The blankets and lawn chairs at Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally extended from the Lincoln Memorial to the World War II Memorial and beyond – covering more than twice the ground as the far more racially mixed crowd that heard the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak on this site at the March on Washington 47 years ago.
Speakers from television commentator Beck and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to Dr. King’s niece, Dr. Alveda King, referenced the well-known “I have a dream” speech.
“Glenn Beck is using his popularity and influence to bring us together … to focus not on politics but on honor and ‘the content of our character not the color of our skin’,” as her uncle had put it, said Alveda King, director of Afro-American outreach for the antiabortion group Priests for Life.
“This is the day we can start the hearts of Americans again, and it has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with God,” Beck told the crowd estimated at anywhere from tens of thousands to 500,000. (The National Park Service no longer gives official estimates of crowd size.)
America is about “freedom and opportunity, expecting nothing in return,” Beck said.
“That really resonates with me,” says Don Vogel, a retired policeman and state worker from Newell, Penn. “I worked for what I got. I don’t know what my son is going to do for a job.”
Many at the rally mentioned the economy and moral decay – defined as abortion and gay marriage – as their top concerns.
“This country is in the worst state of peril it’s been since its existence. If things don’t change in about two years, we’ve had it,” says John Nichols, a veteran who says he’s writing a book about his service with the all-black “Buffalo Soldiers” in World War II.
About 10 blocks away, the Rev. Al Sharpton led a "Reclaim the Dream" rally marking the anniversary of Dr. King’s 1963 “I have a dream” speech while also taking political aim at Beck and his “tea party” followers.
"We're coming out to fight and we're not going to let you turn back the clock," Sharpton said.
Organizers at the “Restoring Honor” rally discouraged political signs, but yellow “Don’t tread on me” flags adopted by tea party activists were nearly as ubiquitous as American flags.
The back of some “Restoring Honor” T-shirts read: “Had enough hope and change?” – a reference to President Obama’s 2008 campaign. Out on the street, a protester with a “Deport Barry Soetoro” sign held forth on the generally discredited “birther” conspiracy theory.
So, was the rally, in fact, political? No, said Peter Wandrie, a retired Detroit policeman, who drove all night to get to the rally from Lapeer, Michigan. “We are taxpayers and we want our government back.”
His wife Gen disagreed.
“They think we’re stupid, that we’re just flyover country,” she added. “We’re hoping to restore America, but if not we’re prepared.”