How was Saturday's "Revolution March" different than any of the Ron Paul rallies I've covered? When I walked out the door of my Washington, D.C. home—past a plastic "Revolution" banner that some hardy soul had put up overnight—I was heading to my fifth monster-sized libertarian be-in in less than a year. Last August it was the Iowa Straw Poll, where more than a thousand Paul supporters bused into Ames to wreak havoc and knock Tommy Thompson (remember him?) out of the presidential race. Last November it was the Philadelphia Veteran's Day rally, when I saw men in V masks take over Independence Mall and grown women cry as Paul signed copies of the Constitution. In January I saw Paul draw Mick Jagger crowds at the Free State Project's Liberty Forum; I saw Paul volunteers line the streets of Manchester and reduce Sean Hannity to a quivering tub of rancid yogurt. (Metaphorically speaking.)
You can understand, then, why my overall impression of the "Revolution March" was one of deja vu. Not only did this look like those older rallies; it recycled some of the participants. I recognized rEVOLutionaries from Pennsylvania (80-odd of them showed up), Texas, California, New Hampshire and Iowa. "It feels like a college reunion!" said one marcher who declined to give me his name (probably because he asked "if, you know, Kerry Howley, is gonna be here" and felt an appropriate level of shame about this). Indeed, it did feel like that, as people who hadn't seen each other since January or February caught up with one another, swapped stories, compared T-shirts.
What could it be if not a reunion? The Ron Paul campaign for president was over. Yes, a few people passed out palm cards planning out a strategy to get their man nominated at this year's GOP convention. On the front of the cards were pictures of Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Harrison and Warren Harding and the question, "What do these men have in common?" On the back was the answer: They had arrived at their conventions as dark horses and won their party's presidential nominations anyway. "Abraham Lincoln had NO delegates," the card pointed out—I decided against saying that, under those rules the GOP might as well nominate Rudy Giuliani.
But this was a minority sentiment. Most of the marchers were there to write the final chapter of a weird year's diary. "I didn't even know about the convention plans until today," said Sonja Regish, a Michigan marcher who worried that Barack Obama might be part of "the blood line." (An explanation of that is here.) The marchers gathered in the shadow of the Washington Monument around 9:30, clustered and starting chants as more people rolled up, hooting at a van painted with Paul slogans that kept circling the Mall. At 10:30 they slowly started walking from the monument to the Capitol on Constitution Ave.
"Make love, not war!"
"Listen to our grievances!"
"Shut down the IRS!"
The utility of marching down this road in this city—despite the blistering July height—became clear when the march actually passed the IRS building. Wave after wave of marchers booed as they passed it, shaking their fists, flipping the bird. I overheard two marchers making new plans.
"Where's the CIA building?"
"It's in Virginia."
The march passed one of the highway interchanges temporarily blocked off by police. One of the marchers had a little fun with the motorists peering out of their windows: "This wouldn't be happening if you'd voted for Ron Paul!"
It took a while for the marchers to trickle in to the west lawn of the Capitol. Those of us who arrived early were treated to an infinite loop of Aimee Allen's rah-rah Paul anthem "Revolution." Unlistenable or not, the song had the right effect, cheering up marchers as they staked out shaded space, unwrapped lunches, or rushed up to the stage where the first of umpteen speakers would soon start talking. A number of Paul-inspired congressional campaigns, like Maryland's Collins Bailey and Texas's John Culberson had supporters walking the field, spreading the gospel. The Free State Project set up a booth that quickly started rolling up signatures to its newsletter, and ten new pledges to move to New Hampshire.
Then the speeches began. The basic truth of all D.C. marches is that the speeches don't matter. Anti-war rallies in the run-up to Iraq were famously organized by International ANSWER, a Maoist group of malcontents who, in being Maoist and malcontent, had become very good event planners. They would pull tens of thousands of peace-minded people to the center of town and give them a speaker's agenda that was light on war talk, heavy on the nonsense that they could never get people to pay attention to; show up with a "Rums-failed" sign, listen to a Symbionese Liberation Army burnout rant about Mumia.
The "Revolution March" wasn't as bad as all that, but the structure was similiar. It was organized not by the Paul campaign or by the new Campaign for Liberty, but by hard-core libertarian activists like Ernie Hancock, the man who designed the rEVOLution logo (he writes it r3VOLution). They were interested in certain parts of the Paul message more than others. "They say that we cannot handle the truth!" yelled co-MC Gary Franchi. "But we know the truth! They can't handle us knowing the truth!"
The "truth," vis-a-vis Hancock's speakers, was that Americans were under attack from rapacious interests in and beyond their own government. Of the 16 people (not including Paul) who took the podium, half could be described as members of the political fringe. Several of them referred to the late Aaron Russo's film From Freedom to Fascism; one, home-school activist Marcy Brooks, spoke repeatedly of her role in the movie as she instructed marchers on how to use jury duty as an opportunity to teach people about the law. (The 9/11 Truth types were present, but not on stage, and vastly outnumbered by normal people who were combining this rally with a family sightseeing trip. The truthers didn't much care about the families; the families I talked to wish they had the power to wish the truthers always angling to get into some reporter's camera or notebook, into the cornfield.)
The eight speakers whom I'd heard of before the march stayed away from the fever swamps, but sounded more radical than I'd expected. G. Edward Griffin, author of the anti-Fed treatise The Creature from Jeckyl Island, condensed his book to seven minutes of wry commentary on "the greatest scam in history." After the speech, he was mobbed by photo-seekers like John De Lancie at a Trek convention. "This book is the red pill!' said historian Thomas E. Woods, Jr. waving a copy of Paul's bestselling The Revolution. (Woods and I disagreed mightily during the primary campaign, but patched up a bit after the rally.) As for the big departure of the day, the speech by wannabe left-libertarian coalition builder Naomi Wolf, well…
The message of the march, according to the official literature, was to be "Ron Paul's message of peace, prosperity and freedom through adherence to the Constitution." But the accepted version of that message implied that all three of those things were only possible with rigid national sovereignty, controlled borders, and a narrow vision of trade. The final speech before Paul's came from Chuck Baldwin, the Pensacola, Florida pastor and Constitution Party candidate, who used the little time he had (graciously having given some of his minutes to Paul) to make a concise national sovereignty pitch. "You're either a globalist or you're an American," Baldwin said. "And I… am an American!" Some of the Baldwin boosters in the crowd (many from Florida) started chanting "USA! USA!"
Some of the people I talked to at the march wondered why Bob Barr had no presence there, ceding all the ground to Chuck Baldwin. I can't speak for Barr, but I don't think he lost anything that by going to Freedom Fest instead of the Revolution March. Both events were aimed at different segments of the Paul movement choir. I've seen enough go-nowhere groups (Palestinian solidarity types, white pride morons) fill the West Lawn with rallies to cure me of the thinking that "big rally" = "movement on the rise." Yes, it's awfully fun to see people walking in view of Washington monuments with signs like "READ ATLAS SHRUGGED" and "MISES SAVES." What it achieved, I have no idea.
My photos from the march are here.