While Fox News host Glenn Beck spoke to the droves of people that flooded the Lincoln Memorial to attend his “Restoring Honor” rally Saturday, the Reverend Al Sharpton also drew a sizable, though much smaller, crowd across town for his “Reclaiming the Dream” rally at Dunbar High School. Sharpton’s rally concluded with a march to the proposed site of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall.
Billed in part as a counter-rally to the rally hosted by Beck, Sharpton’s event was more political, focusing largely on jobs, education reform, voting rights for Washington, D.C., and advancing the vision Martin Luther King Jr. presented in his 1963 “I Have a Dream” speech. Both Shaprton and Beck’s events Saturday took place 47 years to the day after King’s iconic speech.
Though most of the ministers, labor leaders, activists, and academic figures who spoke at Sharpton’s rally focused on pushing for education improvements and reinvestment in jobs, some speakers used their time on stage to attack Beck and his rally.
Jaime Contreras, president of Service Employee International Union (SEIU) local 32BJ, said Beck’s rally didn’t “represent the dream.”
“It’s a shame what’s happening at the Lincoln Memorial. Shame on them! We are here to let those folks on the Mall know they don’t represent the dream!” Contreras said, cheered on by purple-shirted SEIU members in the audience. “They sure as hell don’t represent me! They represent hate mongering and angry white people!”
Washington Congressional Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, who had her microphone cut off for speaking over her allotted time, also engaged in anti-Beck rhetoric.
“Beck’s message doesn’t change nothing. Beck has march-envy, and he doesn’t have a message to match our march,” she said.
The Rev. W. Franklin Richardson, senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon, N.Y., told the audience that he wasn’t threatened by Beck’s rally. “It’s alright with me that they’re at the Mall today, because we’re at the White House,” he said.
Most of the speakers, however, spoke in less antagonistic terms, focusing instead on the themes of the rally.
Preceding Sharpton’s speech, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan spoke to the crowd, saying, “Education is the civil rights of our generation.” Duncan also encouraged greater personal responsibility, telling parents to “turn off the TV and read to your kids,” and challenged educators to stop making excuses.
(Last week, a spokesman for Duncan hung up on The Daily Caller when asked about the secretary’s planned participation in what was advertised to be, at least in part, a counter-Beck rally.)
Sharpton took the stage last, energizing the audience by taking a few shots at Beck’s event.
“They ought to ask Lincoln why he fought against states’ rights and held the Union together,” he said. “The dream was never about states’ rights.”
Before the march began, Sharpton cautioned his audience against provocation.
“Some said there’s going to be trouble. There ain’t going to be trouble. We won’t disgrace today. They want to provoke you. They want to disgrace this day and we’re not giving them this day,” he said.
Though the crowd’s size likely numbered in the thousands, officials on scene would not speculate on the number in attendance.
As Sharpton led the long march through Washington, D.C. streets, the large crowd chanted “we want action!”, “no justice, no peace!”, “M-L-K!”, and sang “We Shall Overcome.” Nearing the Mall, marchers came into contact with participants dispersing from Beck’s rally, which had concluded a bit earlier. Though there were some minor verbal exchanges, the two groups carried on without major incident.
Two marchers who identified themselves only as Kathy and Lydia from New York said they had attended Sharpton’s rally “in response to the teabaggers — enough is enough.”
Lydia took special issue with Beck, whom she described as “a little nuts,” and quipped that “King had a dream; Beck had a scheme.”
Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke to the crowd as the march ended at the proposed site for his father’s memorial. He told the audience they need to “raise the standards” for elected officials and strive to realize the dream his father recounted some 47 years ago.