Liberals take their turn at rallying

By Krissah Thompson and Spencer Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, October 3, 2010

A wide array of progressive groups drew tens of thousands of activists to the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday for a rally aimed at firing up their members and showcasing the diversity of their movement.

It was the left wing's first large gathering designed to counter the conservative tea party phenomenon, and many speakers warned that a Republican-controlled Congress would block or roll back progressive changes. Organizers said they also wanted to show that their supporters represent the majority of the nation.

"This march was inclusive," said NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, one of the lead organizers. "We have seen cabdrivers come down from New York, truck drivers from Oklahoma. This is about moving the country with the spirit of unity and hope, and getting the country beyond the divisiveness."

The gathering occurred about one month after conservatives met on the same spot to unite around television personality Glenn Beck's vision of a nation returned to more traditional and religious values.

Ed Schultz, the liberal host of MSNBC's "The Ed Show," served as one of the show's master of ceremonies and harshly criticized the tea party and conservatives. "They talk about the Constitution, but they don't want to live by it," he said to loud applause. "They talk about the forefathers, but they practice discrimination. They want to change this country."

Then, he led the crowd in a chant. "Are you America?" he yelled.

"Yes!" came the loud response.

Saturday's gathering featured many speakers; at times it appeared that organizers wanted to give everyone an opportunity to have their say. The rally lacked central charismatic speakers like Beck and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, or the two men who will headline an Oct. 30 event on the Mall - Comedy Central television personalities Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Also unlike the Beck event, the progressive groups were explicit about their desire to reenergize their political base. Beck said his goal was to honor soldiers.

The more than four hours of speeches, poetry and music were buttressed with testimonials from out-of-work Americans, immigrants, veterans and Native Americans. They focused on jobs, education and human rights issues in particular.

Edrie Irvine, a laid-off legal secretary from Silver Spring, shared her story with a gathering of unemployed workers that fed into the larger rally. "The recession was caused by the banks, greed and deregulation," she said. "It didn't have anything to do with me, but I lost my job."

James Keane, who carried a sign that read "Jesus Christ is a Liberal," said he drove from New York City because he felt "it's about time the Democrats marched."

"We've stood by and watched the tea party people go crazy every couple of months," said Keane, who is unemployed. "It's time for Democrats to stand up and fight for what they believe in. Obama has been a great leader, but so many in the Democratic leadership have been playing the fence."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company