Photograph by Sophia Rodriguez-Bell
Berkeley stands as a point of overall political homogeneity in the political landscape of America. The division and polarization can leave Americans feeling that discussing politics dooms interlocutors to a bitter fight, instead of a civil debate, where no one learns anything about the other’s way of thinking. The political homogeneity of Berkeley can make residents believe that no one disagrees with their points of view in a meaningful way, and as such dismiss discussing politics as superfluous.
Of the three main founders of the club two describe themselves as right-wingers: Ava Remler and Vice President Emmet Hegarty. Owen Purcell, a libertarian, is the club’s president. However, most members of Liberty Club who spoke with the Jacket stressed the political diversity of the club, pointing to vocal liberals who agree with Berkeley orthodoxy.
On March 2 and 9, Berkeley High School’s (BHS) Liberty Club assembled for its weekly discussion. Club members agreed on the suggestion of debating attitudes and solutions regarding homelessness in Berkeley on March 9 and immigration on March 11. Both times, it felt civil. No one waged an ad hominem attack or shouted someone down which seems increasingly rare in any heated American political discussion. Tomas Rico, the moderator of each meeting, called on patiently raised hands to chime in. Only one person briefly suffered a passionate outburst, followed by an apology. Club members usually try to come to some kind of consensus on the issue at hand by the end of the meeting, though everyone accepts some level of disagreement as well.
Before one meeting kicked off, Alex Angell, the club’s staff sponsor, addressed the newcomers and press to describe Liberty Club as a safe space for students, including conservative ones, to express controversial political beliefs. All of the clubs founders agreed with him that students need a space open to alternative views, as well as Sean Hoffman, self-described as a socially liberal would not describe the club as “politically incorrect,” He explained that “a lot of people judge us just because we’re in the club,” referring to the club’s reputation as “Republican club.” “Not everyone has the same opinions and we want to share them,” Hoffman said.
Remler felt that the club appeals not just to conservatives, but to other students who “have opinions which aren’t commonly heard” at BHS, such as communists, and expressed the belief that even the “moderate left” lacks representation at BHS.
She started Liberty Club because she found that “talking to [her] friends or talking to [her] fellow classmates [about political issues] was virtually impossible, since no one generally was willing to conceive of a different viewpoint.” She said that because of the “hostile” response she receives after expressing a political view not commonly held in Berkeley, she has “never really felt comfortable sharing her thoughts on … politics.” Purcell hopes that Liberty Club can foster better understanding of others’ views.
Rico explained that he “[is] a very liberal, hippy-dippy guy, and it’s very hard for [him] to sit in that room and just remain as unbiased as [he] can” because “this club is so that people can speak their views, and … using logic, you can figure out what kind of people end up in this club and feel persecuted in Berkeley,” possibly referring to those who expressed approval of Trump’s travel ban on people from predominantly Muslim countries as well as other policies he has pursued.
“I do believe a discussion is the best way to convince someone, because they’ll lead themselves to their own endpoint but with other people’s input that they might not have even noticed before,” said Rico. He cited a student who changed his mind at a meeting: “I believe this club helped that kid reach a conclusion that was more logical on his own.”
Liberty Club’s numbers have swelled since its establishment and the spring club fair.
“Is it successful in that it has attracted a critical amount of students? Yes. Has it attracted students with a variety of … political perspectives who are willing to listen patiently and respond politely in constructive discussion? Yes … Has anyone gotten offended or hurt? No,” Angell said.