Some of them have been seen suspending large banners from freeway overpasses. Others have been spotted at busy intersections waving signs that call for revolution. And groups of them have been heard on street corners in the Gaslamp and Pacific Beach discoursing on the need to end foreign military occupation, restore civil liberties, and dissolve the IRS and CIA.
They are San Diego’s soldiers in the grassroots army of presidential candidate Ron Paul, a ten-term Republican Congressman from Lake Jackson, Texas, and they are taking on the establishment one homemade sign and one commandeered street corner at a time.
With nearly 975 members, the San Diego branch of the Ron Paul campaign is the fourth largest in the country, behind those in New York City, Austin, and Chicago. The chapters are unaffiliated with Paul’s national headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, receiving neither aid nor direction. Local members shell out their own money to print stickers and campaign literature, and they can be seen making runs to the hardware store for paper and spray paint to make their signs. They sell buttons, shirts, and Ron Paul DVDs from the beds of their trucks: DVDs for 25 cents, a button for $1, and shirts for $5.
They also hold meetings at places like the Boll Weevil restaurant in San Marcos. On January 10, some of North County’s newest members cram into the Boll Weevil’s empty dining room to introduce themselves and share their efforts with others in the campaign. The excitement from the 31 in attendance overpowers the scent of the half-pound steerburgers.
The supporters span the political and age spectrums. They range from a politically disgruntled man in his late 60s wearing a checkered flannel shirt to a 20-year-old female law student.
While a middle-aged, ponytailed gentleman peers through small rectangular reading glasses at the pages of the Citizens Rule Book — a book given to jurors to educate them on constitutional rights — Alfredo Salinas, a 24-year-old born in Mexico, listens attentively to the introductions.
Salinas is one of the few minorities in the group, and although he has permanent resident status, he is not an American citizen. But being unable to vote hasn’t stopped him and his 19-year-old brother Christian from joining sign-making parties, draping the signs throughout town, and posting amateur videos of these activities on YouTube. He characterizes his involvement as similar to holding down a second job. “I probably spend 30 hours a week,” he says. “I spend a lot of time. Even when I’m walking the dog, I’m passing out flyers.
“Ron Paul isn’t perfect,” Salinas continues. “I don’t agree with him on everything. I don’t agree with him on the birth-right issue.” Paul proposes to stop granting citizenship to babies born in the United States if their parents are here illegally.
“I do agree with him on civil liberties and the war and the no-IRS thing.”
When asked what other Ron Paul supporters think of him, Salinas chuckles. “The Ron Paul people are all kinds of different people. I’ve met some Minutemen, and you know, I disagree with them. Immigration is a very hard topic, you know. We agree on the war issue and the civil liberties. I agree with them on some things, but I don’t agree with them on others. Nobody is perfect.”
Standing at the front of the room, beneath a deer’s head and an old shotgun mounted on the wall, Mike Benoit, the organizer of the San Diego campaign, listens to the newcomers introduce themselves. Benoit’s relaxed demeanor and shaggy, disheveled appearance belie the sage and seasoned political activist that he is. A member of the Libertarian Party for over 17 years, he has run against Duncan Hunter in every race since 2000 to represent the 52nd Congressional District, which includes La Mesa, El Cajon, and Lakeside.
The reason for Benoit’s political involvement is frustration. “The message that we all seemed to be hearing was to choose from big socialist government A or big socialist government B. There was no message about limited government or individual liberty.”
A male law student, sitting behind an extra-large glass of beer, is suggesting ways to approach fellow San Diegans with the Ron Paul message. “Dr. Paul’s positions are very nuanced. So you want to feel out where they’re coming from and try and put it into the light that will be best for them. For example, on immigration there’s a thousand ways you can put Paul’s position, 500 of them are sure to piss off liberals and 500 of them will make liberals love him, and none of them are lies.”
Benoit informs the newcomers of the strategy used for the campaign. “First the Internet, then the streets, and then everywhere!” The grassroots organization uses four methods: Internet, sign waving and hanging, precinct walking, and additional creative efforts such as flying a Ron Paul mini-blimp and holding a rally at the Organ Pavilion in Balboa Park.
The Internet is an important facet of the Paul campaign. The national campaign’s official website, ronpaul2008.com, displays on its home page a running tally of the amount of money collected during the current quarter and a countdown to primary election dates. The webpage has links to information on how to join up and how to become one of the country’s 180,000 precinct leaders as well as links to YouTube videos. Google has also played an integral part in informing potential Paul supporters on a national level.
The Internet is equally valuable to the local Paul campaign. The chapter’s website, ronpaul.meetup.com/93, is laid out in similar fashion to popular social networking sites. It serves as the line of communication, informing supporters of upcoming meetings and events and allowing fellow members easy access to one another.
The centerpiece for the home page is a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” The site features a schedule of past and future “meet-ups” and links to Mike Benoit’s current run for Congress and the San Diego Libertarian Party. Each day a number of emails with Ron Paul updates, event reminders, and news pertinent to the campaign are sent out to members. Supporters are encouraged to upload pictures as well as make their own personalized page, but more important, all are urged to find and invite new members.