Perot 'foot soldier' drummed up support Vinson now prepares for a bigger battle

June 24, 1992|By C. Fraser Smith | C. Fraser Smith,Staff Writer Staff Writer Jean Marbella contributed to this article.

Soon after she found herself running the Perot petition campaign in Maryland, Joan Vinson found herself getting calls from the political pros, eager to sell her their services.

Did she know what a big job she'd taken on? Did she think she could find 63,000 Marylanders who would sign up to get Ross Perot on the ballot? Didn't she want professional help?

"No thanks," she said firmly.

L Nobody gets it, she thought. The idea was to rely on people.

The signatures and the volunteers and the votes were out there. To use the system's political mercenaries was to give in, to succumb, to settle for business as usual. She resented the assumption that a petition drive was beyond the ability of mere citizens.

4 "There's no 'can't do' in me," Mrs. Vinson says.

Today, scant weeks after the petition drive began in Maryland, Mrs. Vinson has collected more than 150,000 signatures, well over twice what she needed.

"People are just so ready for change," she says.

The campaign is definitely a switch from the norm: Mrs. Vinson said it is run on the local level, without directives from Perot headquarters in Dallas.

"They have not told us what to do at all," she says. "They realize the grass-roots effort is a very strong thing. We've been totally independent."

Still, she says, that arrangement may change in the future as the effort shifts from a fairly simple mission -- getting signatures on petitions -- to a more complex one designed to lead to the White House.

Mrs. Vinson says that the state effort does get some of its office expenses reimbursed by the national Perot office, but it has raised about $35,000 on its own to help defray costs.

She thinks of herself as an observer as well as a foot soldier in the Perot movement. She has called that movement a phenomenon.

"You'd have to be in the heart of it to understand, and I still don't understand it," she says.

But she tries. And, quoting from John Adams, she offers an explanation that satisfies her.

"What do people mean by The Revolution?" Adams asked in 1815. Do they mean the revolutionary war?

"That was no part of it," he declared. "The revolution was in the minds of the people. . . . before a drop of blood was shed at Lexington."

Likewise, revolution has been on the minds of people long before Ross Perot presented himself. The roots of discontent reach back through a generation of travail and anguish in American life, she says.

She had been a member of the unofficial Ross Perot brigade for years. In 1968, her husband, Air Force Col. Bobby Vinson, was shot down over Vietnam. Mr. Perot attempted to save him and other downed U.S. pilots.

With the families of other missing servicemen, she went to Paris with the Texas businessman in search of leads.

She recalls a man who was willing to "go around, go under" go wherever he had to to get something done.

Since those years, Joan Vinson served as a staff member on the Bicentennial Commission of the American Revolution, reared four children and eventually remarried. Her husband, Richard Stallings, is an active Perot volunteer.

[She prefers to use her first husband's surname because that is how she is widely known for her longtime activism on behalf of Vietnam's prisoners of war and missing in action.]

"The political pundits and those who dismiss this movement, those who think this country will go along with business as usual, don't have any understanding of the American people," she said.

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