Political Climate

Hundreds of thousands of people will line the streets of the nation’s capital for two opposing rallies this Saturday, Aug. 28. Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor rally and Al Sharpton’s Reclaim the Dream rally will take place within blocks of each other in downtown D.C.

So what is all the hype about?

A majority of the Restoring Honor audience will be Tea Party members or supporters and the event will take place 47 years after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech.

Sharpton and his civil rights organization, the National Action Network (NAN), will hold a rally to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy.

A NAN press release states that Beck “will attempt to hijack the dream,” while civil rights activists will gather, “to shed light upon key issues that have diminished the dream.”

“I think that these two events are a vehicle for people to keep Beck and Sharpton in the public eye,” said Danny Hayes, a government professor at American University.

Former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin will speak at the Restoring Honor rally, but Hayes said that in terms of politics, this event will have little significance.

“For most Americans, this event will have no impact. It gives activists an opportunity to express their views and to generate support, but the interpretation of it has limited meaning,” Hayes said.

Dale Robertson, a former Marine and Navy officer, claims to be the founder of the Tea Party movement, which began in February 2009. According to the organization’s website, it is “a grassroots movement that calls awareness to any issue that challenges the security, sovereignty, or domestic tranquility of our beloved nation.”

“The true founders of the Tea Party were the brave patriots who dared challenge the status quo in 1773, we are merely their beneficiaries,” said Robertson on his website.

The Tea Party has found support among Republican candidates, some who have ran and won on their agenda.

The Restoring Honor rally is not officially a Tea Party event, but the National Action Network said that it is the Tea Party that is misrepresenting the legacy of Dr. King.

“The Tea Party and allied conservatives are trying to break that national stance on justice and, in turn, break the crux of what the civil rights movement symbolized and what Dr. King fought and literally died for,” said the release.

Richard Benedetto, a government professor at American University, said that the conflict between the two events is fueled, in large part, by the press.

“It’s a great story for the media, it has a perfect conflict, protest, perfect tension,” he said. “It may sound funny but I think the actual conflict is signifying nothing.”

The NAACP is not sponsoring this event, but the controversy between the civil right organization and the Tea Party has elevated the group and the conflict to the forefront of media attention.

In July, the NAACP passed a resolution at its annual conference, alleging that the Tea Party used racial epithets against President Obama and has verbally and physically intimidated African-American members of Congress.

Former president of the National Tea Party Federation Mark Williams wrote a satirical letter to the NAACP president Benjamin Jealous, spurring the organization’s response. The NAACP called the letter “clearly offensive,” and went on to say it further reinforced racial stereotypes. Williams stepped down after the controversy.

The events of the weekend in Washington, D.C., will shed light on where these two sides stand and where they are headed in this hot political climate.

– Konstantin Vengerowsky, with contributions from Cara Kelly and Dan Merica

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