The conservative right continued its deafening drum beat to a return to yesterday with a rally this past weekend on the 47 anniversary of the most celebrated march date of the 20th Century Civil Rights movement. Called the “Restoring America’s Honor” rally, it was led by conservative talk show host, Glenn Beck, and featured him and the other star of the Tea Party movement, the conservative party’s latest high profile anti-intellectual, Sarah Palin.
Both Beck and Palin have been touted as the new stars of the Tea Party, but Beck claims this wasn’t a Tea Party event—just most of the folk attending it coincidentally just happen to be “tea partiers.” All 87,000 of them (according to air photo documents). Beck and his crew are hyping a 300,000 turnout but haven’t provided any photos to substantiate such a claim. If fact, they aren’t even circulating crowd photos. What mass march wouldn’t want to show the power of their followers and supporters in a collective photo? None that I know of.
We know why the National Parks Service doesn’t count any more. They stopped in 1997 after claiming that the 1995 Million Man March only had 400,000 attendees. They later adjusted it to 700,000 but that was still a million short of the 1.7 million to 2 million everybody else saw (including myself).
The substance of Beck’s attendance numbers really is not the issue here. It’s the symbolism attached to holding it on the most significant benchmark of the movement everybody wants to emulate again. The message of the movement still resonates on the conscience of America. Well, at least some of them. King’s booming voice of “Let Freedom Ring” as a signature verse in what Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. now called his “Bounced Check” speech, but was overridden by another verse by which the speech became renowned (“I Have A Dream”).
Yet, the Beck/Palin spin on this is that it is time to “let freedom ring” for disenfranchised “Americans” (code for white people), thus the whole “restoring” America’s honor thing. I just have one question, Where were these folk during the “Baby Bush” administration, when America was really being dishonored? It guess America wasn’t in the same kind of social retreat then (where they had to rally about it). But two years into President Obama’s presidency, the conservatives have found new ideas, religion, a movement and now a conveniently symbolic date to express themselves. The substance of what they have to say is still in question.
Both Beck and Palin only became dissident voices in the last election cycle, so they wouldn’t have been factors in any Republican “rally” cry. The Republican party really has no “front men” (women) per se, other than John McCain — who ain’t nobody listening to. This new drum beat continues to have these subtle racial over(under)tones.
This latest poke at King is right out of the Republican “colorblind” card deck. In the 1990s, Republicans were quoting King more frequently than black leaders were. And the “Judge not by the color of our skin, but by the content of our character” verse of King’s speech witnessed a total cooptation by the conservative movement. So what is significant about Beck choosing the August 28th date to hold his rally? The March on Washington was considered the “change point” of the Civil Right Movement. King, who keynoted the speech, said “Now is the time.” The march on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial was nationally televised and demanded the attention of the nation, on this day. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was introduced to Congress the following Monday, and passed several months later (in part in memoriam to the slain President that called for the Act).
Glenn Beck and his ideological dance partner, Sarah Palin, used all the symbolic language of that day to establish context for this movement in this time. Palin, who has never read an original line in this revived party ride, in fact, said “We are standing today at the symbolic crossroads of our nation’s history.” Oh really? Sound familiar?
She went on to say that she was humbled to be standing with “patriots” and called for them to look around, that they were standing with “Americans.” Hmmm…then she called on “Americans” to restore the honor of America, show their courage, weaved in Washington, Lincoln and King.
Beck took a different tact (from his usual lack of tact) saying he talked to God and God called for them all to pray for their country. Now God can touch everybody, even Glenn Beck, but whether or not he intended it to turn out this way, the “spiritual” or “religious” tone gave the illusion that Beck was taking a “King-ian” approach of a God inspired moment 47 years ago.
Whether Beck was trying to suggest that he is now on “God mission” to restore America’s honor is a question everyone is asking. Clearly it was a political rally, without the political tone…well, except for the Palin rhetoric. Obviously God hadn’t touched her. She didn’t stay around long enough, leaving soon after she spoke. Still she stayed around long enough to be the symbol she was brought in to be. But Beck called for a “great awakening.” Hmmm…
I guess they tried everything else. Evangelism can’t hurt. What does hurt is how conservatives continue to bastardize the King legacy and have no problem doing it. They are not sincere in advancing America’s social cause. They are interested in a social retreat and are mocking the significance of an “overcoming” moment in America’s socio-political history.
They continue to mock one of America’s moral leaders and use his language in retreat of what he stood for. When both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sarah Palin call for “moral courage,” you somehow know they’re not calling for the same thing. They are both symbols of a movement that have two entirely different calls to action.
They just share the same language…and now the same date in history. Let’s just hope they don’t have the same results for their targeted objectives.
Anthony Asadullah Samad, Ph.D., is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the upcoming book, REAL EYEZ: Race, Reality and Politics in 21 Century Politics. He can be reached at www.AnthonySamad.com.
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