Fox News commentator Glenn Beck has a dream about the rally he and Tea Party heroine Sarah Palin plan in front of the Lincoln Memorial tomorrow in Washington: A crowd that organizers say could reach 300,000.
Beck insists that the assembly -- on the same steps where Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech exactly 47 years earlier -- isn’t a political rally. Instead, it’s billed as a celebration of the military, patriotism and American heritage.
Organizers got a permit from the National Park Service that says they expect 300,000 people to attend, the Washington Post reported on its Web site. Beck, who will be joined at the event by Palin, the Republican former Alaska governor, sought to limit crowd expectations during his television show yesterday.
“It’s going to be a little overwhelming as we see tens of thousands of people standing together, locked arm-in-arm, peaceful, happy,” he said. “This event is bigger than any single one person; it is not about one person.”
Beck, Palin and allies are feeling empowered by skirmishes their candidates have won in a war against the political establishment. One is playing out in Palin’s home state, where Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski trails a Tea Party rival in a protracted Republican primary vote count.
Murkowski, 53, who followed her father into office, is 1,668 votes behind political newcomer Joe Miller, 43, a Gulf War Army veteran endorsed by Palin and Tea Party activists. Thousands of absentee votes are to be counted starting Aug. 31 to determine the winner of the Aug. 24 primary.
Like Beck, Palin is also employed by News Corp.-owned Fox News.
Catherina Wojtowicz, 41, is one of those who traveled to Washington to see Beck and Palin. She arrived in the capital yesterday wearing a T-shirt that carried Palin’s name and “Babies, Guns, Jesus.” The self-employed event organizer from Chicago’s Southwest Side said she wanted to celebrate the Constitution and see Beck in person.
“He talks to you and not at you,” said Wojtowicz, who was meeting in Washington with about 40 members of the Chicago Tea Patriots group. “He’s giving you an education.”
Last September’s “9/12” march in Washington was the first national gathering to demonstrate the size and potential influence of the Tea Party movement.
Beck has said tomorrow’s event, titled “Restoring Honor,” isn’t designed to be political or to rally voters ahead of November’s congressional elections. Organizers are discouraging people from bringing signs, and no current officeholders are scheduled to speak.
St. Louis Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols is scheduled to be honored, and team manager Tony La Russa, who plans to introduce him, said they agreed to appear only after being assured the rally wouldn’t be a political event, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported today on its website.
Still, the rally has been surrounded by political activity.
Representative Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican, said he asked people to donate to the event, saying in an interview that it was a “good thing for our country.”
Americans for Prosperity, another Tea Party group, is holding its political action convention in Washington over the weekend and busing people to the rally.
And FreedomWorks, a political organizing group affiliated with the Tea Party, expects 1,600 people to attend its gathering in Washington today. Members will hear lectures by leaders including Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, who organized a Tea Party caucus in Congress, and will be briefed on how to organize voters to support conservative candidates.
“We see Glenn Beck as a guy who is bringing revelations of understanding to the American people,” FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey, a former congressman from Texas and House majority leader, said in an interview. “Glenn Beck is the instructional arm of the small-government movement and we are the action arm.”
The leader of the House Democratic campaign effort, Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen, challenged the claim by rally organizers that the event is nonpartisan.
“It’s a blatant political effort,” he told reporters at a Washington press conference today. “You’ve seen Glenn Beck and a lot of the talk show hosts on Fox News out there talking about this election” for 15 months.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee this weekend is organizing an effort to knock on 200,000 doors in the most competitive House districts across the U.S.
Beck’s rally will get competition from the Reverend Al Sharpton and other African-American and civil rights leaders, who will hold their own event tomorrow to commemorate King’s “Dream” speech and focus on improving education equality. It will conclude with a march to the site of a planned King memorial, near Beck’s rally.
Organizers of the Sharpton rally said in a news release that Beck is attempting to “hijack the dream” by pushing for an expansion of states’ rights, “the exact antithesis of the civil rights movement and Dr. King’s legacy.”
“Dr. Martin Luther King would also have been a Beck target,” Jim Wallis, an evangelical author who plans to speak at the Sharpton rally, said in an e-mail fundraising letter to supporters.
“We refuse to let Mr. Beck’s rally cast a dark shadow over the civil rights movement,” said Wallis, president of Sojourners magazine.
Beck has said it is a coincidence that his event is taking place on the anniversary of King’s speech. Alveda King, a critic of gay and abortion rights and a niece of King, is scheduled to speak at the rally. At an anti-gay-marriage rally earlier this month in Atlanta, she likened gay marriage to “genocide,” saying that heterosexual marriage guards against “human extinction.”
Last year, Beck said on Fox that President Barack Obama is a “racist” with a “deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture.” He later told CBS’s Katie Couric in an interview that he was “sorry the way it was phrased.”