Archive for the ‘adventure rambling’ Category

Reminiscences – Debate 101

August 14, 2007


Sometimes I’ll buy a cup of coffee, and I know I should wait to drink it because it’s hot. There’s steam wafting from the cup, the container says, “Warning! Contents are hot!”. Yet despite the evidence, I convince myself its drinkable, take a sip and inevitably scald my mouth. That’s what the political process in Iowa has been like for me. I know the media is misrepresenting reality; I know that politicians buy votes; I know the voting process can be manipulated. But knowing something doesn’t always prepare us for the experience.

On the morning of August 5th, my first thought as I went out to my car at 5:30 am was, “Holy Smokes, that’s some kind of thunderstorm!” I didn’t give it much thought because I was on my way to the debate. The Debate! It was my first real political event, and I was excited to see how things really work.

I arrived at Drake University along with the rain. My first impression as I walked up to the “free speech zone” was of the contrast between Dr. Paul’s supporters and Mr. Mitt’s fan club. Dr. Paul’s supporters were spread all along the block holding signs, whooping and hollering – laughing at the rain as if to say, “C’mon give me all you got!” Mitt’s kids were huddled together, looking miserable. They were all college age and the guys were wearing frat boy uniforms and the girls were in photogenic short shorts. I wondered if they all got the same memo entitled, “How to dress for debate success! Go team!”

And then I saw the big red things on their hands. What the heck? No…. are those… mitts? I wonder how much they paid a consultant to come up with that one. “Ok. Let’s go through this one more time. Mitt… Mitts. Get it?”

After a while the chanting started, and I couldn’t help grinning a bit self-righteously at the differences between the two groups.

“We’re not just the internet.”

“Say yes to Dr. No!”

“Who would Washington vote for?” “Ron Paul”

“Who would Jesus vote for?” “Ron Paul!”

“I love you, man!”


“Let’s go Mitt!”

“Gimme and ‘M’. Gimme a ‘I’. Gimme a ‘T’. Gimme another ‘T’. What does it spell!” <confused pause as they look at each other> “uh, Mitt?”

At one point, to counter the enthusiastic calls of the Ron Paul supporters, the Mitt-Mitt’s got the bright idea to start chanting, “Who’s Ron Paul!” It took them a while to realize this wasn’t a good idea.

I kind of felt sorry for them; they were a little gaggle of soggy Biff’s and Bitsy’s surrounded by a defiant and outrageously cheerful crowd of fools for Liberty. It must have been confusing to them. Not to mention that due to the downpour, their cardboard signs kept tearing and within a few minutes, they had a mountain of Romney trash floating in a giant puddle at their feet.

For some reason this really irked me. And when the puddle, which had become a stream, washed them across my feet, I leaned down and gently placed them on high ground. They looked at me and said they were sorry, and I said, “You know, you really ought to have more respect for your candidate.”

I realized at that moment that there is a fundamental difference about our campaign. We don’t view this as a team sport. We don’t want our team to win win win! Nor do we want our candidate to win so we can prove that we’re winners. Our stakes are much higher and more personal. Each person who came that day had a story to tell. One learned about Dr. Paul while researching the corrupt company he was working for. Another had decided to stop paying income taxes because they were unconstitutional. Another was researching Y2K and was appalled at what she discovered. Yet another was losing his property to imminent domain. 50 different roads leading to the same place. I wondered what the media would make of that?

As it turns out, the media was about to show me.

After the debate started, some photographers came out to take pictures. As soon as Team Mitt! saw them, they grabbed a banner and ran forward to pose. The photographers zoomed in on them and took several pictures of the slick legged girls. I was amazed at the way the photographers angled their shots to exclude the rest of us from the photos. When one of Dr. Paul’s supporters rushed over to be in the picture, the photographer stopped shooting, chastised him for posing, and tried to work around this bothersome interloper who refused to move. I watched photographer after photographer come over and do the exact same thing that morning, and each time my heart sank a little more.

After the photographers left, the college kids packed up to leave, and I leaned in to hear what they were talking about. They were comparing notes on where the campaign had sent them and where they were going to be sent next. And that was the moment I felt as though I had scalded my mouth on the hot coffee. Paid photographers were sent to take pictures of paid supporter look-a-likes to run in newspapers, t.v. shows, and websites across the country. Finally, I got how they work. I wonder if they will ever understand how we work.

I went to ABC’s website after the debate and saw the two pictures they posted of supporters. The first was of the Romney babes. In the corner, you can see one unbelievably beautiful and defiant Ron Paul sign.

The second picture is of a lone man holding a Ron Paul sign, standing in the rain. The implication is, of course, that he was the only supporter. Had he, in fact, been the only supporter, I would have been unbelievably proud. I heard his story later that same day. He was from Texas and worked for an airline. He and his 5 year old daughter had flown into Des Moines the night before so they could come to the debate. Not having anywhere to go, they set up a pup tent in the grassy strip in front of the Des Moines airport, where they slept for a few hours in the rain. The next morning they caught a ride to the debate, where they stood in a downpour for hours, showing their enthusiastic support for Ron Paul. Unwavering. Untouched by the insanity of it all. Afterwards they got a ride back to the airport where they waited on standby to go home. They couldn’t have been happier or more grateful to have been there.

Like the photographers who came that day, we all have a choice in how we capture reality. I choose to see you, the people who have Hope for America. I choose to work for the return of the land of the Free and the Brave. This is my reality, and I won’t stop until we all have it. In America. And in the world.

So, to my fellow patriots who stood in the rain and cheered for Freedom that amazing Sunday morning, I say “Thank you. You inspire me more than you can ever know. Now let’s get a move on!”


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

August 1, 2007

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.

Can I ask you a personal question?

July 23, 2007

Today I had the windshield on my vw bus replaced.  The guy who swapped it out was a good guy.  Ex-marine.  Real no nonsense.  Polite.  After he finished the job we got to talking, and he asked me why I was in Iowa.  I told him that I was working on a political campaign.

 “What did you do before that?”

 “Well, before that I lived in Japan for a year and a half, working for a charitable organization that supports orphans and families in third world countries.  But I heard that this guy, Ron Paul, was running for president, and I had to come back because I really feel that if we don’t do something soon…”

 He finished for me, “We’re headed right down the toilet?  Yeah.  I feel that too.”

Then he paused and said, “Can I ask you a personal question?”


“When we have so much poverty in this country, why are you going to other countries to help?”

 It’s a good question.  I told him that it comes down to levels.  In the countries I helped support, like Burma and Cambodia, the poorest in the U.S. would be middle class in those countries.   I told him about bad water supplies, parents selling children to survive…  you get the idea.   The real question is, “If it’s so bad out there, why did I come back.”

Well, it’s like this.  America used to be the first among the world leaders.  First in morality.  First in innovation.  First in progressive thoughts.  Other countries looked to us for direction on any number of things.  We were a shining example – we didn’t have to do anything except be Americans. 

These days, other countries fear us.  They despise us.  By our own actions we are becoming isolated from the rest of the world.   We’re no longer first, but we pretend we are,  and have to constantly prove that “We’re number 1!”.   And if you have to prove it, it ain’t true.

That’s why I came back.  I can remember when we were respected instead of feared.  I can remember when we held a moral high ground – when the idea of torture was not even considered.    If we lose our way, the ramifications are far reaching – our mistakes extend all the way across the oceans to children in third world countries.  

But so does our goodness.  When our foreign policy begins to reflect the innate goodness and honorability of the American people, the effects will be much greater for people everywhere than I think any of us fully understand.

Let’s not wait for our children to have to fix for us.  Let’s do it ourselves.   Americans are amazingly innovative and stubborn.  We must never give up.  Never forget.

Now, let’s get to work.

The Farmer in the dell…

July 21, 2007

Today was Farmer’s Market day.   I got a call from Jeremy asking if I’d like to hand out flyers at the Farmer’s Market in downtown Des Moines.   You bet!  So, I stopped by John’s house (our main meetup organizer) and picked up a bunch of flyers from him.  The meetup here does something cool.  They take a flyer, insert a slimjim (not the tasty meat product) and staple a piece of candy to the outside. 

 I met Jeremy around 9:30, we parked, grabbed a couple of boxes of flyers and headed for the market.  Jeremy has some 6th sense about these things, and instinctively headed right for the busiest corner of the market.   He was handing those flyers out so fast that his hands were a blur.  I’m more of a wanderer, and so I started walking up and down the streets handing out the flyers to people.   I was amazed at how well it went.  I’m not what you would call a charismatic person, so I can only assume that Iowans are much more open to receiving literature or they really like candy. 

 After I had handed out flyers for about half an hour, I was tapped on the shoulder by a polite lass who asked me if I had permission to hand out flyers.  Huh?  Isn’t this America?  Well, technically, as it turned out, no it wasn’t.  It seems that the Farmer’s Market organization leases the street from Des Moines and if while we were welcome to hand out flyers, we would have to pay $45 dollars and stand in the designated “Community Corner”.  She was very nice and told me that since the Market was half over, we only needed to pay $25.    I wasn’t willing to do that, so I told her I would find my partner and ask him what he wanted to do.

 Jeremy was so straightforward in his response that I wanted to start singing the Star Spangled banner right there.  “So, what you’re saying is that they are leasing the street from me, and I have to get permission to be here.”   And then he said that if they talked to him that he would handle it. 

It was about that time that Jeff, one of our national guys showed up with a double Ron Paul sign on a stick.   I talked to him about it, and he started to explain the legalities to me, when one of the Farmer’s market crew interrupted him to tell us that as long as we didn’t block traffic, we could do what we wanted.  Cool.  So off I went.  Every now and then when I would get weary (“No!  I’m voting for Hillary! I love that woman!”)  I would look up and see that sign bobbing above the people, and I’d take a deep breath and start again.

 The response was really quite wonderful, all in all.  Most people were open and happy to hear about a new candidate.  However, most had not ever heard about him, so clearly we have our work cut out for us.

 After, I went back to my foster home and crashed for several hours.  Then up to respond to some out of state volunteers (nice talking with you, Jason!), and make plans for tomorrow.

nite’  Johnboy…

A day in Ames

July 20, 2007

Today was an Ames day.   I spent the morning running around Ames.  I went to the Chamber of Commerce to get some maps and ask about camping.  Then I stopped by the Hilton Coliseum to see what it looked like inside.  I missed an opportunity to talk with the staff because I was pretending I was a spy, sneaking in and out.  I thought I must have been pretty sneaky, but then I realized they probably just didn’t care.

 Right now, we’re thinking of having all of the out of staters meet in a park near the Coliseum, so I stopped by to take a look.  I think it will hold about 200 cars pretty easily, with good space to gather if the weather is clear.  If it rains, then I’m not so sure.  It’s also a good location because we can make a little parade as we walk to the coliseum.  A lot of us will be human billboards and be assigned to different streets for the day.  I’m hoping there are enough of us so that we can all take turns – maybe 2 hours max on sign duty.  We’ll have to wait and see though..

After checking out the park, I went up to the northwest corner of town.  At the Ames meetup last night, I was shown a map that divided the town by Republican voters, and the northwest corner was the strongest Republican area.  This is important because we’re trying to figure out which areas should receive the 13,500 dvd’s.  The northwest corner is pretty affluent, 3 or 4 bedroom houses with swingsets in the back yards, and upper middle class cars in the driveways.  I’m guessing that the folks who live there are in their mid to late 30’s, 1 or 2 kids, and both parents work.

  Just south of that are older homes – probably built in the 70’s and 80’s.  Lots of them have those little country style “God bless America” signs or wooden flags, or eagles.  Good cars, but not fancy ones, and well cared for plants on the front stoop.  Jeff, the dvd-meister and I talked about it, and we decided that we should distribute the dvd’s among the older homes.  My reasoning is simple (please forgive the generalities…)  People who have a really big house and two fancy cars, and 2 children have probably bought into the system.  Whether they like it or hate it, it’s what they know, so I’m not so sure that they can allow themselves to listen to Dr. Paul’s message.  Folks in the older homes are much more likely to have a child/grandchild in Iraq, have become disillusioned by the government, and are old enough to know that things are not better than they were 40 years ago.  That’s my reasoning, anyway.  I’d love to hear your opinion. 

 After driving around, I drove down to Des Moines to meet Jeff Lins for dinner.  Jeff is the guy who led the team of editors in making the 13,500 dvd’s for Iowans.  He caught me up to speed a little on what’s going on in Iowa and who’s who among the folks.  It was great to finally meet him after working with him for so long.

 And that’s what I know tonight.

Come in, she said. I’ll give you shelter from the storm…

July 18, 2007

In the excitement to go to Iowa, I forgot one little detail – where will I live?!  John Kurr, the leader of the meetup sent out a call asking for a place of repose for this weary traveler.  

I got an almost immediate response from a woman named Suzanne, who lives in between Ames and Des Moines.  She offered me a place to stay and the comforts of her family’s home while I am in Iowa.   Isn’t that amazing?  She’s never met me, but she was willing to open her home to me.  This is a kindness that has become all too rare in today’s world, and I thank God that people such as Suzanne still exist.

 I will drive to Iowa on Thursday.

I’m going to Iowa! Where is Iowa, exactly?!

July 17, 2007

Actually, I do  know where Iowa is; I’ve driven through it on I-80 countless times on my way back and for to the east and west coasts.   Vast stretches of corn and soybean fields, really down to earth people, wide open skies.  That’s what I remember.  We’ll see how well memory serves…

A little personal and Iowa background, if I may be so bold…

 In early June, I was living in Japan at a Buddhist temple when I was contacted by Jeff Lins in Iowa.  He had started a project to distribute 30,000 dvd’s to the people of Iowa.  30,000 dvd’s about Dr. Paul.  He had a tight deadline, and needed help finding editors to put the dvd together.  Could I help?  You bet.   I sent out a plea for help to various mailing lists, meetup groups, etc. and was promptly inundated with offers of help.  In all, I received over 50 responses from professional editors, amateur editors, non-editors.  The support was unbelievable and lifted me about 3 feet up off the ground in elation.

With the help of about 6 editors, Jeff managed to create a dvd.  You can see the video at  He ended up with funding for 13,500 dvd’s which are supposed to arrive this Friday.  I am simply amazed that a group of volunteers could get together and create something so quickly.  The dedication of these folks was truly inspiring, and I send a big “thank you” to everyone who helped with this project.

 Anyway, when I arrived in the States on Saturday, the 14th, I immediately called Jeff and asked if I could help out in Iowa.   He talked to the other folks in the meetup, and they invited me to come to Iowa to help coordinate the out of state volunteers.  

Oh, happy day!   I’m goin’ to Iowa!