CJ Pearson says he has been conservative since second grade. Now a senior in high school, Pearson has gained national attention for his conservative activism.
On today’s episode of The Daily Signal Podcast, Pearson, 17, shares why he is fighting back against left-wing policies.
Listen to the full episode or read a lightly edited transcript below.
Rob Bluey: We are joined by CJ Pearson. He’s a young conservative activist located in Georgia. CJ, thanks for joining us.
CJ Pearson: Rob, thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Bluey: Absolutely. We’re excited. It was great to see you recently at The Heritage Foundation, and appreciate you coming on The Daily Signal Podcast to share a little bit about your story.
I want to begin by introducing you as, of course, a high school senior. You’re somebody who’s gained national attention because of your conservative activism. In fact, you’ve been described as the left’s youngest nightmare. You were raised, though, in a liberal household. So, how did you become a conservative?
Pearson: You know, it’s an interesting story. And I do come from a house divided, which has certainly made for interesting dinnertime conversation and definitely has been the subject of much discussion. My videos are definitely the subject of much discussion within my household.
So, I think for me, when I was first embarking upon my journey in politics, I wanted to find myself. I wanted to find out what I believe, personally. I wanted to find my political values, and wherever that led, I was OK with it.
Where I started was with … [reading] the Federalist Papers, I read the Constitution, I studied the platforms of both of the major parties. I actually even read a couple white papers on The Heritage Foundation back then. And this was like when I was like 10 or like 12.
Of course my parents have always voted Democrat. But what I always tell people is that—and this is a common story within the black community—my parents may have voted Democrat, but the values they instilled within me from when I was a child were conservative values. They were pro-family, they weren’t traditional, they were about personal responsibility.
So moving toward conservatism wasn’t a difficult thing for me. It was how I was raised. And for me it was just about discovering the evidence and the things that support what I believe now. For example, pro-growth policies, fiscal conservatism, the right to life, all of those things. It took a thirst for knowledge for me to figure out, “Yes, these are my values.”
It all started kind of after the 2008 election. We had an assignment in class where … we had to do what every good citizen in the country was doing at the time, we had to research the candidates and then we would ultimately cast our vote.
I remember watching the debates, not necessarily understanding at that time—I was like 7—what Iran was doing that was so bad, or what health care reform [was]. But realizing that what they’re doing on that stage was really, really important. And that kind of gave me the political bug and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Virginia Allen: That’s great. You know, CJ, as Rob mentioned, you have gained so much national attention—largely in part due to your disapproval of left-wing policies. Was there maybe a specific policy or instance that really led you to engage in political discourse at such a young age?
Pearson: I think it was more so the debate story. … During that time, I was 7 years old. I had never thought about politics before in any way. I was your average 7-year-old kid. I was playing with Legos, watching cartoons every Saturday morning. I was living my best life as a 7-year-old boy. So, we get this assignment, I totally shrug it off in the beginning. I was like, “Oh my God, literally what is even politics? I don’t care.”
And then I just remember, though, watching the debate—this was back when Candy Crowley was back at CNN, so this was way back when. And I remember just watching it, hearing them talk about these really important issues, realizing that they were important.
But I think what really got me, like pushed me toward political activism … I don’t think it was a singular issue, but I think it was the overarching belief that I believe that young people have an obligation to fight for the future that we want in this country.
No one’s going to give that to us. No one’s going to hand it to us. And I think that unless we’re involved, we can’t complain. At the end of the day, the decisions that politicians today make are going to affect our generation for years to come. So we might as well have a seat at the table because if we don’t, we will most certainly be on the menu.
Bluey: And CJ, let me take you back to that period of time. How were you perceived among your classmates, teachers? What did they think of somebody who was not only well-educated and articulate about these policy issues, but also maybe coming from a perspective that differed from their own?
Pearson: I think when it first started out … I wasn’t really overtly political back in elementary school. It was something that interested me. I read the newspaper front to back every single morning with my dad. But that was pretty much it.
I didn’t really talk about it much in school because it never really came up. We were learning the Fact Families and things like that in math class. We weren’t really talking about politics yet.
But in fifth grade it was the 2012 election. We actually had another mock election. That year was Romney and Obama. And it was just a lot different.
So, we did have this political conversation, they did begin to start. And I think a lot of my classmates were just kind of baffled by the idea that I even found politics remotely interesting. But also that I kind of knew what I was talking about.
It’s definitely shifted now. … It’s not always easy, because people are more politically in tune now at this age. And they may not have the most informed opinion, but everyone has an opinion.
So, I think that there is a certain element of, I have to defend my beliefs more than I had to when I was younger. But there’s also the fact that I had to grow up doing that. I live in a household of card-carrying Democrats. If I have an opinion about Trump, I have to defend it. If I believe that this particular conservative policy is a good idea, I have to defend it.
It’s been something that I’ve welcomed. I welcome disagreement, I welcome people challenging my ideas. I think it makes me a stronger advocate for my ideas. It’s definitely been interesting growing up kind of in the spotlight, especially as it relates to politics. …
I think when … my first video went viral, all my friends were just kind of going crazy about the view count. And it’s very different, because it’s like most kids my age, they’re famous for snorting cinnamon and doing things like that. So, it’s like I kind of got internet acclaim for a very good reason. It’s definitely been an interesting journey.
Bluey: Walk us through your use of social media because I think that in many cases, you’ve certainly outmaneuvered a lot of people in … older generations in terms of your use of it and your ability to attract that following and generate some national attention.
First of all, tell us how our readers can find you, and how you were able to have so much success.
Pearson: For sure. You can follow me on Twitter, @thecjpearson, and also on Instagram, @thecjpearson. Or you can just go to my website, cjpearson.org, which will give you links to all of my social media profiles.
To answer your question about how I did it, really it was native to me. I know a lot of people sit around big conference tables in very important places and churn out long social media strategies. For me, I grew up using Instagram. I grew up using Twitter. I grew up using Snapchat. So, when I’m posting my ideas or I’m posting my beliefs, it’s really natural to me. There’s no strategy behind it, I don’t tweet a certain amount of times a day—I probably tweet too much.
I think what really benefited me was kind of knowing the contours of the platform in a way … that I’m uniquely able to do as someone who is my age, but also someone who didn’t take it too seriously and was more concerned about just the ability to take my message in places where it wasn’t before.
Yesterday I started using TikTok, which is like the crazy new app that everyone is using, everyone in Gen Z is using. So, everyone listening right now, … if you want your kid to think you’re really cool, download TikTok. Or if you just want to be in the know, download TikTok.
I started using TikTok for posting little funny political videos. And I did it because it’s a new audience, and everyone’s there. Everyone’s paying attention to that platform.
I think the biggest advice I can give to people is be receptive to the changes and the dynamic of the platform, but also just be natural. Your audience wants authenticity and they want simple, cool content. That’s definitely been something that I’ve strived to do.
Allen: Speaking of social media, on Aug. 20 you tweeted, “The left equates blackness with victimhood, but I chose to be a victor and it feels good.”
Can you elaborate a little bit on that tweet and what you meant by that?
Pearson: All the time the left is constantly talking about how black people have gotten the short end of the stick in this country. How we are the victims of the white man, and how we are still suffering the blows of slavery hundreds of years after and how we need all the help that we can get from the government. I disagree. I think what that has done is hobbled the black community to the point that we can’t survive without the government.
I had a great conversation with the president of The Heritage Foundation, Mrs. [Kay Coles] James. The point that she made was that after the Great Society, that’s really when we saw a type of dependency within the black community we had never really seen before.
The black community before then was very self-reliant. They were self-starters. They owned black businesses. It was a huge thing. They prided themselves upon their independence. But after the Great Society, it became a crutch.
For me, I think victimhood is laziness, and it’s just not something I ascribed to. I think that the way you advance in this world, the way that you move forward, is by putting in the work, grinding real hard, and just seeking opportunity.
I don’t need anyone to give me an unfair advantage. All I need is a fair shot. That’s all I need. That’s all I want. I don’t need the government to take care of me. I don’t need the government to pay my bills. All I need is opportunity. And I think that’s all a lot of people of color want. But all you hear from the left is ways for them to continue to … attach [the black community] more and more to government than actually freeing them from that dependency.
Bluey: Thanks for sharing that perspective, CJ. It’s really refreshing to hear you talk about that.
As a young person, I have to ask you about this recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which we’ve covered on The Daily Signal Podcast before. It involved the younger generation, as particularly compared to previous generations when they were the same age as you, and changing views when it comes to patriotism, the importance of raising families, commitment to a religious faith, for instance. And we’ve seen all of those numbers decline.
Whereas other polls show some alarming statistics about the rise of socialism and other concerning things on the minds of conservatives, and probably many of our readers.
So, what can you tell us about your peers, and how we as conservatives might do a better job of articulating those values that we hold so dear?
Pearson: For starters, what I would say is that I wouldn’t read too much into those polls because I’ve seen the socialism statistic and most kids my age really don’t even know what socialism is. So, I think that that’s an education issue, right? We need to be educating our kids about what socialism is, what it entails, and the fact that it has literally devastated countries like Venezuela, like Cuba. And that socialism kills. It’s not something that makes everything equal. If it does make anyone equal in any regard, it makes us equally poor and equally unsuccessful. …
Also, from my own personal observation, I see—as far as attitudes go—one of the most conservative generations that I’ve seen in a long time. This is a generation that hates PC culture. We hate political correctness. Our memes are the most offensive things I’ve ever seen, but we love them and we pride ourselves on them. And cancel culture, we hate cancel culture. It’s literally asinine that we are bringing up things from 15 years ago and holding it over the heads of people who have changed and evolved.
… My advice to the right would be, let’s educate our young people, right? Let’s teach them that socialism is a bad idea. Let’s teach them a little about why the free market is the greatest pathway to success for them, their families, and their communities. Let’s talk to them about why President Trump isn’t the racist that the media constantly tries to depict him as, but is actually someone who signed into law the First Step Act, has led on criminal justice reform, and has brought about the lowest black unemployment rate in our nation’s history.
No one my age is hearing that. They’re not at all because they’re reading BuzzFeed, they’re on Snapchat all the time, or they get their news from Taylor Swift. And, love Taylor, but I just don’t know if she’s the best source for political news.
I think the biggest thing that we need to do as conservatives is meet young people where they are. We need to be on platforms like TikTok. We need to be on Instagram, we need to be on Snapchat, all those places. And we need to start educating young people about these issues. These issues are not just fancy little taglines, they have ramifications. They have consequences.
Socialism isn’t cool. Socialism is something that actually has devastated, again, country after country after country. I don’t think enough young people know that and it’s our obligation as conservatives to educate them on what those ramifications are.
Allen: CJ, thank you for sharing that.
You’ve just begun your senior year of high school, and it’s so exciting to watch everything you’ve done already at such a young age. Do you have any plans or thoughts for what you’ll do after you graduate?
Pearson: I’m open to a lot of different options right now. … I got into my first university, [I got] my first college acceptance earlier this month, that was really exciting. I’ll hopefully be hearing back from a few more colleges after December. But I really kept an open mind about it. I’m super excited to continue my activism, continue to fight to ensure that my generation has a seat at the table and that conservatism is advanced.
I think that what’s so important more now than ever is for people my age to rise up and speak out. Our country is at a crossroads where we will really have to decide what type of nation we want to be. Do we want to be a nation of open borders, of socialism, or a country where babies are allowed to be aborted post-birth?
I think the answer to that question is “no.” And I think that the only way that we ensure that that answer remains “no” is by being vocal, by being active, by being involved, and by ensuring that this next generation of Americans knows that conservatism is not the dirty word that their teacher said it was. It’s not the dirty word that Taylor Swift said it was. It’s something that is intrinsic to what it means to be an American. It’s a reflection of the values of our Founding Fathers who did the most audacious thing when they set out to found this country so that we could self-govern, which is one of the hardest things for any civilized society to do, but we’ve done it.
That is really what my ambition is after high school, to continue that work, to continue that effort to ensure that conservatism lives on, and that more young people are informed, are aware, and are educated about the most important issues that are shaping our society and our culture for years to come.
Bluey: Well, CJ, we certainly need you out there fighting that good fight, that happy warrior spirit that you bring. So, thank you for doing what you’re doing and we wish you the best as you finish out high school.
Remind our readers once again, if they want to follow you on social media or learn more about the work you’re doing, how best to go about doing that.
Pearson: Sure. Rob and Virginia, I want to first and foremost thank you guys for having me. It’s been an absolute pleasure. Great conversation. If your readers want to follow me, they can check me out @thecjpearson on Twitter, Instagram as well. And my website is cjpearson.org.
Allen: That’s great. Thank you so much, CJ. Really appreciate your time today.
Pearson: Thank you so much. It was a pleasure.