Berkeley needs a refresher on the First Amendment

Demonstrators sharing opposing views argue during a rally Thursday, April 27, 2017, in Berkeley, Calif. Demonstrators gathered near the University of California, Berkeley campus amid a strong police presence and rallied to show support for free speech and condemn the views of Ann Coulter and her supporters. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

By Kelsey Cooper

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“You went to BERKELEY? But how do you work in conservative politics?”

I have lost count of how many times I’ve been asked that question over the years. My answer is always the same: Berkeley taught me how to think for myself, defend my own views, and instilled in me the value of free speech.

For years, I have defended my alma mater. I sincerely assured those who thought “Berkeley” was a dirty, liberal word, that I never felt uncomfortable as a conservative on campus and I was always respected. I’d eagerly recount the almost overwhelming volume of opposing viewpoints and political activism as the key to my own civic engagement.

Without fail, I always stood up for Cal. I was proud to tell the world that Berkeley deserved the credit (along with the triple espressos from Free Speech Movement Café snuck into Main Stacks) for shaping me into the successful woman that I am today.

Sadly, that streak has been broken.

When I first read the news that campus officials were denying libertarian activists Young Americans for Liberty (YAL) status as a recognized organization, I was furious. According to reports, it’s because YAL is too similar to Cal Libertarians.

Denying YAL status as a recognized student organization is denying them the access afforded to other student groups. This means students in this group cannot reserve space, invite speakers, or access the pool of funds their tuition covers.

Given the high concentration of intelligent people on the Berkeley campus, I find it absolutely stunning that they cannot see the differences between these two groups, but had no problem distinguishing between Cal Berkeley Democrats and the Berkeley Progressive Student Association. I seriously considered personally calling university officials to explain.

I then realized I was giving them the benefit of the doubt in a scenario where they didn’t deserve even a modicum of leeway.

It takes two minutes to look up the objectives of each of the two organizations. Cal Libertarians is a more philosophically rooted group, focused on promoting the discussion and debate of libertarian ideas. The average student walking down Sproul Plaza would see their table and assume they are a group for libertarians or those who identify as members of the Libertarian Party, much like the Berkeley Democrats and Berkeley College Republicans are identified by their party’s name.

Young Americans for Liberty, however, is a much broader organization dedicated to engaging students in grassroots activism in support of pro-liberty ideas. YAL recruits and includes students from across the political spectrum. I would know that as I’ve interacted with them and many of their young volunteers in the past while working with conservative candidates.

Even if one were to conclude the groups’ political philosophies are similar, their missions are different. Per the Cal Libertarians Facebook page, they are “an independent group dedicated to teaching and analyzing the philosophy of libertarianism,” whereas YAL’s states they seek to “identify, educate, train, and mobilize youth activists” with a goal “to cast the leaders of tomorrow and reclaim the policies, candidates, and direction of our government.”

I could wax on poetic about the many differences between the organizations, but that would overshadow the fact that university bureaucrats have been allowed to pick and choose which viewpoints are allowed to be fully expressed and recognized on campus.

Irony at its finest, no? An organization founded on defending liberty and the Constitution is being denied their own constitutional freedoms by the bastion of the free speech movement.

If anything, this issue exemplifies why we need more organizations like Young Americans for Liberty on our college campuses, because apparently, the meaning of free speech has been lost even on those at Berkeley.

Here’s a quick refresher: “Freedom,” “liberty,” and “free speech” aren’t just buzz words or ideas that can be applied selectively. They are rights enshrined in the Constitution by our founding fathers. You don’t have to like what others have to say, you can even protest it, but you cannot censor it.

One day during the fall of my senior year, I watched as a large group of students staged a protest in response to a conservative group’s satirical bake sale on affirmative action. One might assume I was on the side of the conservative group given my political affiliations, however, I remember posting to social media a photo of the protest—hundreds of students lying down in the middle of Sproul Plaza—with the caption: “Gotta love free speech. Berkeley, you never cease to amaze me.”

I still love free speech as much as I did that day. And Berkeley, if you do too; if you want to continue to provide the most diverse, intellectually ripe atmosphere for the bold and bright women and men of tomorrow, then go re-read the damn First Amendment and stop picking and choosing who deserves its protections.


Kelsey Cooper is a political communications professional who most recently served as Communications Director for the 2016 re-election campaign of U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), and has spent the last seven years working in conservative politics and media strategy. A Los Angeles native, Cooper is a third-generation graduate of the University of California, Berkeley & received her B.A. in Political Science (2012). Follow her on Twitter @kelseyc00per

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