Ron Paul may not be speaking at the Republican convention but several thousands supporters gathered in Tampa on Saturday as part of a festival celebrating the libertarian-leaning Texan politician’s career.
With Paul stepping down from politics, and after repeated unsuccessful runs for the presidency, the event was part of a series of rallies aimed at galvanising his support base for a future without the retiring 12-term congressman.
The Paul Fest was held at the Florida State Fairgrounds, a half hour away from downtown Tampa where in a few days Mitt Romney will be nominated as his party’s candidate to battle President Barack Obama for the White House.
But though Paul and Romney are – officially – in the same party, finding anyone with something positive to say about the former Massachusetts governor was difficult at Paul Fest.
Certainly Lou Anderson, 56, a government worker from Oklahoma was not going to vote for Romney come the November election. He replied with a firm “no” when asked if he would support Romney.
“I don’t know what to think of him. I don’t trust him,” he added.
Mark Schmidter was the same. The fervent Ron Paul supporter from Orlando is a registered Republican and goes to his county GOP meeting every month. But he is not voting for Romney.
“No way. The party is bought and paid for by the corporations,” said the 65-year-old roofer.
Instead the crowds gathered at Paul Fest (the Paul stands for People Awakening and Uniting for Liberty) indulged themselves in the usual wide variety of causes that Paul himself has long espoused and mix both the extreme left and right.
They range from wanting to legalise drugs and bring American troops home from abroad to scrapping the welfare state, slashing the government budget and getting rid of the Federal Reserve.
In a hall full of stands and stalls there was a hugely disparate group of people hawking different wares and causes. There was one stand of Oath Keepers – an organisation of police and soldiers who believe the government might one day turn on the American people – and two stalls devoted to ending America’s foreign wars.
One company had set up shop to sell the idea of investing in gold and silver, reflecting Paul’s belief in returning the dollar to the gold standard rather than setting its value against other currencies. Another stand flogged t-shirts bearing the phrase “Who is John Galt?” which is a reference to a novel by libertarian philosopher Ayn Rand. Yet another group sold Ron Paul chocolate bars under the slogan: “Liberty Just Got Sweeter.”
The three-day event featured a lengthy roster of bands, singers and speakers.
Paul himself is not set to appear, though he will be giving a major speech at a different Tampa rally on Sunday afternoon. That moment will mark the likely end of Paul’s career on the national stage in American politics.
He is stepping down and his campaign’s efforts to crash Romney’s Tampa coronation by amassing delegates using arcane party rules has largely been thwarted by Republican leaders and lawyers.
In lieu of an appearance by the man himself, the crowd at Paul Fest was treated to an appearance by Paul’s brother, Wayne Paul.
The younger Paul sibling won cheers with a call to the classic Paul themes of cutting government spending and ending the taking on of debt.
“We have started a revolution and we are going to finish it. It is about freedom and loving liberty. That is why we are here today,” he said underneath a banner that read: “Thank you, Dr Paul.”
The Paul movement without Paul might face an uncertain future, but it can point to numerous triumphs.
Largely dismissed as a crank in 2008, Paul’s 2012 run was a different affair, attracting larger support and media attention.
It was also bolstered by the emergence of the Tea Party, which embraced many of Paul’s small government ideals. Now some of his beliefs, like auditing the Federal Reserve and going back to the gold standard, are becoming increasingly embraced by Republicans.
The movement also benefits from a large number of young and enthusiastic activists.
Though the ageing Paul often comes across as a gleefully cantankerous old man, the acts on the stage ranged from rock to rappers to country and the crowd was predominately young.
The gathering was also set to provide a venue for a bit of Hollywood glamor in the shape of a speech on Sunday by Harmon Kaslow, who is the producer of Atlas Shrugged: Part Two.
The movie is the second part of a dramatization of Rand’s most famous work and will be coming out later this year.
Kaslow, who converted to Rand’s beliefs after signing on to make the film, will show clips to the Paul Fest crowd. “It changed my life. It has been an incredible experience,” he told The Guardian in an interview.
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