Wednesday night at Talley Student Union, NC State hosted a seminar from Charlie Kirk of Turning Point USA fame, and Lara Trump (I think we all know that last name by now) called “Culture War”. There to greet them was a full capacity crowd at Fountain Ballroom, but also there to “greet” them was a massive contingent - a pack, if you will - of student activists there to protest their arrival.
I’m a pretty lukewarm conservative, meaning I’ll lean left when I have to, and I have no problem acknowledging the points liberals make because I know they’re well-founded. And so needless to say, when I entered the line to see Kirk and Trump, I did so half-heartedly. Sure, it would be nice to meet other like-minded individuals like me, but I was mostly there to hear a couple speeches, absorb the information given, and use it to formulate my own political opinions while I was walking back home.
Well, I never got inside the ballroom. They’d run out of seats before I got there, and so for me, the whole “Culture War” experience was navigating a line that went up the stairs and folded in on itself. Nevertheless, I heard whatever “political discourse” I needed to hear while I was in that very same line from those protesting below on the first (technically, second) floor. In my mind, all I could think about was how their jeers and chants, instead of convincing people on the fence about politics, was turning them away, and providing more ammunition for conservatives eager to paint a caricature of the liberal.
For the record, I know the protesters were well-meaning and hungry to make a change. And they should be applauded for remaining peaceful and for not trying to escalate any tensions in Talley. But looking at the protests from my point of view, it was easy to see that they were making gross generalizations about conservatives, in the same manner that conservatives do about liberals. In some cases, the claims they chanted and the posters they brandished were flat out wrong:
“Ok boomer”? This was an interesting, but questionable take, considering this seminar is being held at a college campus.
“Hate speech ≠ free speech”? I agree that hate speech is problematic, even despicable, but to say that it isn’t free? Are you sure? Looks like someone hasn’t read their Supreme Court case briefs (see Brandenburg v. Ohio).
“Racists go home”? Since politics has created factions out of races, I can understand why this was said. And yet, the line I stood in held a sizable number of POC - including myself. Oh, and telling people to go home isn’t very tolerant, especially if the name of the protest/event was “No Hate at NC State”.
This isn’t to say that liberals are oh so very bad and conservatives are holier-than-thou. I noticed some people in the line to the seminar snickering at how the knitted beanie had become a symbol for the “liberal slacktivist”, and the general mood among my fellow conservatives was that the protest was just a meeting full of people agreeing with each other.
What they didn’t know was that they were making the same mistakes the protesters were.
Over the course of my time in Talley on Wednesday, there was never a lone conservative who walked over to the protesters to understand their views and why they held them. Likewise, I never saw any of the protesters walk towards conservatives and engage in any substantive discussion. Members of both groups just kinda hung out with the people they felt most comfortable around. In this way NC State isn’t unique, because it is like this across the United States, where political ideologies and parties are seen more like rival sports teams, and the “other team” is always wrong. Oh, and you don’t want to be seen reaching over the aisle and talking to the other team. What’s been forgotten is that in the big picture, there aren’t any opposing teams - we’re all on Team America. Disagree with each other as they may, Republicans and Democrats ultimately owe their allegiances to America, and their differences in opinion stem from what they personally believe to be the best for America. I think as college students, we tend to get swept up in today’s political hysteria, a result of the increasing polarization in our national political spectrum. But at the end of the day, a conservative is just a regular person, who doesn’t like being called hateful or a racist just like anyone else wouldn’t. And liberals are regular people as well, and they want to be seen as hard-working and informed like everyone else would, not lazy and annoying. A conservative and a liberal have much more in common than they have differences, but the most important of these similarities is, and ought to be, that they love America - all of its qualities, all of its eccentricities, and all that is in it.
That should include its people, and that should include each other.
But until we start talking to each other, those “should”s will instead be replaced with “won’t”. I hope we do start talking, because the NC State students of today, I genuinely believe, will become the leaders of tomorrow, sooner rather than later. And if we haven’t learned to reach across the aisle by then, the United States, and the signature political tool that led to its being a shining beacon to the world - the compromise - will have no future.
Kevin Sebastian is a third-year studying political science and minoring in history.