L. J. Ulrich

Tuesday October 24, 2006

“Something smells good,” College Republicans Vice President Keoni Medici said, as his club set up across the street from West Virginia University’s Mountainlair Student Union last Thursday.

The College Republicans’ first Animal Rights Barbecue had begun.

On the menu: 40 burgers, 60 hot dogs, 100 bags of chips, two boxes of bottled water, 48 cans of Coke and Sprite, and dozens of paper plates shaped like koala bears, monkeys, and pigs.

“We would have had stir fry, but there was a threat of rain,” College Republican member Chris Mader said. “Oil and water don’t mix.”

The rest of the event, however, involved a whole lot of mixed signals and mixed results. Despite predictions of showers, the West Virginia sky remained blue, with the mercury hovering around 72 degrees. Promises to play Rush Limbaugh on the radio all day never materialized. For much of the afternoon, College Republicans members buzzed that John Raese, the Republican challenger to Sen. Robert C. Byrd, would drop by for some food, but he never showed up.

Whether the barbecue was a success or not hinges on its intent. Did the Republicans’ barbecue, as club President Meghann Wilson hoped, serve to “recruit members and get visibility for the club?” Or was the event held for the reasons that Mader laid out: basically, to poke fun at liberals?

Junior Jim Ashley, wearing a Club Gitmo t-shirt with the phrase “I got my free Koran and prayer rug at Gitmo,” had one explanation:

“We’re here to recruit and get back at those liberal vegans,” he said. Ashley explained that it “got the adrenaline pumping” to stand up and espouse his views.

Mader looked to the animal kingdom for guidance.

“I see PETA fighting for the rights of animals to be treated ethically, when animals don’t ethically treat themselves. In nature, they eat each other. They’re here for our enjoyment,” he said.

If the group’s intent was to create controversy, they may have succeeded: People didn’t get the irony of the barbeque, even as group members handed out flyers depicting the destruction of a dead puppy, while others handed out an “Animals’ Bill of Rights.” Among them: the right to be duly butchered, to be equal beside the mashed potatoes, to be devoured in a sitting of one or more people or other animals, and so forth.

Few students, however, actually picked up on the group’s ironic intent.

Consider the Indian Students Association, who set up an information table beside the College Republicans. Most of their members, including vegan Hindus, missed the intended barbs within the Animal Rights Barbecue.

Srevand Dadanena said, with a laugh, “I thought [the College Republicans] were trying to protect animals. I guess I was mistaken.”

Across the street in the student union, the Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance organized a display commemorating “Love Your Body Day.” Its members, many of whom are vegans, simply dismissed the College Republicans’ stunt as nothing more than another display of divisive politics.

“They feel threatened by different ideas,” Jenna Stiles said. “Anything that challenges their thinking requires them to fight back.”

College Republicans Secretary Mallory Coleman rejected such assumptions, however, and explained the event was more of a tongue-in-cheek joke than a direct jab at any movement.

“Not all vegans are liberal, and eating meat has nothing to do with politics,” Coleman said. She added that the College Republicans spent $115 on the event not to anger students, but to motivate conservatives.

Mader explained, “In a mid-term election like this, we expect [student participation] numbers to be down, so we need to stir up controversy.”

He admitted that an Animal Rights Barbecue might not play well with liberals, but held out hope that it would energize the club’s base. According to him, of the 900 or so young conservatives on the club’s email lists, “only 10 or 15″ actually show up at meetings.

“It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there,” Mader said, with a smile.

Others, however, were skeptical. Senior Brandon Stump, walking past the event, shook his head in disgust.

“In a world such as ours, real problems exist. Instead of making an irrelevant problem out of nothing, why not focus our efforts and energy on Africa or AIDS or the fact that people still aren’t in their home after Katrina?” he said. “If you’re going to do something political, why not do something good?”

He went on to slam the event for being a “waste of time.”

“It’s like a preacher that only preaches to the choir. What’s the point?” he asked.

Mader pointed out that Thursday’s event made $50 and recruited 20 new members for the College Republicans.

But it was probably Ashley who said it best. When asked if an Animal Rights Barbecue would have much of an effect on students, the conservative looked at the people running in and out of the student union. Then, he pursed his lips and shrugged.

“I doubt it,” was all he said.