August 29, 2010

My thoughts on Saturday's "dueling" rallies

On August 28, 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. finished his "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" with a ten-minute speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  Often called the "I Have a Dream Speech", after his death the theme of this speech became a foundational pillar of the American civil rights movement. Around 200,000 people participated in Dr. King's march and listened to his speech, many of them traveling to Washington in the face of clear, specific threats of violence.

The video above is video I took on that same day in 2010. The area around the Reflecting Pool was too crowded, so I was forced to take a position in the field on the south side of the tree line. My video covers only half the crowd of people who gathered in Washington D.C. for Glenn Becks' "Restoring Honor" rally. The focus of the rally was more spiritual than political. It reminded me of the many "revival" meetings I used to attend early in my Christian walk. When I look at videos of Dr. King's 1963 speech, it also carries with it a strong revivalist message. There is, however, one profound difference. Glenn Beck's message was clearly focused on individualism while Dr. King's was clearly collectivist.

Dr. King was not telling his people to be proud of who they were as individuals. His speech was defiant, placing the black collective against the white collective. He called for reconciliation, but the bulk of the message is a condemnation of white America, a condemnation that in my opinion was clearly deserved in that moment in time but is no longer appropriate. Trying to revive the idea that blacks are still oppressed and whites are their oppressor in today's world in the way that Al Sharpton does in his "competing" rally flies in the face of the many successful black Americans in every aspect of American life. There are blacks, hispanics, natives, asians, arabs, and persians in every social and economic sphere of modern American life. Without exception, any "racism" that still exists in these United States exists only in the minds of certain individuals who cannot rise above a Marxist or Fascist belief in the domination of one group over another. It does not matter if the individual in question believes they have the right to dominate or claims to be oppressed. Both situations are no longer part and parcel of life in America. Our nation's laws, social assumptions, and cultural aspirations have long since risen above racist or ethnic condemnation. It is no longer a problem here. It has not been a problem here for at least twenty years, and probably closer to thirty.

Here is a small selection of media responses to both Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" and Al Sharpton's "Reclaim the Dream".

CNN Belief Blog: "Beck positions himself as new Christian conservative leader"
MSNBC News: "Dueling rallies mark King speech anniversary"
MSNBC Video: "Dueling rallies about God and country"
ABC News: "Glenn Beck appeals to restore, Al Sharpton commemorates"
SF Chronicle "City Brights" blog: "Restoring honor: the "I have a dream" speech anniversary"

I was there. The one thing that no one in the news media has picked up on for some reason is that a large block of the participants in both rallies were exactly the same people. Yes, it's true. About one in three people from "Reclaim the Dream" were people who had also attended "Restoring Honor". This group wore their "Restoring Honor" shirts to Sharpton's rally and their "Reclaim the Dream" shirts to Beck's rally. If you really want to understand what is happening at the grassroots level in today's America then you must understand the motivations of this group of people.

I personally talked to about three dozen people who attended both rallies. The individuals I spoke with, and I admit it is a miniscule sampling, all had a few things in common: they were worried about the future, they had attended at least one Tea Party/9-12 meeting, they voted either Republican or Democrat depending on who they liked, and they were personally connected to the military. Some were active military, some were veterans, and some were spouses of people currently deployed. No one is speaking to or for these people. If we extrapolate this tiny sampling all across America, there could potentially be ten million tax-paying voters with direct personal ties to the military who feel no one in politics represents their interests. Both sides of the cultural debate ignore them, which is probably fine because these people are morally and ethically repulsed by the great effort in American media and politics to divide our country into dozens of tiny political factions.

I went to "Restoring Honor" expecting to learn something about the dynamics of the culture war being waged in our media between Marx-inspired collectivists and Jefferson-inspired individualists. I came away from the day with an even greater respect for the American people themselves. The American people know the direction they want the country to take. It is neither greater socialism nor a complete reversal of the past half-century of social change. If the three dozen or so individuals I spoke with are any indication, then this group of people who attended both rallies with equal vigor want one thing and one thing only: they want the government to lower taxes, reduce the bureaucracy, and get the hell out of their way so they can build a better life for their children.

Oh, and one last thought. They do not see themselves as black, white, native, hispanic, asian, arab, persian, socialist, conservative, liberal, democrat, or republican. They see themselves as Americans!