A conservative student arriving at the University of Georgia may wonder if the best way to choose a conservative organization is to roll the dice. To the undiscerning eye, UGA offers a handful of conservative or right-leaning organizations that compete for membership. After speaking with leaders of College Republicans, Turning Point USA, and Young Americans for Liberty, it became apparent to me that each organization has unique opportunities to offer the politically inclined student.
Ethan Pender, Chairman of the College Republicans, met me at the Tate Center with a friendly demeanor and a smart, collared shirt. He has served in his position for two years, and it showed when he spoke precisely about the purpose of College Republicans on campus: “Our purpose is to educate the UGA community on the values of the Republican Party, elect Republicans, and train future Republican leaders.”
When asked about the upcoming Presidential race, Pender expressed determination to “put a dent” in the election, helping Donald Trump gain traction in Athens. However, Pender insisted his approach to politics isn’t personal, nor is his organization’s. He refuses to see the country’s steep partisan divide as a battle between “good guys and bad guys,” but rather a matter of conflicting values. He referred to the diversification of the GOP, especially among younger crowds, as a sign of the changes to come. Specifically, Pender sees “communities of color, women,” and other groups Democrats “think they have a lock on” drifting rightward.
He suggested that one of College Republicans’ goals is to get people comfortable speaking about their political views. Rather than perceiving the Republican Party as an exclusive entity with an inflexible agenda, Pender takes an inclusive approach: “Something I want to be clear about is we’re a big tent party. If you identify as Republican, and you want to be in our party, that’s fine.”
Pender says that, as the collegiate wing of the Republican Party, the College Republicans support Donald Trump. In reference to the mass enthusiasm behind the President, Pender identified the Democrats as the party of ivory towers and the coastal elites. He believes Democrats have been “doing things out of lock-step with what heartland Americans want.”
What kind of student is a College Republican? Pender says the organization is for those who want to be “plugged in” professionally. The organization connects students to internships and offers numerous opportunities to get involved directly in the political process. Rest assured, College Republicans is “not all business all the time” with date nights and events like “The Great Debate,” hosted with the Young Democrats.
Founder and former President of Turning Point UGA, Erin Cooke, spends most of her time on the road. As State Director for Turning Point USA, she travels to different Georgia colleges to help develop the Turning Point chapters there. In her words, Turning Point’s goal is “to counteract the typical classroom narrative.” Cooke described capitalism and the U.S. Constitution as being “under attack” in the classroom.
One of Turning Point’s primary goals according to Cooke is to create dialogue, and to start conversations that wouldn’t otherwise be had. Knowing that Turning Point’s marketing approach has created controversy, I had to ask if this strategy is conducive to the organization’s goals.
“Everyone has their headphones in at Tate,” Cooke observed. “You have to grab their attention somehow!” She described how Turning Point’s technique “markets to the culture.” Turning Point USA founder Charlie Kirk came up with a plan for his chapters to re-market the concept of “choice.” As Cooke explains it, “We’ll try to counteract the typical idea like, ‘I’m pro-choice, pick your gun!’”
Cooke is aware of the criticism Turning Point receives, but she is clear that this does not detract from Turning Point’s overarching goal: “Even when they’re trash talking us, at least they’re talking.”
Who should attend Turning Point meetings? Cooke insists “literally anyone” is welcome at Turning Point meetings. She invites people with opposing views as a matter of principle: “When we stop talking to each other is when we lose as a nation altogether, and that’s what we see happening right now.”
Young Americans For Liberty
Liam Monast, President of Young Americans for Liberty, stated off the bat that his organization is a “bastion for out-of-the-box political ideas.” Young Americans for Liberty officially promotes libertarianism, yet Monast says the organization often finds common ground with the two major political parties.
According to Monast, Young Americans for Liberty’s ideas can safely be placed on the right, but he observes that “every party is going left, [and] some are in a good way.” Monast claims that while the Republican Party has moved left, creating more overlap with libertarians, libertarians have held the same principles all along.
Monast admits that Young Americans for Liberty is not all about activism and outreach: “I would love to change people’s minds, but people walking down the street at Tate don’t want you to!”
Monast describes Young Americans for Liberty members as resilient to taking offense at each other’s statements. Referencing popular comedian Dave Chapelle and his controversial Netflix special Sticks and Stones, Monast said, “if you get offended, just remember, you clicked on my face.”
Young Americans for Liberty members operate under this understanding at meetings where “alternative thinking” is praised. “The way that we talk about [political] issues fosters enough mutual respect initially, that people give others the benefit of the doubt.”
Why join Young Americans for Liberty?
“Come to YAL, so you can hear stuff you haven’t heard before,” Monast says.