Ron Paul

Tea Party '07: The View from DC

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This morning the Ron Paul campaign crunched the numbers and announced a $6 million haul during yesterday's 24-hour Tea Party, the biggest one-day fundraising bout in political history. Last night least sixty-three people trickled into Garrett's, a Georgetown tavern, to stage a newfangled Tea Party for Ron Paul. It was Sunday, it was cold, and the Redskins were actually winning a game, but event organizers were still a little bummed. Patrick, a Virginia businessman ("My full name gets no hits on Google right now, and I'd like to keep it that way") explained that he only announced the event one week ago, and with a little more time "we could have gotten 100 people, easy."

It didn't feel like a small group. The youngish mob of Paul backers walked in between four rented rooms and two bartenders munching samosas and chicken satays and psyching each other up about the campaign. Shortly after I arrived, at 7, the TV monitor linked to RonPaul2008.com revealed the campaign's surge above the $16 million mark. Most of the crowd wasn't even looking until someone shouted the number; then, cheers and pumping fists. A few seconds later Charles Frohman collared me for an interview on Ron Paul Radio and I offered up insights on the campaign, like how I'd asked skeptical questions about the $12 million Q4 fundraising goal at an October press conference and felt a little sheepish about it.

In the less-crowded room, volunteers were illustrating cardboard boxes with the names of government agencies or services that they wanted President Paul to abolish. It was a local twist on throwing tea into the harbor: "Throw pork into the Potomac." The "Potomac," for our purposes, was the stretch of floor between the bench Patrick stood on and the crowd that listened to him give campaign updates.

"This is a huge night for Ron Paul!" he said, kicking off a string of short speeches. "I know we're not all libertarians in here"—some friendly booing—"but we're the only people right now who are growing the Republican Party, trying to save the Republican Party from itself."

Stephen Toglia got up to announce something that had been up in the air all week: "Ron Paul will be on the DC ballot!" He handled one of the "pork" boxes as he talked about how he wanted to give to charities and build up his community but the government wanted to redistribute his income. "So I'm gonna toss this into the Potamac," he said, flipping the box around to reveal the letters I.R.S. "Yeah, maybe you've heard of it." Toglia chucked the box at the ground and a small cluster of Paul fans went wild, stomping and ripping the box before kicking it hard at the wall.

Drew Arnold, a wirey, bearded Virginia video cartoonist, wanted to enlighten the crowd about his most-hated program. "It's called Rex 84," he said. "Look it up if you don't know about it. Because it basically means the government can lock any of us up for any reason." He flipped the box around to a drawing of the Washington Monument. "Did you know that the monument is six hundred and sixty-six feet high? Why do you think that is?" Some in the crowd looked at each other, rolling eyes, but Arnold was having fun. He flipped the box around to show a drawing of the Eye of Providence. "I want this off of our currency. I want you to kick the shit out of this thing!" The box flew into the crowd and Paul fans whaled on it like campesinos defiling the effigy of some hated dictator.

Other Tea Partiers were less obscure but just as dramatic. Standing at the bar during the box-tossing was Howard Wooldridge, a tall Texan cop who moseys around conservative, libertarian and pro-drug legalization events with a T-shirt that reads "Cops Say Legalize Drugs. Ask Me Why." He couldn't wear that shirt tonight, he explained, because he works for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, it's their shirt, and they can't be seen as endorsing Paul. So he wore an alternate shirt that read "Legalize Drugs, Say Cops." By his side was his wife Karen Anderson wearing a Santa hat and a shirt of her own: "Moms Say Legalize Drugs."

Wooldridge's little speech blew the roof off. "How's that war on drugs workin' out for ya, D.C.?" he yelled. "I want to get rid of this"—his drug-war box—"so cops can go back to doing our jobs! Catching the bad guys! Child molesters! Guys who fly planes into buildings!" He raised the box, ready to hurl it down: "Let's kick some ass and make Ron Paul the first good president of the 21st century!"

Eight boxes met their fate before the organizers opened a big-money auction for a signed copy of A Foreign Policy of Freedom and an ersatz Liberty Dollar ("This is real money! It's also contraband."). Bidding started at $200 and ended when Libby, a professional driver ("taxis, BLS limos, anything with wheels") forked over $630. As the event died down organizers and attendees announced opportunities to organize-registering friends to vote, waving signs, plastering highways with REVOLution merch-and pointed out the Ron Paul cake that had been brought into the main room.

Normally the dessert part of the political party would end there, but not this time: A local chocolatier passed out samples of his organic bars and announced plans to build, then action off, a bust of Ron Paul. "I've contacted the campaign about it, but I guess they're busy." Right next to him a Marylander (Robert Broadus) was telling people about his "Ron Paul Republican" run for Congress and a volunteer from Virginia was tossing out plans to win the Feb. 12 primaries. Wackiness and strategy, side-by-side, fueled by $6 million.