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What It's Like To Be A Conservative Gen Z Voter In California

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

We've been driving around California to meet some of the youngest people who will be voting in this election. They're called Generation Z, and a record number of them will be casting ballots by November 3. Gen Z leans overwhelmingly progressive, so what is it like to bump up against that as a conservative member of this generation in a state that is so blue? Well, we're going to introduce you now to two conservative Gen Z women from two different parts of California.

SARA BEBERIAN: This is Beberian Family Farms.

CHANG: It's amazing.

BEBERIAN: I know. It's...

CHANG: Sara Beberian has spent her entire life on this raisin farm in Fresno. Growing up, she'd watch workers line up along the rows of vines, plucking grapes to dry them on big sheets of paper under the sun.

BEBERIAN: Yeah, you can see the raisins on them.

CHANG: Oh, yeah.

We caught up with Beberian just last week.

Wait - so today - you turn 18 today?

BEBERIAN: Uh-huh.

CHANG: I can't believe you're spending your birthday with us.

BEBERIAN: This is the best way to spend it, talking politics. I love it.

CHANG: (Laughter) Are you serious?

BEBERIAN: Yeah.

CHANG: Beberian is ecstatic to be voting for President Trump in her first election. She's a freshman at Fresno State. And even though California's Central Valley is relatively conservative, she's always felt like being conservative wasn't something you talked about openly, like this time in high school when she was in a program called Girls State. It's sort of like a mock government for girls all over California.

BEBERIAN: I would say I was one of the only conservatives there. And it was like, if you found a conservative, you were like, oh, are you conservative?

CHANG: (Laughter).

BEBERIAN: Like, and it was, like, a secret.

CHANG: That feeling that your conservative identity is some deep, dark secret is something that Olivia Jaber acutely felt while at UC Berkeley. We met her in Newport Beach in Orange County, at the house where she grew up. Slip behind her gate and you see a backyard teeming with tomatoes, strawberries, lemons and this guy.

CHANG: Oh, my God. You have a tortoise? What's his name or her name?

OLIVIA JABER: OK, so his name is Mr. T. And...

CHANG: Mr. T (laughter). Does he have a Mohawk?

JABER: No.

CHANG: Jaber is 22. She just graduated from UC Berkeley this spring. And she says nearly all her friends in college were liberal. She never felt safe enough to talk to them about her political opinions.

JABER: I would say it started in 2016, when President Trump was elected. I walked out of my dorm room and just saw people crying. University professors were allowing kids not to go to class, giving extensions, providing a lot of support to students that were feeling really distraught by the election. And I didn't think that the university was upholding a lot of things that I think are really important to an education today.

CHANG: Like what?

JABER: Free speech on college campuses is really nil today. When did ideas become the enemy of the people and not permitted on the one place where you get uncomfortable, where you really unpack things?

CHANG: Take, for example, she says, safe spaces on campus, like specific rooms that are designated for certain groups of people.

JABER: When you start saying, like, there should be a floor for, for instance, Black people, and white people, Asians - you can't go to that floor. That's for them to study. That is so race-driven. And I - you shouldn't be focusing on someone's skin color; you should be focusing on their ideas. If there are safe spaces for people on campus where I'm not allowed in, that's discrimination.

CHANG: But I can imagine someone hearing you might think, well, those spaces - it's so people who have felt the burden of racism through day-to-day life, it's exhausting for them, and they just want a place to go where they can worry a little bit less about that stuff.

JABER: And I would say that's a very fair retort. What I would say to that is it's very radical when it's actually in practice. That in itself is divisive.

CHANG: Both Jaber and Beberian recognize racism does exist in America. What they don't believe is that it's built into the system.

BEBERIAN: I do not think that this country is a inherently racist country.

CHANG: You don't believe that systemic racism exists.

BEBERIAN: I think the concept itself is racist because it's saying, because of your skin color, you can't do something.

CHANG: Do you feel that everybody has the same opportunities, no matter where they are in this country?

BEBERIAN: So that's where I think the disparities lie, is not through your skin color or your race; it's through, like, economic disadvantages.

CHANG: You don't think that's related to race?

BEBERIAN: I guess it depends on where you live. But I'm not going to, like, say, like, all these people of a certain race are in this economic factor. But the concept of, like, systemic racism or, like, no matter what you do in this country, you'll be disadvantaged because of your skin color, I just - I do not believe that. I think if you work hard in this country, you will succeed.

CHANG: That resonates with Olivia Jaber, too.

JABER: I also see a lot of Black conservatives online and, you know, through different means of TikTok and Instagram who don't identify with the systemic racism argument and who don't see themselves as victims of something of - the United States has wronged them in any way.

CHANG: And why are they more persuasive to you than people of color who do believe there is systemic racism in the U.S.?

JABER: I think the arguments that I've heard, like, I agree more with the conservative approach to this idea. I wish I had concrete examples. I just don't (laughter).

CHANG: And while the conversation around race in this country has intensified, Beberian says she's noticed a growing disrespect for other identities.

BEBERIAN: Just being, like, an Armenian Christian. And, like, one of the biggest things for me is that I'm pro-life. I see on social media all the time people disrespecting Bibles, crosses, making fun of it. And, like, if that was happening to someone that was wearing a hijab or something, it would be, like, newsworthy. But, like, as a Christian, it's like, oh, it's not a big deal.

CHANG: Well, Jaber has a theory on why that is.

JABER: Conservativism is the new counterculture.

CHANG: That is actually the tagline of Jaber's website The Conservateur. It's an online space that blends politics with fashion. It's for young conservative women who don't see their political values reflected back to them in popular culture. Jaber says that even though conservatives hold so much political power in this country, it doesn't translate into cultural power.

JABER: We don't have the representation in everyday life because of the moral superiority and the liberal mob that runs everything else.

CHANG: So what is the culture today, as you understand it, this culture that you don't relate to?

JABER: I think - I don't want to sound like a Karen (laughter). I think it's kind of full of complaining. I think we need people who are OK with being uncomfortable and who are OK with disagreement and understand how to attack an argument versus how to attack a person. And I don't think my generation is good with that.

CHANG: And what worries Beberian is her generation doesn't realize how good they have it.

BEBERIAN: I just can't talk bad about America and say, like, I hate it here, like, I hate the American flag, like, I won't stand up for the national anthem - because I understand, like, everything this country stands for, and I think the liberals are trying to take that away. And that's what makes me scared, like, for my generation. Like, how is that even debated? You should be proud of your country, but that's the way it's going.

CHANG: So even if their voices are heard in this election, Sara Beberian and Olivia Jaber worry they're being drowned out anyway.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.