Speaking their minds

There is a good chance that you have heard this conversation before: a Democrat makes a left-leaning political remark, maybe taking a position on abortion or on the war in Iraq, maybe criticizing President George W. Bush or Republican presidential nominee John McCain. A few others agree with the remark, and a consensus seems to be reached. This is not that unusual here at Harvard-Westlake, which is widely known to have a large Democratic majority.

But then something more surprising occurs. Someone else voices a rebuttal, and you realize that he or she is a Republican. A political debate is quickly underway.

Harvard-Westlake is certainly extremely liberal—in a mock primary election held this February on Super Tuesday, an overwhelming 81.5 percent of votes went to a Democratic candidate.

However, there are vocal students across the political spectrum, fighting to have their voices and opinions heard. Among them is Libertarian Caroline Groth ’10.

“Most people don’t know what a Libertarian is,” she said. “I think that if people really began to understand our viewpoints, they would probably agree with many of them.”

With that in mind, Groth, along with her sister Gabby ’09 and Carleigh Coyne ’10, founded a Libertarian Club. Libertarians, Coyne explained, have a central belief in less involvement of the federal government in daily life.

“The main thing is the Constitution,” Coyne said. “We believe in the basic rights given to us in the constitution, and we feel they’ve been infringed upon. Government has been slowly taking away the rights that we should have from the Constitution.”

Evan Ryan ’09, also a Libertarian, expanded on this.

“Socially, people should be able to do what they want, and financially, people should be able to do what they want,” he said.

Groth hopes to make these viewpoints better known among the masses. She hopes that even if people don’t agree, they will become more aware.

“I think it is important because many people are ignorant of the beliefs of Libertarians and therefore they just look down upon the party,” Groth said. “If people truly knew our beliefs, I think they would agree or at least respect our opinions.”

Faire Davidson ’09, a co-founder of the Young Republicans Club, sees awareness as a main goal of the club. She said it is especially important in a predominantly liberal region.

“What we made the club for in the first place was sort of that, as diverse a city as Los Angeles is, a lot of people are completely unaccepting of Republican ideals, which is sort of hypocritical,” Davidson said.

Michael Lieberman ’09, also a co-founder of the Young Republicans, says that he is the only conservative in his Advanced Placement United States Government and Politics class, a class in which he constantly finds himself defending Republican ideas. But although Lieberman has no problem with healthy political debate, he thinks Harvard-Westlake has a less-than-friendly atmosphere for minority conservatives like himself.

“It’s definitely not a warm environment if you have Republican ideas or values,” he said.

The atmosphere Lieberman described manifested itself at the Activities Fair, where both the Young Democrats Club and Young Republicans Club had sign-up tables. Davidson said, “someone wrote ‘Republicans suck’ on their sign-up sheet, and a volunteer card was torn up.

“Since what we’re trying to do is create more tolerance, that was sort of inappropriate,” Davidson said.

Through the Young Republicans Club, Lieberman hopes to help change this dynamic.

“We really want to create a community within a community, and create a more welcoming environment,” he explained.

Jenna Berger ’09, a co-leader of the Young Democrats, agreed that all opinions should be tolerated.

“I think that the teachers and the administration and the students should be able to share their views with others,” she said. “I don’t think anyone should have to hide who they support, or their political views.”

And with an election on the immediate horizon, political views are becoming particularly difficult to hide. Because whether they support Obama, McCain, or one of a host of Third Party candidates, students and teachers alike are getting involved, both here at school and in the world around them.

Lieberman and Davidson have volunteered for the McCain campaign, and Berger said she plans to volunteer for Obama in the near future. Groth said she stays informed through www.cato.org, a Libertarian think tank, and that she is hoping to volunteer through the Pete Peterson Foundation, which tries to increase awareness of economic problems.

In fact, a representative from the California Democratic Party met with a group of about 25 Young Democrats on campus last Thursday. According to Technology Center Director Christopher Gragg, who this year restarted the Young Democrats Club with Visual Arts teacher Nancy Popp, the representative talked to students about volunteering in phone banks, calling battleground states such as Colorado and Nevada. Gragg hopes not only that these calls will make a difference, but that they will benefit the students making them as well.

“There’s a lot of people out there that vote on emotion, and hopefully they will become more informed voters and they become more informed about the whole process early,” he said.

Indeed, with the election just over a month away, some people still have not decided who they support. While most Democrats are set on Obama, most Republicans are set on McCain, and many Libertarians—like Coyne and Groth—support Libertarian candidate Bob Barr, some people are just not sure. Ryan, although a Libertarian, is trying to choose between Obama and McCain, as he will be able to vote on Nov. 4.

“I’m really torn right now. I don’t like either of them,” he said.

“It’s hard for me to get a good view, considering I live in LA and go to Harvard-Westlake,” he added. “It’s hard to get a straight look at them, but I guess that’s true for everywhere.”

Whether or not they are deciding on their candidate of choice, debating with their classmates, or making phone calls, Gragg believes that it is important for students to get involved, no matter who they support.

“You’re on the verge of being, number one, voters, and number two, we want to encourage people to become good citizens as well and voting is part of being a good citizen,” he said. “Whether you’re a Democrat, Republican, Green, or Libertarian, or whatever you vote, people need to be involved in their country and their community.”