Courtesy of Andrew Charlestream
When it comes to political activism, few places serve as better platforms for volunteering, organizing, and expressing opinions than a college campus. Andrew Charlestream, a political science major with a concentration in pre-law, is a supporter of Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. He is enough of a supporter to have worked on the physician-turned-politician’s presidential campaign during his last semester at Johnson State College.
During the 2015 fall semester, Charlestream was contacted by Vermont State Representative Paul Dame through Facebook, who had noticed a profile picture of him sided with Senator Paul.
“He reached out to me and said ‘hey, would you be interested in becoming a student chapter president for the Rand Paul campaign on your campus?’” Charlestream says. “He told me that I was the only person he could find on campus who was a Rand Paul supporter. So, being the political person I am, I immediately jumped on board.”
One may have observed Charlestream working out of the Doyle room in the dining hall last semester, handing out materials in support of Senator Paul’s campaign. Finding support for his endeavor led him to focus on both Vermont and New Hampshire, with an eye on last week’s New Hampshire primary.
Even though Paul’s campaign has recently fallen short of its goal, Charlestream, though disappointed, acknowledges that the experience he gained as a student chapter president for Johnson State College last fall was worthwhile.
“It’s definitely discouraging when your candidate you were campaigning for drops out of the race; it’s never a fun thing,” says Charlestream. “It was a good experience. I really delved into the campaign experience and how the process works.”
For those unaware, Senator Paul’s political philosophies tend to lean libertarian conservative, particularly on economic issues. As a Republican presidential candidate, the Kentucky senator’s campaign focused on issues such as prison reform and National Security Agency reform. As a student, Charlestream shares many, but not all, of these same philosophies.
Both libertarianism and conservatism, in Charlestream’s experience, garner some misrepresentation in the classroom and around campus. Such misrepresentation, he says, is not helped by the current selection of Republican presidential candidates.
“One thing I’ve noticed as far as differing perspectives is not necessarily [on] libertarianism,” says Charlestream. “There are some misconceptions about the branch of libertarianism that claims fiscal responsibility. And also that in relation to conservatism, I think a lot of times even in the classroom, ‘conservatives’… that tag is used as a broad term. In the classroom I’ve noticed that conservatism is tagged along with racism, bigotry, [and] just kinda looney tunes.
“I’ve just noticed a lack of perspective; there are conservatives, and there are libertarians who are not wacky, and who actually have a head on their shoulders, who actually have a substantial basis for their beliefs,” Charlestream continues. “Sometimes I felt, personally, alienated in the classroom when a professor says that conservatism is this, this and this. It just tags that name with something it’s not. It’s hard for me to speak up in a classroom and represent conservative viewpoints that are logical and that make sense when everyone else in the classroom has this preconceived notion of what a conservative is.”
Despite any misconceptions surrounding his political foundation, Charlestream’s support for Senator Paul’s campaign is largely congruent with his personal and political beliefs.
“I was raised with the instincts and the basis of responsibility, and ‘you’re responsible for your own actions,’” says Charlestream. “That’s how I was raised; I’ll be the first one to admit that that’s what pushed me to conservatism and libertarianism. No one’s responsible for you other than yourself.”
Having a religious upbringing also contributed to Charlestream’s outlook on life, personally and politically. “I was taught to believe things, and I did believe things until I was about 14,” says Charlestream. “I kinda just grew out of it and started thinking for myself. Eventually, I began to realize that everything that I knew and everything I was taught, I found out, personally, that it wasn’t true for me.”
A self-described “social liberal and fiscal conservative,” Charlestream remains open-minded to different perspectives on campus. “I don’t have to associate with like-minded people in order to have friends and be a community member at Johnson,” Charlestream says. “People should be allowed to do whatever they want as long as they aren’t infringing upon the rights of other people, and I firmly believe that.”
Charlestream acknowledges a level of uncertainty as to exactly what his future endeavors entail, though he does have an idea of what he wants to do. “I have a goal and an aim as to what direction I want to go,” he says. “I’m really interested in campaign work and business administration. So that’s where I’m leaning, but I also have a concentration in pre-law, so law school is definitely on the horizon as well.”
Looking externally at a contentious campaign season having just served on Senator Paul’s campaign, Charlestream says he has transitioned from “glass half full” optimism to “glass half empty” discouragement.
Having expressed disappointment over the current political climate, Charlestream says he is not abandoning all hope in American politics and urges students to get involved around campus.
“Looking at the glass half empty gives me, and should give everyone, especially students on campus, the drive to fix it,” says Charlestream. “We are a part of the system, and I think a lot of people ignore that. I think there needs to be a lot more voices and a lot more perspectives in American politics, and I think some of that that is definitely alienated by only having two parties. There should be a lot more voices than there currently [are].”