as a campus conservative in the 1960s and takes particular pride in promoting the CRs is former California Republican Chairman Shawn Steel. "I never thought I would see this happening," said Steel. "When you have the CRs as the largest club in Berkeley and the last three student body presidents at Whittier College are CRs, you know the times, they are a’changing."