Beck, Palin call for restoration of traditional values

Rights groups hold own event to honor King

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By Philip Rucker and Carol Morello
Washington Post / August 29, 2010

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WASHINGTON — A sea of people rallied at the hallowed site of the Lincoln Memorial yesterday as conservative commentator Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and other heroes of the Tea Party movement honored Americans serving in the military and delivered impassioned calls to turn the nation back to God and to protect its traditional values.

Claiming the legacy of the nation’s Founding Fathers and repeatedly evoking civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., the speakers at the “Restoring Honor’’ rally exhorted a vast and overwhelmingly white crowd to concentrate not on the history that has scarred the nation but instead on what makes it “good.’’

“For too long, this country has wandered in darkness, and we have wandered in darkness in periods from the beginning,’’ Beck said. “We have had moments of brilliance and moments of darkness. But this country has spent far too long worried about scars and thinking about the scars and concentrating on the scars.

“Today,’’ he continued, “we are going to concentrate on the good things in America, the things that we have accomplished — and the things that we can do tomorrow.’’

As Beck attempted to expropriate the legacy of King, who delivered his famous “I Have a Dream’’ speech from the same marble steps 47 years ago to the day, the Rev. Al Sharpton and other civil rights leaders organized a simultaneous event. They rallied outside Dunbar High School in northwest Washington and marched to the Mall, to the site where a memorial to King is being built.

“The March on Washington changed America,’’ Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia’s delegate to Congress, said at the Sharpton rally, referring to King’s 1963 speech. “Our country reached to overcome the low points of our racial history. Glenn Beck’s march will change nothing. But you can’t blame Glenn Beck for his March on Washington envy. Too bad he doesn’t have a message worthy of the place.’’

Avis Jones-DeWeever, executive director of the National Council of Negro Women, also spoke to the crowd at the high school.

“Don’t let anyone tell you that they have the right to take their country back,’’ she said. “It’s our country, too. We will reclaim the dream. It was ours from the beginning.’’

Beck’s rally has been billed as a peaceful and nonpolitical “re-dedication’’ of the traditional honor and values of the nation. Throngs of people crowded shoulder to shoulder for six city blocks, from the Lincoln Memorial past the reflecting pool to the World War II Memorial. From there, the ralliers spread out as they spilled onto the grounds of the Washington Monument.

Crowds at Mall demonstrations are notoriously difficult to estimate, with no official source for such figures since the National Park Service stopped doing counts in 1997. Organizers had a permit for 300,000 people.

Beck, a Fox News host, has developed a national following by assailing President Obama and Democrats, and he warned yesterday that “our children could be slaves to debt.’’ But he insisted that the rally “has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with God, turning our faith back to the values and principles that made us great.’’

King’s niece Alveda King, an antiabortion activist, addressed Beck’s rally with a plea for prayer “in the public squares of America and in our schools.’’ Referencing her “Uncle Martin,’’ King called for national unity by repeatedly declaring “I have a dream.’’

“I have a dream that America will pray and God will forgive us our sins and revive us our land,’’ King said. “On that day, we will all be able to lift every voice and sing of the love and honor that God desires of all his children.’’

The crowd was generally peaceful. People said they had come to express fear that the country is at a perilous moment.

The crowd erupted when Beck introduced Palin, a Tea Party movement heroine and former Republican vice presidential candidate. Palin said she was speaking not as a politician, but as the mother of a combat veteran, referring to her son, Track, 20, who served in Iraq.

Palin, too, called on Americans to restore traditional values. “We must restore America and restore her honor,’’ she said.

“Here today, at the crossroads of our history, may this day be the change point,’’ Palin said. “Look around you. You’re not alone. You are Americans! You have the same steel spine and the moral courage of Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King. It is in you. It will sustain you as it sustained them.’’

At the counterdemonstration at Dunbar High School, which was primarily African-American, Joyce White arrived early to show her opposition to Beck. “If we hadn’t elected a black president, do you think they would be doing this today?’’ she asked.

Beck repeatedly said his rally was intended to be nonpolitical, but with the midterm elections six weeks away, it is sure to be seen as a test of the conservative movement’s strength.