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'Campus Clash' event brings discussions on First Amendment, conservatism to Rutgers

Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens spoke at a “Campus Clash” event Monday night in Trayes Hall at the Douglass Student Center. They discussed the conservative movement on college campuses. – Photo by Garrett Steffe

Turning Point USA founder and leader Charlie Kirk and conservative activist Candace Owens came to Rutgers Monday afternoon to talk about free speech and conservative activism on college campuses.

The Rutgers Conservative Union (RCU) hosted the event. Brandon Chesner, a School of Arts and Sciences junior and member of RCU said the group reached out to Kirk in April because it thought he had good ideas, a good way of delivering them and his ideals aligned well with RCU.

Once introduced, Kirk showed off his new sneakers, Kanye West’s Yeezys. He said they were given to him at the White House before Kanye’s famous Oct. 11 Oval Office meeting with President Donald J. Trump.

"(Kanye) says ‘Charlie, I’m not feeling the energy from those shoes,’” Kirk said to the crowd. “And so, he asked me, ‘What size are you?’ I said, 'Size 12,' he said, ‘Oh great.’ So he takes off his shoes, so these are Kanye West’s shoes.”

Kirk then transitioned to the issues, first saying Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's hearings and confirmation will go down as an inflection point similar in size to the O.J. Simpson trial 20 years ago. He said the hearings will go down as a singular moment in the #MeToo movement, which he believes will ultimately backfire for the Democrats.

He said if Kavanaugh was not confirmed by the Senate, it would have derailed the presumption of “innocent until proven guilty” in America. 

What the American conservative movement values, Kirk said, is first a meritocracy. 

He described the three main values of Turning Point USA, which he said are that America is the greatest country in the world, that the Constitution is the greatest political document written and that free-market capitalism is the greatest economic system.

“America is the only major country in the world where your national identity is not based on skin, not based on religion and is not based on ethnic heritage,” Kirk said.

For example, he said, Owen’s grandfather began as a sharecropper and she, a few generations later, has made it to the middle class.

Second, he said, Turning Point values the Constitution. Written by the founders of the country, he said it is the first time in history that the elites willingly gave up their power to the people.

“The Constitution, it’s important to remember, they’re not rules for us, they’re actually rules for government,” Kirk said.

He said he thinks the First Amendment in particular is currently under attack in America, and that if people stop talking it will have negative consequences.

Owens talked about identity politics and said she thinks it is being used to divide people.

She talked about certain things she has said having been labeled as hate speech, and said she disagreed with that label.

“... Me coming on a college campus and saying to minority communities that ‘I believe in them,’ that they can do it without government handouts, to help them understand that we've been trapped by the idea that we are permanently victims, why wouldn’t they want that idea to get out?” she said.

Owens said she thinks politicians push certain narratives to divide the public and alarm potential voters, especially during election seasons.

Chesner said their conversations on issues with identity politics stood out to him.

“They touch on why that is an issue and why you need to define yourself, do your own research and think on your own rather than take what even professors say at face value,” he said. “Just because someone is in a position of power doesn’t mean you have to listen to them, you owe it to yourself and you owe it to the country to do your own research and fact check on your own.”

The final value that the duo discussed was that they consider free-market capitalism to be the greatest economic system in the world.

“In a free-market system, just because someone gets rich, does not mean someone gets poor,” Kirk said. 

He said that when wealth is created, its not a zero sum game, and used “thank you, thank you” exchanges at Starbucks as an example, where both parties benefit from the transaction.

At this point in history there are less people living in global poverty than at any other time, he said, which capitalism has played a role in.

After their speech, Kirk and Owens took questions from students and community members in the audience, both those who agreed and disagreed, ranging from a professor watchlist started by Turning Point USA, to their opinions on affirmative action and healthcare in America.

Kirk’s organization is a 501(c)(3) non-profit founded in 2012. It has a presence on more than 1,300 college campuses and high schools across the country, and is the largest and fastest growing youth organization in the United States, according to its website. 

Chesner said conversations like these are important around election time, when more political dialogues start happening. 

“The closer we get to an election, the more political dialogue opens up and it seems like a happy coincidence that he was able to give such an empowering speech to young conservatives at this point in time, and hopefully it inspires a few people who weren't planning on getting out to vote to actually go and vote,” he said.

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