Freedom of Speech is a promise guaranteed in the Constitution and as the young people of AHS rise to speak on political issues, not everyone feels free to have a voice
Senior Staff Writer
The day after the 2016 election was filled with a mix of emotions. For the losing political party, it was shocking defeat, but for the winning party, it was unexpected celebration. At American High School though, that celebration was almost nonexistent.
“I noticed a celebration among conservatives as our time finally came,” Collin Mather (12) said. “However, a good portion of the school seemed to be filled with a toxic mixture of animosity, grief, and shock. The vast majority shuts us down.”
At American, it is clear to see that there is a liberal mindset that is shared by a majority of the student body. Between marches and walkouts supporting gun laws, it’s obvious that the students have no qualms banding together to protest what they think to be wrong. For a distinct handful of students though, this freedom is one that is never exercised.
These students are Republicans and conservatives. It’s most likely that the student body might not even know a conservative much less have spoken to one. They are the silent minority, walking next to you in the halls or quietly nodding during Socratic Seminars. Often they never speak because if they do, what they say can a instigate political battle where the odds are not in their favor.
This type of political climate is the reality—but is it ideal? These conservative students admit to feeling unable to speak up for what they think is wrong, limiting their freedom of speech and creating a divide between them and their friends and peers.
Act 1: Silence is Key
What causes conservative students to be silent or choose not to speak out?
“There have been many times I had the chance to express my beliefs but did not,” Timothy Widjaja (12) said. “Not because I felt any pressure from how others would perceive me or [because] I was forced to be silent in any way, but I decided not to. The main reason I would not state my beliefs then is because holding different views from the majority of people puts the burden of proof on me.”
Timothy Widjaja is a known conservative among his peers. He is not as outspoken about his views like a few others on campus, but he feels the pressure to avoid speaking about his beliefs. Timothy, like his other fellow red supporters, has mostly kept his mouth shut. They avoid bringing up their “controversial” opinions and nod in agreement with beliefs that aren’t close to what they believe, all to ensure that they don’t have to face the outrage from their peers.
“I was trying to make a sort of controversial Republican idea not seem as bad and then I got swarmed by everyone giving me lots of facts against it,” Kezia Skariah (11) said.
Conservative students find themselves horribly outnumbered when it comes to having political discussions. They report that rather than having mature political discussions—discussion where both sides are given equal respect and open mindedness—these conversations transform into something else. For some of these red students, it leaves them feeling discouraged after everything they said has been shot down without even a consideration, and eventually it makes political conversations mini-political rallies.
“[They] wouldn’t accept the positive aspects of the Republican idea that I was trying to convey,” Skariah finished plainly.
That is not where it ends, though. Even outside of the classroom, politics is still a controversial subject among friends. Having “different political views” shouldn’t be a topic that friends should be forced to avoid. If friends or peers can’t hold civil conversations, aren’t they no better than the people in office, who are so blinded by their separate political agendas, that they struggle with passing the simplest of bills? Unfortunately, it happens, and it happens often for friends.
“My friend asked me whether I preferred the banning of all guns to enforcing stricter gun laws,” Elaine Wu (11) said. “I said, ‘stricter gun laws’ because some officials needed guns, and I was inundated with a rant from my friend about how ridiculous my thought is and why guns should be banned. We are still good friends, but we definitely have different political views.”
Act 2: The Other Side
We go to the majority, the familiar faces seen around campus and the political student advocates who may have participated in rallies or organized events at school such as the #ENOUGH walkout and the Women’s March. They are the students who don’t necessarily “rule the school,” but you never see them face swarms of heated dissenters—at least, not at this school.
Interestingly, liberal students at American recognize that there is a big divide.
“I definitely think that American is very liberal,” Paige Fleming (12) said. “I think a lot of the time, we don’t realize that people are conservative here at our school. One of the problems is that in California, we think that all conservatives stand with Trump. So we automatically ignore people who we know are conservative out of judgement, when really Republicans and Democrats have very similar views if you think about it.”
The problem is because of how people disagree, it tends to create a political divide. For young people, attempting to understand a person’s opposite political idea can’t be easy. One liberal student, Kim Ton, identifies one of the reasons there is such a misunderstanding when it comes to conservative ideals leads back to the 2016 election.
“I noticed that the liberal students had no problem expressing their views but conservatives did,” Ton (12) said. “It’s not to say that conservatives are wrong, but most liberal students were quick to quiet them or bash them for their views. This created more divide because liberals in this school failed to listen or understand the other side’s view. In all honesty, from what I saw, which may or may not be true, as a liberal we were too quick to deny the other side’s point of view.”
Within the halls of AHS, this misconception of the other side’s point of view embedded itself into the student’s political attitudes. Neither side has attempted to try and understand what the other values and therefore has led to an either further separation. As time goes on, this crisis is increasingly getting worse.
Act 3: Lone Wolf Syndrome
The polarization of politics across the country over the past few years has led to divisiveness and as mentioned in the past few acts, it shows in the classrooms and in the opinions of even the liberal students. No side is willing to compromise with the other and that lesson has embedded itself into young people. Nobody wants to hear about a conservative’s reason as to why they think abortion is wrong or why the country needs to be tougher on immigration laws. It shuts down conservatives and can lead to something known as Lone Wolf Syndrome.
Conservative students are always scattered. They usually are the only red among their blue friends, singled out and ganged up upon. Sometimes, they are even by themselves. This mostly applies for the outspoken ones, such as Collin Mather. He is unashamed of his values and doesn’t care that his opinions might offend someone.
“To be honest, if I mention my support for the president I get a storm of hate solely directed at me,” Mather said. “I get dirty looks when I wear patriotic clothing. My fellow conservatives know what I’m talking about. We mostly do our own thing because people can’t even overhear Republican ideas without getting triggered.”
For him though, it isn’t easy being that way.
“It is definitely hard having conservative views at American,” Mather admitted. “People have tried to ridicule me, but fail in changing my beliefs. I’ve lost plenty of friends who can’t handle what I was saying. I just shrug it off and keep moving forward.”
For some, the feedback is not quite as harsh. For senior Hannah Harper, she has gotten her fair share of dirty looks and completely ignorant comments but she prefers not to let those people get to her. Whether it be in political debate or in her daily conversations with people, she tries not to let her politics become a nasty debate over who is right or who is wrong.
“I have never felt uncomfortable being a conservative,” Harper said. “I have had some people be completely rude and cruel to me about what I believe, but I just choose to see those people as ignorant. I think it’s super important that if you’re going to share your opinion, you should be kind about it. I never have a problem with sharing my opinion, but I also don’t have a problem listening to others. And that’s what it’s about. Be open minded. Try to understand why someone thinks that way. If you have the choice to be right or to be kind, choose to be kind.”
This problem does not just apply to liberals by any means and in other parts of the country there is an inverted disparity between the two parties. However, for a school named after a country that touts its freedom of speech, the sting of prejudice at American High School towards this uncommon minority is that much more ironic.