National vs. Grassroots… The good, the bad, and…

On Sunday night, some of the members of the Des Moines and Ames meetups met with the national campaign HQ members to talk about the Straw poll. I must tell you that I went in there with a bit of an attitude, because I am one of those who has been questioning the chasm that I feel developing between the grassroots campaign and the national campaign. More than once, I’ve asked myself, “What are they doing?” and “Who are these people?”. To be fair, I also ask myself, “What am I doing?” and “Who the heck am I?” Equal time, you know.

The difference between national and grassroots is evident even to the most casual observer. As I looked around the room, I had to smile at the contrast. The meetup folk were slouching on the floor in casually reclined poses; most of us, if we cut our hair, look like we use a bowl for a template. We write with pencils and bics and snort when we laugh. The national team, on the other hand, wear clothes that are so nice they have their own birth certificates. They wear their sunglasses on top of their heads, have really nice haircuts, and as they sit leaning gracefully against the wall, they toy with cool electronic gizmos that the rest of us stare at in fascination. They use words like “touches” and “charm offensive”. We use words like “borg” and “duct tape”.

The meeting was started with a report on what the Campaign has accomplished in terms of reaching out to voters. National has started a campaign to connect with special segments of the Iowan population, and between this campaign, and the write and call Iowan programs, they expect to reach (or “touch”) over 200,000 potential voters by the end of this week.

One of the national team said, “We want to touch as many people as we can.” and another said, “Isn’t it better to touch someone several times?” I tried not to laugh, but I couldn’t help thinking, “Doesn’t it depend on where you touch them?” <snort>

The meeting continued at a good clip, and we covered the different areas of the Straw Poll that needed volunteer support. It was a pretty good meeting, but I still somehow was bothered by the chasm I felt between us.

So at an inopportune moment, which is the only time I seem capable of speaking out in a group, I told them that I was sensing a chasm between national and grass roots. I said that if we weren’t careful, we would end up with two campaigns. Two campaigns that didn’t like each other. Cats and Dogs, Hatfield and McCoys, Eileen and Sandy Burger (Eileen and Sandy were my next door neighbors when I was growing up and were always fighting over their “real live Lucy” doll who refused to eat spinach or raise taxes.) You get the picture.

I told them that the supporters for Ron Paul want to help. I said, “For example, if you’re doing a radio campaign in Iowa, why not make the ad available, and I know the supporters will run with it and play it all over Iowa! There’s so much we can do together. Can’t you just talk to us? We’re not from the government, we really are here to help!” Realizing that I was beginning to sound like a democrat <teasing!>, I trailed off with, “It’s just that we’re a little frustrated right now…”

It was about then that I noticed that one of the national guys was turning an odd shade of red. Suddenly, he jumped up and with clenched fists exclaimed, “You think you’re frustrated?! You have no idea!” It took me a while to understand what he was talking about, but when the light finally dawned, I realized there was another side to this whole thing that I hadn’t even been aware of.

Here’s the gist of it. The FEC (Federal Election Commission) has a code of rules and regulations that apparently makes the IRS codebook look like nursery rhymes. And, because other groups are not, shall we say, encouraging our campaign it is especially important that we follow the code to perfection. The code mostly deals with money – how it is received by the campaign, how it is used, etc. The tricky part for grassroots campaigns is that our activities must clearly be separate (in general) from the National campaign or someone is gonna end up in a little prison cell with a roommate named Bubba.

So, they can’t give us a radio ad, because then it isn’t an independent action, but a coordinated communication, which requires filing reams of reports, may exceed the allowed donation limit, etc. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

What they explained to us is this: They hate it, but they have to live by it. They want, they need for us to do what we’re doing and do more of it. They were as encouraging as they could be, but are very skittish about doing anything that can be misconstrued as incorrect. They don’t want to hear about the projects that we’re working on, and they can’t consult with us on the best way to do them. They went into some more detail, but you can see the general scheme of things, right?

When they were done talking about the restrictions on them, I blurted out, “Wow, I feel so free!”. And I do. Do you see what this means? It means we don’t have to wait on the national organization to make decisions. We don’t have to feel stymied because we don’t know what they want. The truth is this: they can’t tell us! It’s not that they don’t want to, it’s just that they aren’t allowed to.   So, you and I can promote Dr. Paul with our best efforts. We can coordinate with each other and help each other as we have been doing. And we can do more of it. While we cannot and indeed must not depend on national, we can support them as best we can so that they can work fully within the limitations that exist, because the national campaign is also vital for success. But, we must move forward within the grassroots movement. The truth is that Dr. Paul’s message, our message, is simple and clear enough that once people hear it, it speaks to them. That’s the only direction we really need. All we have to do is let people know about him.

In the end, there are two campaigns – national and grassroots. But now, instead of thinking of us as two little kids fighting over our “Constitution Ron” doll, I see us more as Captain Navarre and Isabeau from Ladyhawke – two lovers under the spell of an evil wizard, unable to “touch” each other, but soon to be set free and return justice to the land. The only part I can’t decide is who’s the hawk and who’s the wolf.


12 Responses to “National vs. Grassroots… The good, the bad, and…”

  1. Valerie Says:

    Thanks again, Jen, for letting us know what’s going on in Iowa, and writing about it all in such a captivating way. Looking forward to future updates.

  2. Sarah Says:

    Great article. Thanks:)

  3. Eric Says:

    Great post, Jen. I got a whole new perspective on the campaign after reading it.

  4. Michelle Says:

    Thanks, Jen!
    And thanks to ALL Ron Paul supporters both grass-roots and national!

  5. solekitchen Says:

    you are a good writer. that is interesting information and appreciate your time putting it out there.


  6. ChicagoLawyer Says:

    Great, and very moving post, thank you. What the campaign says about the FEC is absolutely true. They can’t touch the grassroots in terms of what the grassroots spend their money on because it will become subject to all the FEC limits and reporting (it actually is subject to that anyway, but doesn’t get the campaign in trouble if it isn’t coordinated). They can’t say “hold off on Operation Spooner because we’re about to do call Iowa.” They have to wait and announce it and if it creates a waste of precious grassroots hours and resources then that’s the way it is. We’ll just have to slug through this together, but not quite together.

  7. Jeremy Says:

    Excellent article Jen! I was at the meeting and you did an excellent job of relaying the message that was given to us and I love your colorful writing style! Right on on your portrayal of the two groups of campaigners, we grassrooters are a little more rough around the edges!

  8. Pam Says:

    Jen, great article! I laughed out loud at your “us” and “them” observations. It is so awesome you are there. We did our phone calls to Iowans this morning, encouraging them to participate in the straw poll and vote for Ron Paul. The positive response was staggering, we were so excited when people really DID want to know more. Every person we talked to except one was eager to learn more about Dr. Paul and said they would think about participating.
    We grassrooters have to support each other and continue to share our inspiring stories–I get all charged up when I read articles like yours! Rock on!

  9. Rachel aka Ladyjade Says:

    Jen, Wow! You’re a really fantastic writer! I’ll have to bookmark this since I don’t see a link to subscribe… Hope I get to meet you along the campaign trail. If not, I’ll see you at the inauguration! 🙂

  10. tz Says:

    But do they have to wear clothing that looks like they are part of the leviathan that Dr. Paul wants to slay?

    In one sense, this is an odd couple campaign, the Felix Unger’s of the national making sure the i’s are dotted and t’s are crossed, and the Oscar Madison’s running over the landscape

    (Somehow I think of Joan of Arc in “The Messenger” that misused the siege tower by knocking it down to form a bridge – the original generals won’t win the victory, nor will it come through ordinary means. I wonder if William Sturgis Lind is available to be the Campaign’s insurgent grassroots general?)

  11. DavidW Says:

    Great post. As mentioned previously, the writing style is enjoyable and each post truly puts me in Iowa.

    The reason for my comment has to do with dress — which has been mentioned on a number of occasions in many different locales throughout the Internets.

    Having had worked in media for at least 10 years (radio talk show host), there is one phrase that stands the test of time — “Perception is reality.” Between the mainstream press and the general (non-kook — and I use that term endearingly) public, how a person appears in public is a big deal. They may sit and intently listen to our message of liberty, and they may genuinely want to know more about Dr. Ron Paul, but subconsciously they will have a lasting impression that the individual presenting the information is unworthy because of their slovenly dress.

    This issue seems so trivial, and when presenting a message of freedom, it smacks of hypocrisy to say to freedom lovers you can’t wear those combat boots. But again, perception is reality.

    The nationals have to wear the ties and look the part. While we all know it is the message that matters, in the arena of public opinion (where the real election is won and lost) the less professional the campaign looks, the less attention it will grab by the MSM.

    Asking a volunteer (which the nationals can’t do) to look presentable when out “representing” the campaign should not be offensive. We should all want to do everything we can to help Dr. Paul win — even if that means combing our hair and choosing to leave the camouflage at home for the weekend.

  12. Andrew Says:

    What are the chances of getting you grassroots people to do another DVD drop where you stop and talk to the people about Ron Paul?

    From Everything I have heard, that is by far the most effective strategy. Canvasing from real people and asking them to come and vote for Ron Paul – explaining why you’re doing this for free . . . etc. All that Jazz seems to be the most productive.

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