'Egging it on': Polarizing RSOs reckon with election, each other


Left: Black Lives Matter supporters and police supporters hold signs on opposite sides of Preston Street Sept. 1 near the Bovee University Center (Photographer: Rachael Yadlowsky). Right: Students walk on the sidewalk Sept. 18 during the NAP protest (Aurora Abraham).

Over the last month, Flushing senicor Emily Jones was organizing a protest headed by her RSO, New America Project (NAP). 

During the same period, Trenton senior Lauryn Gibas was battling with COVID-19 at home and trying to make sure her organization, the Central Michigan University chapter of Turning Point USA (TPUSA), remained active on campus.

NAP is a broadly socialist group advocating for reforms such as "Medicare for All" and a Green New Deal. They previously backed Bernie Sanders, but they do not support Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. Most members don't feel connected with him, Jones said.

This year NAP has been working on their #NOTFiredUpForFall campaign. They have been leading protests against face-to-face classes and racism at CMU.

TPUSA, on the other hand, is a conservative group that shuns socialist ideologies and advocates for free-market capitalism.

Over the summer, the co-founder of the national chapter of TPUSA, Bill Montgomery, died from coronavirus. Still, both the national chapter and the CMU chapter remain skeptical about the pandemic, according to Politico and CMU TPUSA's Facebook.

"As a chapter stance, (Montgomery's death) didn't change anything we do," Gibas said. "(Death is a) learning experience and process we all have to go through."

When referring to the chapter, Gibas wasn't sure if the co-founder's death changed attitudes toward the coronavirus.

"If it helps other people feel safer to wear a mask and stand six feet apart, I'm going to do that," Gibas said.

NAP also made changes over the summer. The group changed the chapter's political ideology from democratic-socialism to "co-liberatory socialism." Jones said the change gave NAP a more broad social ideology that doesn't keep capitalism "on the table" but leaves room for different ideas.

"After all the different crises affecting the world right now, the e-board got together and understood that all of us have been radicalized by all of those events," Jones said. "We figured that students and other members of ours also feel the same way."

The change should only make them seem "far-left" in the United States, Jones said. Because the United States is "center-focused," policies that exist in Europe, like Medicare for All, are seen as very socialist instead of centrist. Jones said there are members who identify with communist or anarchist ideologies that she would still comfortably call "far-left."

Though on the other side of the spectrum, Turning Point claims it is ”fiscally conservative, socially liberal“ unlike older conservatives.

"Traditionally, (gay marriage) is (stigmatized as something) Republicans are against. I think a lot of young conservatives now are okay with it," Gibas said. "You can love who you love. I think there are some that go against it... but as a whole, as a nation, we're coming together and realizing it's okay to be you."

However, Gibas alleges that not all of CMU see the organization that way.

"I think (conservative) students have been targeted," she said. "They say we're a racist organization, we're anti-female, fascist... and saying that we're a dangerous organization."

Allegedly, professors have marked down assignments for taking a "conservative perspective," but those students are being "targeted a little bit less" because of online classes, Gibas said.

Jones has also noticed that professors tend to lean liberal or neoliberal for her, but she said that there is balance.

"Even the professors that are supposed to be teaching us about politics are actually quite neutral on their own beliefs and in their teachings," Jones said. "Actually, that can frustrate me as a leftist. I can see where it frustrates them, but I don't think that means teachers are targeting them."

To Jones, the neoliberal ideology attacks leftists, but neither she or NAP experienced any targeting, she said.

The president of College Democrats, Lance Wood, said two polarizing RSOs, while a good thing, can stifle debate.

"(NAP) is apprehensive to unify together against Donald Trump," Wood said. "(We need to be able) to come back at the day and recognize we're all humans and also all Americans with different views, but being respectful about that and debating with facts and not just opinions."

Polarization around different ideologies are something both TPUSA and NAP recognize, but they have different approaches to them. 

NAP believes the divisiveness to be a mostly good thing that can lead to action. 

"Polarization is really due to people not feeling like their needs are being met," Jones said. "It's really telling how these elections we keep getting put into (make us have) to vote for the lesser of two evils and how that's really polarizing people."

TPUSA sees polarization as mostly negative. Yet, both agree on one thing -- it's an "institutional" problem.

"I blame all of the government for polarizing everything, because they're not telling people not to resort to violence. They're feeding into it, egging it on," Gibas said. "I wish it wasn't so polarized, because we need to realize as student leaders and students in general is that you're going to disagree with people. You need to figure out why they believe the way they believe."