If the tens of thousands of Tea Party patriots who descended on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Saturday morning were hoping for a revolution, they were probably disappointed with the revival that they got instead. Standing just two steps down from where Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech exactly 47 years before, the controversial Fox News host was more evangelical than political pot stirrer. The “Restoring Honor” rally had received much criticism from civil rights groups in recent days because of its timing and location.
“Something beyond imagination is happening,” said Beck. “America today begins to turn back to God. For too long this country has wandered in darkness,” Beck said.
The crowd, which has been estimated to include between 300,000 to 650,000 people, spent approximately three hours listening to speeches, prayers and songs. Beck had previously urged attendees to leave their signs and posters, which have in the past received harsh criticism from the left as bordering on overtly racist, and most complied. They chose instead to express their views through messages on buttons and T-shirts, and a lot of red, white and blue flag-inspired attire.
One black woman, who didn’t want to give her name, had traveled from Ohio to attend the Beck event out of curiosity about the Tea Party.
“A lot of what they stand for is what I believe is right. Glenn had advertised it as being nonpolitical and it was nonpolitical. It was patriotic and religions. Jesus was brought up over and over and over,” she said. “I also wanted to dispel the myth that the Tea Party is racist and that no black people come to these [events].”
King’s niece, anti-abortion activist Alveda King, spoke at the rally and in her remarks said that she, too, has a dream and that her uncle would be pleased by the event. “If Uncle Martin could be here today, he would surely commend us for giving honor where honor is due,” she said. “He would surely remind us that as brothers and sisters united by one blood in one single race—the human race—we are called to honor God and to love each other. He would encourage us to lay aside the divisive lies that cause us to think that we are members of separate races. We are one human family.”
Dr. Vincent Hutchings, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, said that Beck’s purpose was to generate more publicity for himself and to undercut the association of the civil rights movement with the political left by claiming to embrace it.
“If they wanted to use the prominence and virtue associated with the civil rights movement to spur the tea party movement to be more active, they didn’t succeed because people were there for a whole range of different and not altogether compatible reasons,” Hutchings said.
The day after the rally, in an interview with Fox News Sunday, Beck said that he regrets calling President Obama a racist last year, with a “deep-rooted hatred” for whites.
“It was poorly said. I have a big fat mouth sometimes,” Beck said.
Shortly after the start of the Restoring Honor rally several hundred people began filling the football field at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School, the nation’s first public high school for black students, to participate in a counter event, dubbed “Reclaim the Dream.” But the rally on the Mall was very much on people’s minds. “Don’t let anyone tell you that they have the right to take their country back. I remind you that it is our country, too. It’s our country, too. We will reclaim the dream. It was ours from the beginning.”” said Avis Jones-DeWeever, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women. The crowd roared in response.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan in his remarks said that education is the civil rights issue of this generation. “Parents: Turn off the television. Educators: We have to stop making excuses,” he said. “The dividing line in our country today is less around white and black and more about educational opportunity. We’ve been too satisfied with second-class schools.”
Rev. Al Sharpton, who heads the National Action Network, which organized the event, was the last to speak. Sharpton reminded the audience that there’s still much more work to be done.
“We come here because the dream has not been achieved,” said Sharpton. “We’ve had a lot of progress. But we have a long way to go. Don’t mistake progress for arrival.”
Following Sharpton’s speech, the predominately African American group lined up to march to the future King Memorial site and crossed paths with people leaving the Beck rally, several of whom stopped to observe the marchers.
One tea party member shouted to the group that “We’re all Americans; one nation. God bless us all.” Others, however, were more cynical, and were overheard saying, “They don’t own Martin Luther King,” “This is not King’s dream,” and “These are the people who want to be taken care of by government.”