It was all there in plain sight. Martin Luther King Jr’s vision for the future gone wrong. The two rallies – one commemorating the civil rights leader’s speech in 1963, the other promising to “restore honor” and pick-up the mantle of equal rights – ran into each other at 3pm in downtown Washington.
The events had been scheduled in a way that the “reliving the dream” crowd of around 3000, would not collide with the much larger crowd (around 100 000) invited by conservative Fox news presenter Glenn Beck. Some African American leaders had rejected the fact that a right-wing figure like Glenn Beck could bank on a legendary human rights activist, especially when he has been known to spread messages that sound intolerant and are inflammatory.
There were policemen on horses and patrol cars, but there were no clashes or acts of aggression from one group to the other. There were just stares and a few confrontational verbal exchanges. Another kind of aggression or violence perhaps a feeling that some described to me as “uncomfortable”, mentioning that both rallies (one mostly white, and the other mostly African American) were worlds apart.
David Ryan, a 40-year-old white man who identifies with the rhetoric of Beck and his fellow conservative icon Sarah Palin, stared at the marchers in the other rally as they walked down Connecticut Avenue in front of the Washington Monument. He and a dozen other attendees of the Glen Beck rally were sitting on the grass or standing on the sidewalk as the massive event that they had attended had just finished. I asked him if he thought this day should have produced a more integrated rally? Or at least one which reflected the race demographics of the United States? He said, “I don’t know, but I feel this march is not welcoming to someone like me, I felt the Glen Beck rally had a message of tolerance, and that we should all be able to jump in with this group and march together, but I don’t feel like they would welcome me.”
Is there enough room in the US for everyone’s dreams?
“The Tea Party movement and the Christian Right do not stand for my dream”, a speaker at the Al Sharpton led rally said. I asked Cristina Gonzales – a young New Yorker of Puerto Rican descent holding a banner that said “Beck lies”- how she described the atmosphere when the two marchers met. She said it was strange, but she only had negative words towards Beck who once described Obama as a racist who doesn’t like “white culture”. She said, “I don’t have anything against those attending his rally, we are all on the same boat. It is the politicians – Republicans and Democrats – who lie, they are living the life and guess who is paying for that?”
The Al Sharpton rally finished with a prayer at the site of the future Martin Luther King JR memorial. I pushed my way to the RISER to ask Martin Luther King’s son, Martin Luther King III, his opinion on all these issues. He said, “One can not highjack a message, and actually Glenn Beck paid an incredible tribute my dad…My father was concerned about poverty… Things have improved dramatically in America, we have a African American president but that doesn’t mean that racism is gone … We still have work to do around race and economic issues”.
Watch my video report on the “I have a dream” anniversary: