Phyllis Schlafly went into the belly of the beast, the University of California, Berkeley, six years ago this month to give a lecture on the failures of the modern-day feminist movement.
Mrs. Schlafly has long-been a champion of conservatism and a leading figure in the fight against the Equal Rights Amendment, an act proposed in 1923 that would have taken away women’s exemption from the military draft, made unconstitutional single-sex schooling and activities (including sororities, Girl Scouts, and mother-daughter school functions), eliminated veterans’ preference for employers, and removed insurance companies’ rights to charge women less than men, amongst other measures to achieve “equality.”
In a packed lecture hall of undergraduate students at UC-Berkeley, Mrs. Schlafly held her own during an event hosted by the conservative club on campus, which I served as chairwoman at the time. The crowd barraged her with questions from the expectedly liberal feminist point-of-view, although maintaining a semblance of respect for the speaker. Mrs. Schlafly never wavered in defending her strongly-held beliefs.
She may have even inspired some of the students in attendance to think about women’s rights from a different viewpoint—a perspective the students were never going to get from their professors.
Perhaps just as important as what happened when Mrs. Schlafly visited Berkeley is how this conservative leader got to be on campus in the first place.
Young America’s Foundation provided my campus club with the resources, connections, and know-how to host an event featuring Mrs. Schlafly Schlafly at Berkeley.
After attending my first Foundation seminar at the Reagan Ranch Center in Santa Barbara, California, the previous year, I was determined to bring an alternative voice to campus. The Foundation provided me with logistical and other support every step of the way to ensure that I would reach my peers with Mrs. Schlafly’ important speech.
Today, as part of Young America’s Foundation’s team, I have the privilege of providing the same assistance to other students on campus. I am proud to witness all of the triumphs of young conservatives on hostile campuses nationwide.
President Reagan told us, “There is no better way to establish hope for the future than to enlighten young minds.”
That is exactly what we are doing through Young America’s Foundation’s programs.
Young America’s Foundation, with the help of our supporters, activates and trains the younger generations to engage in public policy debates at their schools.
Today’s young people are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the Obama administration. Now, more than ever, they are poised to join us because of failed government initiatives, a poor job market, and an increasing realization that their generation faces record personal and governmental debt.
Young America’s Foundation’s on-campus lectures along with our immersive seminars and conferences provide students with access to Conservative Movement leaders and the ideas that will shape their lives.
For me and my fellow club members, Mrs. Schlafly’ speech and presence on campus did more than simply give the conservative viewpoint a voice at Berkeley. Something unexpected happened at the close of the lecture.
Mrs. Schlafly missed a step as she was walking down from the lecture podium, causing her to fall and break her hip.
Luckily, the crowd was already gone and the emergency responders came quickly to take her to the hospital. Thankfully, Mrs. Schlafly would recover and my fellow club members displayed great maturity throughout the unfortunate incident by initially notifying proper authorities and, later, visiting her in the hospital.
While I normally never share that part of the story, I felt it appropriate to mention on the occasion of the celebration of her 90th birthday because of what I learned from Mrs. Schlafly Schlafly that day.
In the midst of the chaos and considerable pain caused by the fall, Mrs. Schlafly displayed her mental toughness and grace that has inspired conservative women for generations.
She managed to stay calm and collected, even though she could not even stand up. As she was being taken to the hospital on a stretcher, Mrs. Schlafly perked up to smile and wave at me and the other members of our club.
We gave her another round of applause.
Mrs. Schlafly’ poise in that moment was an unexpected and important lesson for me. That day, unbeknownst to most of those in attendance, Mrs. Schlafly showed us the true meaning of being a strong and competent woman.
• Jiesi Zhao, Esq. is the director of the Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise at Young America’s Foundation.
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