Beck, Palin tell thousands to 'restore America'
Conservative commentator Glenn Beck on Saturday drew a sea of activists to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, where he championed a religious brand of patriotism and called on the nation to recommit itself to traditional values he said were hallmarks of its exceptional past.
On the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, steps away from where it was delivered, Beck and fellow "tea party" icon Sarah Palin staked a claim to King's legacy and to that of the Founding Fathers. They urged a crowd that stretched to the Washington Monument to concentrate on the nation's accomplishments rather than on its psychological scars.
"Something that is beyond man is happening," Beck said. "America today begins to turn back to God."
The event was billed as "nonpolitical," and Beck steered clear of the partisan commentary that has made him a hero to many conservatives and a nemesis to many on the left. But political overtones were unmistakable, and the rally drew an enormous crowd - including many who said they were new to activism - that was energized and motivated to act.
The effort by Beck and Palin to lay claim to the mantle of the civil rights movement drew protests from the Rev. Al Sharpton and others who marched in a separate and much smaller event, to the Mall from Dunbar High School in Northwest Washington, to commemorate King's speech 47 years ago.
"The 'March on Washington' changed America," Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said at the Sharpton rally, referring to King's speech. "Our country reached to overcome the low points of our racial history. Glenn Beck's march will change nothing."
The simultaneous rallies rendered the country's political and racial divisions in stark relief.
Sharpton drew a mostly black crowd of union members, church-goers, college students and civil rights activists. The Obama administration weighed in, too, with Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaking of education as the "civil rights issue of this generation."
The Beck crowd, meanwhile, was overwhelmingly white, and many in the crowd described themselves as conservatives with deep concern about the country's political leadership and its direction.
But the mood was peaceful and calm at both events, and by the time the Sharpton march arrived on the Mall, the crowd from Beck's rally had largely dispersed. Despite the potential for tension, the events appeared to produce none of the politically damaging imagery that emerged from some earlier tea party rallies.