Glenn Beck vs. Al Sharpton: A tale of two rallies
My husband was still sleeping when I stopped by his room to say goodbye for the day.
"Honey, I'm about to go into a situation where I might encounter some hostile Caucasians. If anything should happen to me, I want to be avenged."
"No, I mean it, don't let that shit go."
He opened one eye. "Alright babe, I'm on it."
My fake press badge template. You can learn how to do anything on the net. When I was out in the field, I discouraged close inspection.
I wasn't seriously afraid when I left home for Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally. But given all the nasty snippets I'd seen of these events on cable, I figured violence was at least within the realm of possibility. I expected to encounter Tea baggers, lets-take-our-country-backers, and Obama bashers. As it turned out, I did meet some of those types, but surprisingly enough, they were all mild-mannered pussycats. Even the most vociferous Obama bashers spoke to me with such temperance and respect that a few times I almost forgot myself and shouted, "Amen brother!"
Glenn Beck's rally: Restoring Honor
I was barely three miles from my house near Fairfax, Virginia when the traffic started to slow to a crawl. You know things are bad when the guy in the car in front of you is reading his morning paper. Between the snail paced traffic leading to the metro stations, the impossible parking situation at the metro stations, and the train congestion I encountered in the metro stations, it took nearly four hours to get downtown.
By the time I made my way up to the WWII memorial (never made it to the Lincoln Memorial steps), I had missed the speeches entirely. However, I tried my best to hit the ground running, relying on the crowd to give me a sense of what I missed. Fortunately there was a gradual exodus from the LM back to the trains; easy pickings for interviews.
Most people I spoke with described the rally as decidedly spiritual in nature. "It wasn't about politics at all, " was the common refrain. The crowd was overwhelmingly Christian, and they seemed to appreciate the revival-like atmosphere. Rally organizers told people not to bring signs. This was a bit of a disappointment for me since I had hoped the signs would make for some provocative footage. In lieu of signs; flags, and lots of them. In fact, I daresay there was enough "Old Glory" to drape the Washington monument three times over.
When I asked people how they felt about the rally being held on the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's I have a dream speech they seemed to reply in unison, "it was about M.L.K and his dream, that's why he did it on this day in the first place...King was talking about everybody- black, white, and everybody." Now I don't mean to imply that these people were being disingenuous; they may have been misinformed, but Glenn Beck said himself that the timing of his event was coincidental. They cannot have it both ways.
So what about Glenn Beck himself? From my point of reference--an African American, bleeding-heart-liberal-independent--I had quickly judged Mr. Beck as an opportunistic, chameleon-like entertainer who was smirking all the way to the bank. I figured I knew just enough about him to know he was someone I didn't want to know.
However, I was committed to do my research, and thankfully Kathy Riordan's post, Understanding Glenn Beck, sparked my curiosity about the man. I was drawn to the Mormon angle because as a child I had some very close Mormon friends and was nearly converted myself. I followed her links and continued to read about him from a wide variety of sources. And what did I learn after an evening of digging? Glenn Beck is an opportunistic, chameleon-like entertainer who is smirking all the way to the bank.
I did not endure the hellish commute and scorching sun to learn more about Glenn Beck. I wanted to meet some of those conservative "others" who I'd so often seen caricatured in the press; to decide for myself rather than judge them based on received knowledge. For all I know, there was a well of resentment roiling just beneath the surface as they smiled politely and answered my questions. Did they hold back because the interviewer was black and they didn't want to bear the racist label? There's only so much you can learn from a brief encounter.
Beck rally interviews pt. 4 - I wasn't able to edit this one the way I wanted to. There's some dead space in -between, but if you fast forward through, there are some good interviews buried in there. Oh, and my voice is particulary squeaky...sorry.
Al Sharpton's Counter rally: Reclaiming the Dream
When I heard that Glenn Beck would be holding a rally on the steps of the Lincoln memorial on the anniversary of the famous I have a dream speech, I thought it was inappropriate, to say the least, but I'm no good at outrage in such cases. I would have voted against it if given the chance, but since there was nothing I could do about it, I mostly put it out of my mind: Al Sharpton, being the rabble rouser that he is, decided to do something about it.
His counter rally, Reclaiming the Dream, was held simultaneously at Dunbar High School in NW Washington. Given how much effort it took to get to the Mall area, I did not venture out to the Sharpton Event, but from what I've read, it was a peaceful gathering of like-minded souls. According to the Washington Post, "speakers addressed everything from education to ending gun violence to gay rights to congressional voting privileges for the district."
At about 4:00 pm, I saw Sharpton and his followers marching across the Mall on their way to the site of the future M.L.K. memorial. As they passed, I photographed and interviewed a few of them. Unlike the Beck crowd, Sharpton's group had lots of signs, a few of which were anti-Beck, but most were positive, black empowerment messages. The Washington Post's Robert Pierre described it thusly, "...the intersection of Independence Avenue and 17th street was a crossroads of expressions as participants from both events came together."
Several of the marchers asked me to join them. By this time, after hours of sun exposure, I was positively wilted; so parched that my tongue was fused to the roof of my mouth. I had to be on stage for a performance in three hours, and all I wanted to do was go home to a hot shower and a cold Perrier.
But as I write this, I can admit to myself that those were all lame excuses. I'm ashamed that I was too selfish and lazy to join them. In Dr. King's era, he and his supporters were jailed, beaten and worse, and yet they kept coming back for more. They were warriors on the front line of history, and I couldn't be bothered to walk a few blocks in the hot sun. I keep telling myself, they marched and died so I wouldn't have to. It doesn't make me feel any better.
As I dragged my tired feet along the gravelly walkway toward the Federal Square metro station, I was greeted with Martin Luther King's voice. A row of banners, adorned with his image stood high, bellowing in the afternoon breeze as Dr. King's speeches played on a continuous loop for all to hear. I hadn't really listened when I came through that area on the way in, so eager was I to get started, but now something he was saying had caught my ear.
He was talking about his little six-year-old daughter...she kept seeing something on TV about a place called Fun Town. She chided her father for his inattention. “Daddy, I want to go to Fun Town! I keep telling you I want to go, but you won't take me." Dr. King related the story in his mellifluous cadence. "How could I explain to a little child that she could not go to Fun Town because she is colored?"
I stood for several minutes listening intently, feeling the tears sting my eyes as I tried to imagine what it would be like to tell my daughter that she couldn't go somewhere, anywhere, because she was black. I could not even fathom the sting of that injustice. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest in the 80's, I hadn't always fully appreciated the contribution of Dr. King and others who took the civil rights mantle when it was necessary to do so. The story about his daughter brought this into sharp relief. Thanks to their tireless efforts, I will never know their pain. I rode home with a grateful heart, thinking of my charming daughter, and of my charmed life.
*The videography and editing presented a steep learning curve. I am still in progress; more videos to come.*About my squeaky voice and nervous giggles...sorry, first time around. In future, I will endeavor to modulate.
Sources: Understanding Glenn Beck--Kathy Riordan,
Beck speaks for the White Majority--The Huffington Post
Sharpton's Reclaim the Dream event-National Action
The Washington Post