Even though implemented Freedom of Speech Area guidelines for those interested in demonstrating during tonight's Republican presidential candidates' debate on campus, students and local residents still came out to make their voices heard.
A slow trickle of people could be found lining the wooden fence some 50 feet west of Pioneer Drive, atop a large hill, beginning around 5 p.m., and while the majority came out in support of GOP candidate Ron Paul, others came out in protest.
Jason Poupard, 28, of Lake Orion, wasn't demonstrating against any of the candidates or in support of the Republicans. A former Army Specialist and current OU history major, Poupard, dressed in his full Army uniform, came out to protest the Freedom of Speech Area itself while quoting the 1968 Supreme Court ruling in the Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District as the basis for his opinion.
"It's public land," Poupard said of OU. "We debate here all day, every day. So, just because the Republican candidates are here, our voices are to be sequestered? It doesn't make sense to me.”
Others were decidedly partisan, and by 5:30 p.m., a crowd of 50 Ron Paul supporters could be found farther west, outside Kresge Library, chanting “President Paul,” waving signs, and exchanging jokes with key political figures as the punchlines.
Brian Kosobudzki, a Ron Paul supporter from Sterling Heights, said that he traveled to Rochester to give Paul “a hero’s welcome” to Michigan.
The candidate did show up at the rally.
Ron Paul supporters planned to march together from the library to the fence area, in order to cheer on Paul as he entered the arena.
Kosobudzki, who claimed that he “used to be an Establishment Republican” before joining the Paul campaign before the 2008 election cycle, said that he felt the Paul campaign has a much better chance in 2012. Paul dropped out of the 2008 election in June of that year.
“We felt he gave up too early last time and now we feel like he’s running like a real candidate,” Kosobudzki said. “The grassroots effort that you see here tonight is more in line with the official campaign. It’s gotten better organized. People want to hear this message here in Michigan.”
Taylor Borne said that she came out of biology class at OU and straight to the mini-rally for Paul, citing a need to balance the national budget as an impetus for her involvement in the campaign.
“What we’re going to be talking about in the debate tonight — basically jobs, and the economy — should play into Ron Paul’s strengths. It resonates a lot here. It’s something people are really concerned with,” said Borne, 18, of Goodrich.
Overall, Paul supporters were thrilled — not just to be part of their own company — also to see their candidate, for whom they have great loyalty, on a national stage. Clutching a sign some six feet in length in support of Paul’s presidential bid, which dwarfed her short frame, Sue McQueen of Clarkston said that she was happy to see Paul’s name “up in lights.”
“Ron Paul will not get national media recognition despite the fact that he does well in the polls,” said McQueen, 50, of Clarkston. “Michigan needs to listen to what he says. This subject matter means a lot to people here.”