Common sense would tell you a liberal black man has no business at a Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin rally. And that's exactly why I went. Here are my random observations, with lots and lots of photos.
I decided to go to the Glenn Beck "Restoring Honor" rally today. Yes, I'm a black man. Yes, I'm a liberal. Yes, I think Beck and his ilk are morons.
So why did I blow a perfectly sunny DC morning to ride downtown and partake in this nonsense? Because
my wife said I can I can. It's just a free country like that.
What follows is a loose collection of observations from my day in Beckville, culled from my Tweets, notes I made once my cell signal died, and photos which you can find here in my Picasa album. Let us begin.
Getting There - The Metro was no more/less crowded than your typical Saturday when I got on my usual Red Line stop in suburban Maryland. Despite Tea Party instructions to avoid this end of the Red Line at all costs (for reasons of personal safety!), there were quite a few folks on my train downtown, carrying lawn chairs (not the 4 legged collapsing ones you see at the beach. They had the huge, old school "folding chairs") and sporting their finest "Anti Social-ist" Tea Party regalia. The irony of riding government funded transportation, heading to a government maintained park, and watching a speaker being protected by government funded policemen was apparently lost of these folks.
There - When I finally got off at the Smithsonian Metro stop and hit the Mall, the first thing I saw was a huge MLK mural/art thing in the center of the lawn, with a King speech blaring from a big set of speakers. It looked like the stage for a counterprotest, but the whole set up was oddly vacant and unattended. Go figure.
Counterprotests - There were quite a few counterprotests on the Mall, but I can't say there was any rhyme or reason. Lots of Libertarians handing out flyers. Your typical overzealous obscure Christian groups/Jesus freaks passing out tracts. Some anti-war protests. A few anti-Beck signs. Weird mix.
Personal Confrontation #1 - Around the Washington Monument, one of the anti-Beck protesters was holding a sign. Some of the pro-Beckers (I don't know what to call these folks) confronted the guy, telling him no signs were allowed (which wasn't true at all, it was merely Beck's suggestion, not a law) and trying to wrestle it from him. So, of course I pulled out my camera and started shooting. Some pro-Becker saw me, and ran up asking me "Who are you? Why are you taking pictures?" I reply "Because I can." and keep shooting more pictures. He asks me "Are you a journalist?" I tell him "I'm a taxpaying citizen taking photos. Would you please leave now?" He stomps off. This feels like a bad omen of things to come. It is.
Size Matters - As much as I dislike everything these folks stand for, there's no need to knock the crowd size. Beck bought em' out. The Mall was relatively packed from the Lincoln Memorial to the WW2 Memorial. This was impressive, and I overheard quite a few people saying "this is more than Obama got". That's obviously silly. The inauguration crowd was probably 10 times bigger at least, stretching from the US Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and beyond. I was there, I know. Still, getting 150,000 (my guesstimate, not scientifically proven) people to show up for lousy speeches on an 90 degree day is impressive nonetheless. Heck, I showed up, so I can't talk. CBS says 87,000 people showed up. I'll take their word for it.
"Where The Black Folks At?!?" - I know what you're wondering, how many other black people did you see? The answer is sorta complicated. This is still, after all, Chocolate City. Black folks are everywhere by default, especially on a sunny Saturday. Still, I didn't count very many non-white people there who appeared to be there specifically for the march itself. There were lots of young black teenaged vendors hawking those hideous Don't Tread On Me flags (more on that later) and buttons. There were some other black "journalists" like me there with cameras and mics, respectfully getting the viewpoints of pro-Beckers. There were black tourists milling about, obviously clueless about what was going on. There were plenty of "what's this all about" gawkers. But if you ask me to count the number of blacks who appeared to be there specifically to partake in the rally itself, the number was pretty meager. Seriously. And I walked around probably 2/3 of the Mall/event area over the course of my 5 hours out there. Trust me, I was looking and counting like this post depended on it. If I've gotta give you a total number, I'd guess less than 100. There were probably more blacks onstage singing and giving speeches than in the crowd itself.
Confrontation #2 - So, I'm waiting in one of the very long lines for the Port A Potties when this woman comes up to me and grabs my wrist. I'd dug up my old Obama "Yes We Did!" rubber band for the event, but didn't think anyone would notice it. This lady, apparently did, and asked me (nicely. At first.), "What's this all about?" I told her "This is all about me using the bathroom". She looked flustered, then asked me "Why are you here today?" I said "I'm here to take a leak." Now, I could tell she was getting agitated, and she proceeded to tell me about how Glenn Beck's event was all about redeeming Dr. King's dream, and bringing people together, how Beck's tears alone could cure juvenile diabetes, blah, blah, blah. This goes on for about a full minute, as she's apparently clueless that I'm paying her zero attention. The Port A Potty door finally opens. "I'm using the bathroom now, please don't follow me," I tell her, as I walk past. When I came out she was gone. Weird, weird exchange.
Diversity, Beck-Style - I didn't know any of the black folks speaking onstage, other than Alveda King. There was some preacher who did his best King impersonation. A gospel choir that sang "Lift Every Voice And Sing" to a crowd that had no idea what the song was. King did her usual "token black Conservative" spiel, dropping a million and one references to an uncle she didn't even really remember. You know what, I Have A Dream, myself: I want Alveda King to get a real day job and quit exploiting her last name for personal gain.
The Message - Beck billed this as a non-political event, and largely followed through. Not that I noticed, because the speeches, which were about typical "America/God/faith/military" themes were boring as hell. I missed Palin's speech, which was oddly one of the event's first, but a YouTube of it later revealed it to be pointless "patriotism" pandering. Beck's speech was just as generic and dry, and despite whatever crowd response you might have seen on TV, folks I observed were by and large paying no attention whatsoever. If The Master Plan was unveiled today, they might wanna send out a summary email later. I doubt anyone walked away with the message. I sure didn't.
Michael Warns In The Hizzouse - The "Michael Warns" group, which infamously protested and was ejected from an Obama campaign rally in 08', held court on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial while Beck spoke. The group's leader, Warns (or whatever his name is) was wearing a Tea Party shirt, and reveling in the well wishes of folks who recognized him, posing for photos with admiring rally-goers like he was some ex-Redskin or something. The dichotomy of a white guy spouting a generic pro-America speech, while a black man (equipped with signs) spouted vile Anti-Obama nonsense just a few feet behind him was just odd. Odd. Even odder, Warns and his group had poorly handwritten signs (The Democrats Started The KKK!!!), and lots of em'. Despite the rally's prohibitive guidelines, I didn't see any of the pro-Beckers ask them to take the signs down. I guess the "scary black man" is perfectly okay, so long as they're on your team. Go figure.
My Reception - I didn't do much talking as I walked around, except for when I encountered the occasional fellow Obama supporter (there were a few wearing shirts here and there), so my interactions with others were mostly by happenstance. Every now and then some guy would walk over and pat me on the back (as if to say "See, we welcome black folks too! The Tea Party isn't racist!) out of nowhere, which felt strangely condescending. I got random smiles from others. I also got my fair share of paranoid "Is he an infiltrator" looks, especially when I was taking photos. Just for sh*ts and giggles, I also sometimes passed myself off as a Beck supporter, an was able to get good photos of some truly ignorant t-shirts. But I was mostly just ignored.
Don't Tread On Me!!! - Since Conservative Jesus told them to not bring signs, the pro-Beckers had to find other, more creative ways of showing their Tea Party allegiance, mostly via T-shirts and the ubiquitous "Don't Tread On Me" logo. That black and gold snake was on flags, shirts, hats, socks, chairs, and even super hero capes! The typical "Obama Is A Socialist/lyin' Kenyan/Muslim/Hitler/take your pick of insults" were there, on everything but signs. I think it's rather silly that grown even people had to be told to not bring vile signs to a public event. You'd think common decency would tell folks that making vile signs simply isn't a good idea in the first place.
Confrontation #3 - As I was trying to leave, a bunch of people tried to squeeze through the crowd, coming from the opposite direction. I tried slipping past, and a guy coming toward me barked "Wait your turn!" Momentarily stunned, I got back at him the best way I knew how. As he pushed his way by, I slipped my hand into his bag and smoothly stole his mini "Don't Tread!" flag. It's sitting on my desk as I type this. See what happens when you invite black folks to your event?
The Impromptu Bachmann Rally - After Beck finished his speech, some odd bagpipes/gospel/country/patriotic music concert started and I figured it was time to break camp. On the other side of the Monument was a makeshift stage where batsh*t insane Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann was having a campaign rally/townhall meeting in a large grassy lot just off Constitution. The whole thing was like an extra, unexpected dose of crazy. They marched up one black Tea Partier after the next, and even rolled out Tito The Builder, all in the name of forced diversity. I wasn't standing too far from Bachmann herself, who is frighteningly small in person, but has a gigantic head. I know, it's silly to make note of such things, but the message itself was so anti-Obama and thus, boring, I couldn't help but fixate on her huge cranium, which oddly, was the only thing I noticed about Beck himself as I watched him speak, behind the stage, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Weird observation, I know.
Epilogue - Leaving the speech, I reflected on what a massive waste of 5 hours this whole thing was. The speeches were boring, purposely scaled back in tone to avoid criticism, and mindlessly generic. Any 8th grader with a 4th Of July Madlibs book could have written today's script. The t-shirts and other Tea Party visuals were often crude, but nothing I hadn't already seen elsewhere. I didn't see Sharpton's rally, which took place across town and didn't meet up with the Beckers until after I was gone. The crowd was big, about 99% white, and completely peaceful, with the exceptions I mentioned above. I missed Palin, which turned out to not be much of a loss at all. My day in a nutshell.
I don't think the Glenn Beck followers who trekked from across the nation for his speech walked away with any additional insight that will help them "restore honor" to this nation, but I could clearly be wrong. Stranger things have happened. Beck pulled a few hundred thousand folks to DC to watch him give said generic speech, after all. And I showed up, myself. Soooo...
Question: Did you watch or attend Beck's "I Have A Dream, Too" rally? What did you think?