Forty-seven years ago today, hundreds of thousands of Americans joined the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and witnessed the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech, which summed up the hopes of generations.
Today, crowds are repeating that trek – by bus, train, car and plane -- to the nation's capital, with their own hopes and dreams about what America should stand for.
Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin -- two conservative stars known more for their divisive political views than for their King-like stands for social justice -- will lead Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally
to pay tribute "to America's service personnel and other upstanding citizens who embody our nation's founding principles of integrity, truth and honor."
At the same time, the National Action Network plans a "Reclaim the Dream" rally in Washington to honor King and the civil rights movement in its own way. Its leader, the Rev. Al Sharpton, acknowledges Beck's right to rally, but not his claim to a part of King's legacy.
One thing all sides and Glenn Beck
himself can agree on: Beck is not Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Nevertheless, when Beck and Palin speak to a crowd gathered at the Lincoln Memorial, just like that day in 1963, the symbolism will be unmistakable.
Cindy Spyker, who is driving a group of 10 from Charlotte, N.C, has been to Washington before, for the 9/12 taxpayer rally last year and the protest of the health care reform bill. A member of CAUTION (Common Americans United to Inspire Our Nation)
, she said Beck is "one of the very few people willing to say what needs to be said, whether people like it or not. America was created on Christian-Judeo values." The country has "turned away from faith," she said, and "has to get back to principles like honor." Spyker, 51, said of today's rally: "Of course, it's not so much the civil rights thing. What he's trying to get across -- content of character -- is not about what we look like. It's about who we are and how do we conduct ourselves, especially when people aren't watching."
Marette Parker will be taking a bus from Charlotte to a different Washington destination. Parker, 42, who is organizing a North Carolina chapter of National Action Network
, is attending the group's rally, starting at Dunbar High School and followed by a march to the site of the proposed King Memorial, which she said is "long overdue."
Parker said that if King were alive today, he would "be proud that times have changed," but would be saddened by problems that still exist. "We all have to come together as a community," she said, "to mentor and motivate our young people." She thinks Beck's rally is "trying to hijack this particular day and steal media coverage," she said. "We can't let this happen."
On his radio show Wednesday, Beck said: "I know that people are going to hammer me because they're going to say, 'It's no Martin Luther King speech.' Of course it's not Martin Luther King. You think I'm Martin Luther King?" He said he has prepared only a few talking points so he doesn't get in the way of "the spirit." Though he has said the date wasn't chosen with the anniversary in mind, when he found out he called the coincidence "divine providence."
Whites "do not own" the legacy of Abraham Lincoln, and "blacks don't own Martin Luther King," Beck said on his show in June. "Not only is the event non-political, we have continuously encouraged those attending to avoid bringing political signs, political flyers, 'I heart the RNC' T-shirts and other similar partisan paraphernalia. There are plenty of opportunities to talk about politics. This isn't one of them."
On his show, Beck has called President Obama "a racist." Palin, the program's other main draw, recently defended Dr. Laura Schlessinger
when the radio host was criticized for, among other things, repeatedly saying the N-word while answering an African-American caller's question. "I, and obviously many others, have been 'shackled' too by people who play games with false accusations, threats, frivolous lawsuits, misreporting, etc., in an effort to silence those with whom they disagree," Palin wrote on Facebook
, and was promptly taken to task by black Republicans.
"For Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin to have a march, they have the right to do so," the Rev. Al Sharpton said in the Washington Post
. "Many of us suspect they are using the symbolism of that day in a way that does not reflect what the day is about."
Speakers listed in a National Action Network release include: U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Martin Luther King III, president of the Center for Nonviolent Social Change; TV and radio host Ed Schultz; radio host Tom Joyner; NAACP President Benjamin Jealous; Melanie L. Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation; and Urban League President Marc Morial. Beck's plans are "an effort to embarrass and poke a finger in the eye of the civil rights community," Morial said in the Post, "because Glenn Beck and his public utterances don't necessarily demonstrate a consistency with the vision of King."
Martin Luther King III
was cautiously conciliatory in his Post opinion piece. "My father championed free speech," he wrote. "He would be the first to say that those participating in Beck's rally have the right to express their views. But his dream rejected hateful rhetoric and all forms of bigotry or discrimination, whether directed at race, faith, nationality, sexual orientation or political beliefs. He envisioned a world where all people would recognize one another as sisters and brothers in the human family."
Beck's rally will feature its own King relative, Dr. Alveda King
, the niece of the late civil rights leader, who is the director of African-American outreach for Priests for Life and the founder of King for America. The anti-abortion activist wrote in the Christian Science Monitor: "The rally will be a celebration of who we are as a nation and a chance to stop for a moment, reflect, reorganize, and re-energize. It's a chance to think about character; both our character as a nation and our character as individuals."
Other groups expressing their freedom of speech today include "Celebrate the Dream,"
artists and activists who plan to unveil a structure on the Mall -- nearly four stories high and 70 feet wide -- depicting words and images of King.
Meanwhile, some won't be thinking of King at all. Jay Privette, 62, of Charlotte, is heading to the Beck rally -- he estimates it's his fifth recent trip to a Washington protest rally -- on a bus sponsored by Americans for Prosperity
. While Privette said he "has the greatest respect" for the civil rights leader, he thinks comparisons between the men and their causes are "ridiculous."
"They're different," he said. "This movement here is about the takeover of the United States economy."