Ron Paul and Others Rally on the GOP Fringe

Posted September 1, 2008 at 4:05pm

It will be a grand old party in the Twin Cities this week — just not the grand old party the Republicans had in mind.

Even as Republican plans have come to a halt this week in the wake of Hurricane Gustav, a range of folks on the fringes of the two-party system, from the libertarian right to the Green Party left, are pressing on with their programs in St. Paul, Minn.

“We made a lot of plans and traveled many miles. There’s no reason why we should cancel,” said failed presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), before addressing a crowd of 500 gathered for a three-day workshop. “Politicians seem to think they can change the weather. I can’t change the weather, but I can fight for individual freedom here.”

Twenty miles from the Xcel Energy Center, Paul’s gathering is literally and figuratively on the fringes of the week’s main event in St. Paul. The libertarian-minded supporters gathered at the Earl Browne Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center, Minn., on Monday for lectures on grass-roots organizing and campaigning. And while Republicans were canceling party plans, Paul supporters were gearing up for an evening bash featuring the smooth sounds of Rick Ellis, a Frank Sinatra impersonator.

“It’s a thank you to all my supporters,” Paul said before his Monday address.

Paul is headlining the biggest B-list rally in the Twin Cities this week. The libertarian- minded candidate, who campaigned on fiscal conservatism and a return to the gold standard, will draw an expected 10,000 to the Target Center in Minneapolis today for the last night of the “Rally for the Republic,” which he hopes will steal a bit of GOP thunder.

“It was very deliberate for us to have our rally in Minneapolis,” said Paul, whose presidential campaign drew a small but fiercely loyal following this year. “You go to a place where people are talking about ideas and politics and try to spread a message.”

The event, which kicked off Sunday, includes guest speakers such as tax reformist Grover Norquist, television journalist Tucker Carlson and former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura (I). An all-day political training school on Sunday focused on community organizing and fundraising, and Paul will host a signing for his book, “The Revolution: A Manifesto.”

The Minneapolis event is a low-budget affair compared to the big-ticket shows that are scheduled in St. Paul. Tickets are just $17.76, a nod to Paul’s constitutionalist streak, and attendees won’t be receiving any goodie bags with buttons and coffee mugs. The rally isn’t entirely stripped down, though, and includes many attractions of a typical convention. Daytime seminars will be topped off with nighttime performances by country singer Sara Evans and pop singer Aimee Allen. A rally today includes a keynote address by Paul, and an after party features guitarist Jimmie Vaughn.

Some “Rally for the Republic” attendees are also delegates at the Republican National Convention. Margaret Sitte, an alternate delegate from North Dakota, will be pulling double duty in the Twin Cities, attending the convention and Paul events.

“I worked real hard for Ron Paul,” said Sitte, who stored “half the signs that went up in North Dakota” in her garage. “I don’t think Ron really has a viable chance, but I like his ideas.”

While credentialed Republican delegates are invited to join the three-day Paul party, RNC organizers maintain few will have the time.

“People will be busy,” convention spokeswoman Melissa Subbotin said firmly. “We’re holding an event that’s second-largest behind the Olympics. I don’t see outside events as a distraction.”

Ron Paul won’t be the only one rallying on the fringe of the Republicans’ convention week. A T-shirt-and-flip-flop-clad group of University of Minnesota students have put together a liberal-leaning music and arts festival “in the name of positive social and environmental change,” said organizer Nolan Morice, a college senior.

“We wanted to create a peaceful space outside the convention,” he said of the event today on the state Capitol lawn in St. Paul, which includes speeches by environmental activist Winona LaDuke and CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin. The event is targeted toward Minnesota liberals who for one week will be surrounded by a crowd of 45,000 Republican loyalists.

And, finally, there’s the organized-labor crowd. The Service Employees International Union hosted a daylong event for nearly 4,000 people to commemorate Labor Day. The festivities at Harriet Island Regional Park, from art displays to a play area for children, sought to boost support on a holiday that commemorates workers.

The SEIU’s “Take Back Labor Day Festival” on Monday — the first day of the convention — focused on the union’s call for looser labor-organizing laws and universal health care. Union President Andy Stern and Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger spoke to the crowd before a lineup of musical performers hit the stage, including Grammy-winning rapper Mos Def. Ensuring that no picnics will ensue, outside food and drink were banned from the event.

“It’s not just about picnics and a day off,” SEIU spokeswoman Marianne McMullen said. “We wanted to use the rally to remind people of our message.”

The SEIU took advantage of Labor Day’s convenient timing, and as the Republican camp looks for its own convention bump, the union might find one as well.

“It’s a way for us not to get lost in the convention shuffle,” McMullen said.