Politics at UCSB Part 1: the Donkey vs. the Elephant

In the last two weeks, I conducted a small and totally non-scientific experiment on what Campus Democrats and Republicans have to offer to the students to save you the effort in case you feel like you are missing out by not attending the other party’s meeting. I am trying to be as impartial as I can be in this post to depict a legitimate picture of the college Republicans and how the two clubs give subtle messages to newcomers in various ways. Maybe because it was a new experience for me, but the content of the Republican meeting specifically deserves an analysis of its own, which I will also write this week. Trust me, you don’t want to miss it (in other words, you might want to follow my blog via e-mail!) because I heard some crazy stuff. For example, here is a teaser: Someone proposed to infiltrate the Black Student Union meeting to promote the White Supremacist speaker event, cause a scene and play the victim.

Before beginning with my comparisons, let me give you some context: On January 24th, I went to the Campus Democrats meeting. This was my control group, because I knew what I would observe but I needed a vivid image to compare the two parties better. What was new to me was the Republicans, whose meeting I attended on January 31st. I took simultaneous notes during both meetings in Turkish in order to not blow my cover. Okay. Ready? Here we go!

1. When I first entered the room…

Democrats: Form a circle by dragging their chairs around before beginning the meeting. Because of the circular order, it is hard to figure out who is in charge or who are on the board. Even distribution of sexes, not white-dominated but still the majority. They order pizza to every meeting, is this club funded by Clinton Foundation or something? Most people dress very casually but I noticed many with colored hairs, piercings, tattoos and very stylish clothing. Most popular majors: political science, sociology, history, economics. Very expressionist about their stances. One of the laptops had a sticker saying “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS”. Wow.

Republicans: Two guys waiting at the door, I wonder if they were keeping an eye on people who entered the meeting. There is a panel-like order. There is a desk at the furthest corner of the room, where the board members sit, with the rest of the chairs directed towards the board’s desk. Heavily male dominated, two girls are on the board and two (one of them being me) in the audience. Surprisingly, not as white as I expected (95%), in fact the guy who led the meeting looked like a Latino, but still an overwhelmingly white (70%ish) demographic. No free food, SAD! I don’t know the popular majors of this group, as we did not bother to play an icebreaker. But when I made an eye contact with one of the board’s female members and smiled, she smiled back at me. Other than this, no one asked who I was. The clothing choices are mostly either too casual (a stained t-shirt or sweatpants) or too uptight (collared shirt and pants). Not much style variety as in the Democrats.

My Humble Analysis: Demographics, expression of identity (clothing, stickers etc.) and sitting order can be indicative of how the clubs treat their members. A panel-like sitting order makes dialogues hard due to impossibility of eye contact and signals a sense of authority, a one-way communication channel. The lack of identity expression can be indicative of various issues, such as the fear of being judged, not embracing or caring about your identity or not feeling the need to express your identity because there is no immediate threat targeting it. Focus on icebreakers shows an effort to be inclusive and involve everyone in the conversation, rather than always having the same old faces. The lack of variety in demographics results in the exclusion of certain groups and perspectives from the dialogue. But it could also be vice versa, so it’s kind of hard to tell at this moment.

2. Flow of the meeting

Democrats: Began with the icebreaker, where everyone shared their name, major and something happy that happened over the weekend (almost all the women said “Women’s March”). Next, someone explained that they had initially planned to form the active member list according to Democratic Party membership but later ditched the idea, because they wanted to show that their doors were open to everyone, read independents. Then, we had a ~45 minute debate on “What did the Democrats do wrong?”. But looks like normally, they invite a speaker from the Democratic Party and the whole meeting is in the format of a long Q&A.

Republicans: Began with the announcement that a speaker called  will be at the campus. Wait, no! It began with the National Anthem, which I had no idea about so I had to murmur the whole anthem not to give myself away. Then came the announcement. The board member said a guy named Ben Shapiro would talk about the Black Lives Matter. Though when I googled him, I was not surprised to see that he was white as the milk in my fridge. Then we proceeded to watch Trump’s video signing the Muslim Ban and another video on the firing of Sally Yates, the Attorney-General. Next, the board member asked us to share our opinion and of course, I did not open my mouth – just sat silently and took notes. Well, I will share the content of these opinion exchanges in detail in my next post.

My Humble Analysis: First, singing the National Anthem was, um, weird. I cannot imagine myself singing the Anthem of Independence (Turkish National Anthem) before beginning a club meeting. One thing I realized was how well-organized the flow of the Republican meeting was. There were slides and videos embedded in them. The Republicans also seemed to proceed rather quickly then the Democrats when it came to organization. The whole talk was apparently organized by this one guy only. In the meantime, the Democrats are yet to organize their second post-election sub-committee meetings.

3. Attitude of the Members

Democrats: The rules of the debate were set at the very beginning. Talking over others and personalizing the arguments were forbidden. The moderator would entertain speakers from her list and add new names as people raised their hands. People would always apologize after interrupting each other. Most were not afraid to criticize their own beliefs and easily accepted criticism from the others.

Republicans: The debate parts were not moderated. I did not intend to talk but I felt like if I attempted to, someone would definitely talk over me. Several times, the board member guy decided to interrupt a one-on-one exchange and stop the debate when someone offered a, um, deeply disturbing way to point out the Muslims who hide their religious affiliation and lie at the Customs and Border.

My Humble Analysis: Republicans do not have a proper debate culture. They are just as self-criticizing as the Democrats but when it comes to  the “others”, all the tolerance is lost. The board members having a hard time trying to control edgy comments or proposals points to this issue as well. The Democrats were not very happy hoppy about the Republicans’ issues either, but the difference was that there was a few people in the room who would at least attempt to address and reason with the Republican voters’ concerns and expectations. Unfortunately, the Republicans were lacking this “voice of the other”.

Alright, I see, but… HOW THE HELL can I have a dialogue with the other group?

Frankly, it seems very difficult for these two groups to come together and start a conversation. There are stark differences from their debate style to how they run their clubs. But one way could be to find common grounds on controversial issues and give each other some space for self-criticism. My feeling was that they are not afraid to criticize their own leaders or actions when they are in their own circle. The problem arises when they come together and become over-protective as if their arguments are made of glass, instead of expressing their self-criticism. My sense is that pride could be one of the underlying reasons for this attitude.

Regardless of the reasons, it was obvious that the motivation of behind the both sides’ ideologies is the same: friends, family and the welfare of their country. And these have the power to at least provide us with a common ground to start the conversation.

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