Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.
Radio and television personality Glenn Beck today hosted hundreds of thousands of rallying citizens from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. In what was an amazingly apolitical rally, Beck and his fellow speakers focused on three themes: faith, hope, and charity.
The event, billed by its organizers “Restoring Honor,” harkened back to revered American leaders, from the Founding Fathers to Martin Luther King Jr., and religious figures, particularly Moses, whom he continuously referred to as “the man with the stick and burning bush.”
Offering a grim picture of where the country is today, while refraining from critiquing specific politicians or even particular policies, Beck hit a hopeful pitch, urging his minions to be more like the great Americans and religious figures he praised.
“Do we no longer believe in the individual, and the power of one individual?” Beck demanded. “No!” the crowd adamantly answered. “One man can change the world….That individual is you!”
“Pick up your stick and stand!” Beck commanded the crowd, suggesting that what can save America is a Moses-like figure, committed to God and caring for all who follow his lead.
Beck’s religious undertone was the current that carried the whole show.
The rally coincided with the day of Reverend Martin Luther King’s 1963 March on Washington. And many speakers, including Beck himself paid tribute to the civil rights leader who altered the course of American history through his peaceful civil disobedience and belief in God. Perhaps King’s most memorable speech, the “I Have A Dream” address, was delivered, also, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
King’s niece Alveda took the stage, in a move that will surely draw ire from Beck’s critics.
King thanked Beck for organizing this rally and “focus[ing] on honor and the content of our character, and not the color of our skin.” “The greatness of Martin Luther King was the faith he had in the American people,” Beck said.
The “Restoring Honor” rally granted numerous awards to former servicemen, as well as an unlikely recipient, Major League Baseball player Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals. Pujols received a “Hope” award, granted by his coach, Tony LaRussa, for his commitment to community service. “I want to thank God, for giving me this platform, as a baseball player,” Pujols said. “My job, as a believer, is to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
And that’s what he did. And so did the subsequent speakers.
“Go to your churches, synagogues, and mosques!” Beck said, taking care to include men and women of varying faiths. “Yesterday is gone, tomorrow may never come, but we have today to make a difference.” The crowd applauded.
Beck was short on specifics, long on platitudes.
In a way, the rally today mirrored rallies held for then-candidate Barack Obama in 2007 and leading up to the election of 2008. Both this rally and many of Obama’s featured mesmerizing speakers, who chose to inspire audiences by rhetorically empowering them to take matters into their own hands.
While Beck’s rally emphasized belief in God, Obama’s generally emphasized himself as a savior of the American people. This, I believe, was the contrast the talk radio and television personality was trying to achieve. Beck’s rally, and the speakers who addressed the crowd, were continually thanking God and Beck for bringing such an inspiring crowd together.
Two attendees I spoke with, Lewis Rhoden and his son Brandon, had made the trip up just for this event from Polk County, Florida. The Rhodens had been on the Mall, reserving their prime seats, since yesterday morning at 5:30 a.m. Together, along with Beck, they watched the sun rise over the Lincoln memorial on Friday morning.
“We support what Glenn Beck is doing,” the older Rhoden told me, “putting God back in our nation.” Both Rhodens were excited by former governor of Alaska Sarah Palin’s speech. “She’s a positive role model for what we stand for,” Lewis said. But he wasn’t sure whether “she’s ready yet” to be president of the United States. The Rhodens weren’t sure whom they would support in the 2012 presidential election.
“Glenn Beck would be ideal,” Lewis told me. “He knows faith, the Constitution, and how government works. He knows it all.”
By saying this, Lewis conceded, Beck knows better than to run for president.
One thing is certain, though: Neither Rhoden would be supporting President Obama’s reelection bid.
Palin’s address to the crowd today was hardly political, especially for a one-time nominee for vice president. Not once did she mention Obama, Democrats or, even, Republicans. Instead, she addressed the crowd as a mother of a soldier.
Palin heartily thanked “America’s finest, our men and women in the military.” She called the military “a force for good” in this world. “And that is nothing to apologize for,” Palin said, in what was probably the most political moment of her speech, as it was presumably a veiled shot at Obama for what many perceive as a worldwide apology tour taken by the president.
Palin used her time to defend America’s war in Afghanistan. And honored those who had made the ultimate sacrifice in the fight for freedom.
Here’s Palin’s full address:
Beck denounced those who call him a “fearmongerer” by likening himself to the iceberg-spotter on the Titanic. Beck, instead, asserted that he is trying to rescue America from a sinking ship. “We must, as a people, strengthen our spirit” and rise above, not go down, Beck said.
Only toward the end of the program did Beck refer to Democrats, Republicans, and independents. But it still wasn’t political. It was a unity call, imploring everyone to come together and unite to “restore honor.” It was a post-partisan moment. Similar, in a way, to Obama’s 2004 DNC speech, when the then-state senator from Illinois suggested that we should not remain isolated in a “red America” or a “blue America,” but should come together as the United States of America.
Beck announced that through his supporters he had been able to raise $5.5 million for this event. The crowd wrapped along the reflecting pool, shimmering out to the other memorials in the area and even around the back and far sides of the Lincoln Memorial, before thinning out near the Washington Monument.
The event lasted nearly three and a half hours on a hot summer day in Washington.
“America today begins to turn back to God,” Beck told the crowd at the beginning of the rally. Judging from the sizeable audience, and the enthusiasm that many supporters expressed, it’s pretty clear that hundreds of thousands wholeheartedly agree.