MANCHESTER, New Hampshire — "They call it the Department of Education ... Let's put an end to the Department of Indoctrination!" That kind of sentiment was flowing like extra-hoppy craft beer on Sunday night at Manchester's only brewpub, Milly's Tavern. It was the site of the "Slam Free or Die" political poetry open mic that drew a number of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul's supporters. And while the sentiment onstage was often dripping with elegantly worded sarcasm, the boots on the ground had plenty of sobering thoughts on the suddenly surging candidate who refuses to play by his party's staid rules.
Nearly a week after the Iowa caucus, Congressman Paul's rivals continue to take digs at one another in an attempt to win over traditional GOP voting blocs and prove their family values bona fides. Libertarian Paul's pull with younger voters, meanwhile, was inspiring the kind of enthusiasm that motivated his followers to drive in from as far as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., to attend the slam and volunteer in the Granite State in the lead-up to Tuesday's primary.
A common theme among the Paul faithful who spoke to MTV News for the channel's ongoing Power of 12 series was a disappointment with the Obama administration and a feeling that the promises of change touted four years ago have not come to fruition as they expected.
"I think there were a lot of disillusioned voters in '08 who thought Obama would be a good solution to the problems presented by Bush," said Pericles Niarchos, 26, who, like the several tables of Paul-ites in the bar, was firmly focused on the poetry rather than the nail-biting Steelers-Broncos NFL playoff game being shown on the bar's flat-screen TVs.
"And after the last four years, we've seen the wars extended, we've seen [the terror detention center at] Guantanamo Bay remain open ... the war on drugs continues on, we see bailout of the corporate elite that started under Bush. So, a lot of those supporters ... [feel] Dr. Paul has a consistent record on these issues."
Niarchos, who recently completed a history degree with a political science minor from Drexel University, is among those who drove in from Philly to volunteer for the campaign, and he had a lot of issues on his mind. But one of the foremost was the various overseas military entanglements that are taking young lives and, he said, bankrupting the country.
As to what it is about Paul — at 76, the oldest candidate in the running — that is speaking to teens and twentysomethings, Ryan Kuch, 24, said it is concerns about the economy and the libertarian call for a society that is "bottom-up ... organic ... people doing things, rather than top-down ... people in Washington deciding what we should do to stimulate the economy." Plus, he said, alluding to Paul's non-interventionist theory of foreign policy, it's his generation that will continue to pay for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, long after they are over. And not just with higher government debt but with issues like post-traumatic stress disorder and physical wounds that won't heal.
"Dr. Paul's message seems to be more about sincerity and that you should be free to determine your own future," said Niarchos. "A lot of young people today feel like they're growing up in a world where they're no longer free to determine their own future. They're living in a set amount of circumstances that are being defined by older generations who don't really understand what we're going through. What our perspective is on the world is, what we want and what our values are ... in my whole lifetime I don't think the U.S. has been at peace for more than four years, and it's really refreshing to see someone who advocates that so thoroughly."
"We need a cranky old president who keeps his money in a mattress," said one poetry-slam reader. Another read a piece entitled "Upholding Miserable Everywhere," in which he selectively quoted the candidates in their own words. "I'm reciprocal," he said, reiterating former Utah governor Jon Huntsman's line. Another lamented that he missed the recent televised GOP debate because he was being arrested backstage after trying to "occupy" the event, and yet another referred to the various politicians as "New Hampshire's deadbeat uncle," who only comes around every four years when he needs something.
What's fascinating about Paul's followers is that this poetry slam is not an isolated, election-year event. They say that this is what Paul's people do: They get together and lament the economic inequities of Pell grants, the tyranny of government's tentacle-like reach into their pockets, the worthlessness of the Fed continually printing more money, the stifling of entrepreneurship by overzealous regulation and benefits of a free-market system in the same way their peers discuss fantasy football stats.
Emily O'Neill, 23, a member of the National Guard and self-described "misfit and contrarian" and "1920s feminist" who works in human resources in Washington, D.C., said the first time two Paul supporters meet each other, the opening topic is how they discovered their political icon. Dressed in cherry-red high heels, a gray skirt, ruffled white shirt and blue blazer, the New Boston, New Hampshire, native said she planned to wave signs and make calls on behalf of her candidate on Monday (January 9).
"Let's not kid ourselves, it's not about left versus right," she said. "We all agree on freedom and more government is not working. We're less prosperous now than when we started off even a decade ago ... people now want their freedom. Especially young people. This is the Internet generation. We can go online and find the answers and find out who the politicians are who are complete hypocrites. We know the truth so there's no kidding us anymore."
Along with her friend Josh Luedtke, 26, a Roanoke, Virginia, reservist who just returned from his second tour of duty in Afghanistan, O'Neill said she might typically have been a Mitt Romney supporter. But not this time. "I came to the conclusion that what other people do, as long as it doesn't hurt me, doesn't affect me," said Luedtke, who sported a red, white and blue Paul campaign T-shirt emblazoned with the word "liberty," as well as a baseball hat that reads "Dysfunctional veteran ... Leave me alone."
Inspired by the Occupy movement and the grassroots nature of Paul's latest campaign, O'Neill said young voters are feeling motivated to get involved and be part of a new solution.
"I hope that the difference between [the election of] 2008 and 2012 is that in 2008 young people came out and said, 'We want the government to give us things.' And in 2012, young people are going to come out and say, 'We want the government to leave us alone.' " As for his peers who might be considering sitting this election out because they don't like the options, Luedtke said they have two choices. "Freedom and tyranny. You can either vote for Ron Paul and take hold of your future with a government that is going to leave you alone ... or you can choose tyranny and vote for anyone else."
Romney has a decisive lead in New Hampshire, where he's polling at more than 41 percent, followed by Paul at 17 percent, which is not surprising given that 40 percent of the state's voters describe themselves as independents.
Editor's Note: Previous reportage mischaracterized the event as being "held in honor of Ron Paul." MTV News has corrected the error.