What would cause a person to skip work and ride in a car for three hours with a complete stranger through Los Angeles traffic in the blazing sun? That's right, presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Last Wednesday, in an adventure I still can't believe I had, I attended a rally for Ron Paul at USC. Sounds simple enough, except I don't have a car and don't live in Los Angeles. So I responded to an e-mail from a fellow Ron Paul Meetup.com member in my area (Santa Barbara). Those Meetup groups really do work, let me tell you! An e-mail, a quick phone call, and we were all set.
The closest I've been to a political movement before this was probably going to a CalPIRG statewide meeting at UC Berkeley, a student-led environmental and public interest group. Yeah, pretty much not at all similar. I haven't been a political activist before, maybe because no candidate ever seemed to speak about issues I could support before.
If there's one thing Ron Paul knows, it's that the message is more important than the man. As around seven hundred people gathered to hear him speak on the podium in front of Tommy Trojan, he reminded us, "You know, the question is always asked, why are we getting the support, especially among young people... what is it that they're attracted to? And it can't be me by myself, I know that can't be it!" We laughed with him. "But it just may be that the cause of liberty is what we're interested in!" And we applauded.
It's true. The crowd was young. I'm fresh out of college myself. I wore a homemade Ron Paul rEVOLution t-shirt, designed and printed with Adobe Illustrator. Others had hand-made signs and some were distributing other materials they had clearly made themselves as advertisements. With believers like us, Ron Paul has a grassroots marketing campaign all his own. No one paid us, we just felt his message was worth fighting for.
The day was hot, and I noted to my new Meetup friend that I wished I had an umbrella to hold over Ron's head. Truly taxing weather for a speech! Ron Paul's entrance, coming straight out of a press conference in one of the USC academic buildings, was a great moment. I was standing near the stage, but I could hear people on the other side of the walkway cheering before I saw him. A roar rippled through the crowd, and as soon as I saw him, a shiver ran through me. A great man was among us. I was cheering too, as loudly as I could. (My back can be seen in this YouTube video, short black hair and wearing a black shirt, taking pictures.)
Ron Paul covered some of his key issues, most notably removal of the Federal government from the citizen's private life (by way of abolishing the Federal Reserve and the income tax), ending the War on Drugs, restoring civil liberties, and removing our troops from foreign soil.
As ever, Paul was passionate and also very thorough in his explanations of his arguments. For example, he made an interesting point on the Drug War: "I want to talk about another war that's an illegal war. It's an intrusion on privacy, it's an excuse to abuse our liberties wholesale, and that is the War on Drugs. Now, in a free society, there are always problems, and people get to make choices. Some people will make bad choices, but they have to be responsible for their bad choices. I happen to have a personal belief about drugs. I happen to think they're terribly dangerous. But as a physician, I also have come to the conclusion that prescription drugs are causing a lot more harm in this country than the illegal drugs." Paul also noted wasted police energy trying to catch supposed "drug criminals" instead of actually violent citizens and sex offenders.
I agree that the criminalization of drugs has actually caused more harm than it has prevented. Through illegalization, black markets and violence centered around those markets have sprung up where there was none previously. And let's face it, do the drugs that are illegal have much to do with how dangerous they are? Not really. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration receives over $100 million a year from the drug industry, mostly to review drugs more rapidly. You can bet they aren't protecting you.
Another point he made that resonated with the crowd was that of protesting the fiat system. He went so far as to say the government wasn't smart enough to handle our money, and that the sheer act of devaluing the dollar by printing more money was an infringement on civil liberties. The year 1913 was when things began to go downhill, he noted, with the Federal Reserve springing into existence and the adoption of the inflationary policies we have today. The working person should be able to keep what they earn, he said, and that is how we will know we have a healthy economy. Amen, Ron Paul.
On the issue he is perhaps the most well-known for in his presidential bid, his protest of the Iraq war as unconstitutional and unwarranted, he made an impassioned plea: "Bring them home! Stop the killing and stop the bleeding!" After his speech, a huge crowd of supporters made their way to the stage, including myself, to shake his hand, get a photo with him, and try to express our gratitude for his campaign. Paul all but vanished in the crowd... at times only a small head of silvery hair in the crowd gave any indication he was still among us.
It was worth the wait to shake the hand of such a great man. Clearly tired out by his speech and the weather, Paul made his way slowly through the waves of people, never denying anyone a picture, an autograph or a handshake. He was so nice about it that eventually his assistants had to clear us aside to make room for his Fox interview, which happened about twenty minutes after the rally.
There would be no breaks for Paul. After the Fox interview, he went straight on into a room reserved for paying guests who would be having dinner with him. It would have been difficult to attend this dinner and get back at a reasonable hour, so we said our goodbye to USC and headed into a nearby gas station for water for the drive home.
Here's where one of my favorite moments of all came. A man approached us and said, "Ron Paul! I'm German, and we've heard of him where I'm from too!" He had been unaware that Ron Paul was in the area, although his son attended USC. He was very disappointed to hear that the rally was over. He asked if there was anything Ron Paul-related we could give him. Fortunately, I had acquired a bumper sticker at the rally, so I handed that over. And what's more, he took our picture as we held up the Ron Paul signs and grinned.
There is no clearer proof than that: Ron Paul's message resonates across the world. I am proud to be a part of the movement.