"America's right-wing scored an unexpectedly significant success with a provocative rally in Washington this weekend. ... Most
of the participants were White Americans over the age of 50. Many carried flags
of the Tea Party, a conservative protest movement against Obama."
America's right-wing scored
an unexpectedly significant success with a provocative rally in Washington this
weekend. According to estimates, several hundred thousand people came to the
Lincoln Memorial. The organizers had expected 100,000.
It was there, 47 years
earlier, before an audience of 250,000, that Black civil rights leader Martin
Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech about an America without
racial barriers. It was 1963 and the event was the culmination of the weeks-long
“March on Washington” in the struggle for equal rights for African Americans.
Representatives of the
political left consider it a provocation that the right beat them to it this
year, by obtaining a permit to hold a demonstration on this symbolic day at this
symbolic location - and that it tried to co-opt the tradition of King. But only
a few thousand participated in the counter-demonstration led by Black minister
and politician Al Sharpton. Martin Luther King’s
oldest son and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke at Sharpton's
event. There are only about two months until the Congressional elections, which
will determine whether President Obama loses his legislative majority.
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According to the Washington
Post, the actual number of participants at the rally before the Lincoln
Memorial is likely to become a political point of contention. Police and the Park
Service provided no specifics, indicating that it is difficult to count people
on the National Mall, a wide green space interspersed with trees. Aerial
photographs showed people standing tightly packed together in the 900 yards
between the Lincoln Memorial and the WWII Memorial or in loose groups between
the War Memorial and the Washington Monument, the obelisk in the middle of the
two mile-long National Mall.
Glenn Beck, the conservative
television and radio host whose broadcasts reach millions and who for days had
been calling on people to participate, initiated the demonstration. He spoke afterwards
of 300,000 to 500,000 participants. Michelle Bachmann, the arch-conservative
delegate from Minnesota said: “We're not going to let anyone get away with
saying there were less than a million here today.” However, according to the aerial
images, this number is a gross exaggeration.
Beck had announced that the
rally was to be nonpolitical. According to Beck, its goal was to restore
America's honor and thank the military for its services. "Something that
is beyond man is happening," he declared in a preacher-like tone during
the opening. "America today begins to turn back to God." A storm of
enthusiasm broke out as Beck introduced Sarah Palin, the former Republican
candidate for Vice President, as the second keynote speaker. "I’ve been
asked to speak not as a politician but as something much more. I’ve been asked
to speak as the mother of a soldier," she said. In 2008, her eldest son,
Track, began an Iraq deployment. The U.S. soldiers were "a force for
good," she exclaimed.
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Most of the participants were
White Americans over the age of 50. Many carried flags of the Tea Party, a
conservative protest movement against Obama. When asked why they were
participating, they responded that America's economy and politics are on the
wrong track and that something must be done about it. "Look around
you," said Palin. "You are not alone. You are American. You have the
same steely spine and the same moral courage as Lincoln and King." Alveda King, a niece of the civil rights leader, also
spoke. Like most of the right-wing, she is strictly opposed to abortion.
At a counter-rally, Democrat
Eleanor Holmes Norton criticized the co-opting of the civil rights leader.
King’s speech in 1963 “changed America” and helped the country “overcome the
low points of our racial history.” Beck’s march, on the other hand, would “change
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