Political discourse reignites at CSUN

CSUN Young Democrats members John Noone and Kenny Salazar, with two other members, stand in front of the Oviatt protesting the actions on the Trump Administration on Feb. 28. (Photo credit: Brian Andrade)

CSUN Young Democrats members John Noone and Kenny Salazar, with two other members, stand in front of the Oviatt protesting the actions on the Trump Administration on Feb. 28. (Photo credit: Brian Andrade)

BY RYAN MANCINI

Unless they are aspiring to be an activist or a political organizer, students will share their political views when the moment beckons.  The outlandish nature of Donald Trump’s presidency has distressed normal political discussion into greater partisan superiority, a result of the now Republican majority in the House of Representatives and in the Senate. This extends to California State University Northridge, where the political discourse has amplified with the help of an unorthodox president.

While there is a strong history of activism at CSUN since its founding years, the school has leveled itself due to its status as a commuter school, a term some administrators deny. In more recent years, the school featured a legitimate conservative group in the CSUN Young Conservatives. However, the lack of participation and the blacklisting nature of what some commentators call “regressive liberalism” has rid campuses of diverse political groups. The reigning survivor on campus continues to be the CSUN Young Democrats.

The status quo

“With only the CSUN Young Democrats, if someone’s looking to get politically involved there’s only that one option, and if there’s multiple options, they’re going to explore their own beliefs,” said John Noone, a CTVA major and freshman, “and I think that should be something that is highly encouraged.”

Noone, 18, was drawn to the theater of politics while he was a “staunch” supporter of Bernie Sanders. This led to a near victory to becoming the representative for the Democratic Party of Los Angeles of Northridge’s district. As a student, he relied upon the most well known political organization at CSUN, participating in rallies on campus is one aspect of the role he is in. Noone puts a great deal of emphasis on difference and debate, which help move issues forward rather than isolating differing voices.

“Obviously, as a progressive liberal, I have very different ideas but they’re necessary and they keep everything balanced, I guess you could say,” he said. “Sitting around with just the [CSUN] Young Democrats, talking about conservatives and their viewpoints is a lot different than talking with conservatives and their viewpoints. I was debating someone at the protest about illegal immigration, and I got a whole fresh perspective on their thought process and it allowed us to reach… an understanding of each other and it let us move forward to other topics of discussion.”

External influence

The push for conversation is contrary to the plan of action, as noted by conservative groups appearing at CSUN’s campus to reignite conservative appeal. This exists as long as Trump’s presidency, maintains its popularity, as amplified by hard right commentators such as video host Tomi Lahren and journalist Milo Yiannopoulos.

Deepak Sahni leads the California Freedom Project, a nonprofit organization that prompts students to resist silence and speak up. Starting in October 2014, Sahni and his colleagues have gone from campus to campus, from Pierce College to UCLA. Their mission, according to their website, entails fighting against the efforts of big government, along with other issues particular to their cause.

“It’s very dangerous that free speech is not being respected on college campuses,” said Sahni, 27, a graduate from UCLA. “I’m really troubled by free speech, because we can’t have a conversation about fracking, about unions, about free markets and capitalism in general. We really need to get back to the sixties, where the Berkeley Free Speech Movement started and we need to go back to a time where we even let neo-Nazis debate.”

Laws cannot kill ideas, insists Sahni, ideas kill ideas; therefore, the scholastic nature of colleges bring ideas together to form activist groups. Sahni values college campuses and what can be accomplished with political theory and discourse, but it is the “safe space” nature that has been identified on those campuses that cease all oppositional activity. Blame is spread from liberal professors to violence that can bring an end to any discussion.

“If people are getting violent, they have to be dealt with the rule of law,” he said. “The minute you start smashing things or you start pushing people, you’re going to be restrained.”

The California Freedom Project has garnered support, according to Sahni, from 120 to 130 students. He believes that CSUN is not a good school for free speech, having faced CSUN’s registered solicitation standards, which requires organizations to register with the Matador Involvement Center.

Sahni also linked CSUN’s standards on free speech to the Sundial’s coverage of a Feb. 28 demonstration between his organization and CSUN Young Democrats (where Noone was present), and the article was very one-sided.

The Sundial, in 2015, found this action to be against free speech on CSUN’s campus and must not be allowed on state property. This occurred after a confrontation with the CSUN Police Department and a group against police brutality.

“It’s not a good school for free speech, and if you want to go and form a club, it’s going to take you some time,” Sahni said. “One of the key issues that I think everyone should know is that it is illegal to pass out a constitution at CSUN without getting a permit. Now a permit based permission system, that’s not free speech. That’s literally you begging me to say, ‘Can I actually express my opinions?’ I really find that detesting.”

Onlookers and California Freedom Project demonstrators look on as the CSUN Young Democrats call for "no hate" from the Trump administration in regards to his environmental and immigration policies. (Photo credit: Brian Andrade)

Onlookers and California Freedom Project demonstrators look on as the CSUN Young Democrats call for "no hate" from the Trump administration in regards to his environmental and immigration policies. (Photo credit: Brian Andrade)

Campus politics from a distance

Two separate outsiders, Anthony Kim and Jonathan Goldenberg, both view the mobilization of activism at CSUN as direct results of the Trump election victory.

“Politically, Cal State Northridge, even President Dianne Harrison, they have very, very liberal views,” said Kim, 23. “They want to make Cal State Northridge a sanctuary place for… undocumented immigrants, and they want to make the campus safe to express their political views unless they’re liberal views.”

As a Winter 2016 graduate, Kim found Trump to be the right person with the right results, so much that he was featured on the Sundial’s Nov. 9 issue with two thumbs up. While he proudly donned his “Make America Great Again” cap, it did not stop him from facing his own hesitation. He learned that support for then-candidate Trump would have landed him in hot water while he worked with Associated Students.

“Ad nauseam, basically, and I kept my mouth shut, and I just had to or I would have lost my job,” Kim said. “I could have made everyone an enemy. I chose not to.”

The genuine nature of political discourse is to expect pushback, as said by Goldenberg, 21 and a graduating senior. Though not a member of CSUN Young Democrats, his fascination with politics has propelled him to serve as one of several candidates to be president of Associated Students, as well as working with Kamala Harris’ and Hillary Clinton’s campaigns in California.

“My theory is that freedom of speech should exist, but the people who are practicing the freedom of speech should expect that someone is going to push back on their freedom,” said Goldenberg. “If you’re going to say really inflammatory things against someone, you should expect them to say really inflammatory things against you.”

This discussion, however, cannot seem to resolve the root cause for this opposition: opposition itself. While discussions are to be had, it does not serve as an all-encompassing stunt in preventing any violence or nastiness. Refinement over free speech, as these organizers believe, will be the last refuge of rhetoric on college campuses.

ActivismRyan Mancini