When followers of erstwhile presidential candidate Ron Paul said they were going to stage an alternate convention, they meant it. Pretty much everything about Paul’s grassroots Rally for the Republic stands in stark contrast to the Republican national convention getting underway in St. Paul.
Its delegates are on their way via “Ronvoy,” a caravan of minivans and charter buses organized on the Internet. Many are eschewing hotels in favor of campgrounds and RV parks in Twin Cities exurbs, according to organizers. Still others will arrive just in time for the rally, a 12-hour marathon of speakers and entertainers taking place Tuesday at the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis.
“Most of our people are not wealthy,” said Drew Ivers, a longtime GOP activist who is Paul’s delegate coordinator. “They’re working people feeling the pinch. They’re not country-club elitists. With the price of gas, they’re caravanning in in minivans and the like.
“These people are sacrificing to make this happen,” Ivers added. “I think it’s commendable.”
Speakers expected at the rally include former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, MSNBC correspondent Tucker Carlson, anti-tax lobbyist Grover Norquist, Barry Goldwater Jr., son of the late presidential candidate, and Barb White, a candidate in Minnesota’s fifth congressional district.
On hand to entertain the 10,000 supporters organizers say they expect will be musicians Marc Scibilia, Rockie Lynne, Sara Evans and Aimee Allen, the voice behind “The Ron Paul Revolution Theme Song.” Tickets, still available at Ticketmaster at press time, are priced at a cheeky $17.76.
$4.7 million in campaign coffers
A physician and 10-term congressman from the greater Houston area, Paul officially suspended his campaign for the GOP presidential nomination in June. Instead, he announced, he would use the $4.7 million remaining in his campaign coffers to underwrite the Campaign for Liberty, a grassroots effort to push libertarian-minded candidates for local offices across the country.
Paul bills himself as a strict constitutionalist seeking the GOP’s return to its anti-big government, anti-interventionist roots. Sometimes referred to as “Dr. No” by critics and supporters alike, Paul opposes the war in Iraq, abortion rights, gay rights and the Federal Reserve Bank. In Congress, he refuses to vote for any bill he does not believe is explicitly authorized by the U.S. Constitution.
He refused on principle to accept Medicare when he practiced medicine in Texas, and has declined a congressional pension. Paul defeated American Indian Movement activist Russell Means for the Libertarian Party’s presidential endorsement in 1988.
Paul’s presidential campaign raised some $33 million in nine months, in part thanks to his candidacy’s “viral” popularity on the Internet and partly because his diverse ideological positions attracted energetic supporters from groups ranging from state political parties to the John Birch Society.
Some 500 rally attendees are signed up for a sold-out, half-day “Real Politics” organizing workshop Sunday morning at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center. A similar number of followers are expected at an invitation-only leadership summit in the same place the following day. “Street teams” are being organized to hand out passes to the Sept. 2 Rally at the State Fair, areas around the Republican convention and on college campuses.
Angry with GOP
Paul’s supporters are angry that their candidate has not been offered a chance to speak at the GOP event. “During the convention our objective is again to establish our credentials as Republicans,” said Ivers, a retired genetics researcher who lives in Webster City, Iowa. “We’re prepared to be Republicans, to assimilate into the party and to make it stronger.”
This year marks the fifth time Ivers has been elected a national GOP delegate. Estimates vary as to the number of delegates that remain committed to Paul. Paul supporters believe there may be as many as 70, while news reports suggest there will be fewer than 50 Paul supporters on the floor at the Xcel Energy Center.
Ivers lined up behind Paul when the Texas congressman decided to run for president in March 2007. He met the candidate three months later, and in July of this year was elected one of Iowa’s delegates to the GOP convention for the fifth time. Ivers said he plans to cast his vote at Xcel for Paul, but doesn’t believe he or the other delegates will have a chance to influence the Republican platform.
“All a national delegate does is cast a vote in the roll call of the state delegation,” said Ivers. “I would challenge the Republican establishment to wake up and smell the coffee and realize we really have slid farther to the left than we’d like to admit.”
Ivers is much more excited about the opportunity the rally poses to mint new political operatives. Most of the attendees he and other organizers have talked to are disaffected by mainstream politics, he said.
“Very few political folks have surfaced,” said Ivers. “That’s one of the things we’re proud of, and we feel the Republican Party hasn’t totally appreciated this.”
Sunday’s sold-out workshop will focus on giving the neophytes practical political skills—”politics 101,” said Ivers—while the purpose of the leadership summit planned for Monday is to build a structure for Paul’s ongoing Campaign for Liberty.
“For most of them, this is the first time they’ve done this,” said Ivers. “We’re training people to get back into grassroots politics. A lot of our new people think politics is backroom stuff. At the level we want to work at, the local, county, and community level, it’s all one-on-one, it’s not backroom at all.”
Beth Hawkins, a former reporter and editor for City Pages, writes about criminal justice, schools and other topics.