Monday, August 30, 2010

Two Marches, Two Visions: Are We Ready to Move this Nation Forward?

This past weekend marked the 47th anniversary of the great 1963 March on Washington where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his historic “I Have a Dream” speech. The Nation’s Capitol hosted two major demonstrations, Glenn Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally and Rev. Al Sharpton’s Reclaim the Dream March.

Glenn Beck held his Restoring Honor rally on the Washington mall in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the same location where King gave his famous I Have a Dream speech. For the most part, there were no political signs, no political speeches, and no guns. However, I noticed a few “Don’t Tread on Me” flags. Making a thinly veiled swipe at the Obama Administration, Sarah Palin voiced opposition to efforts to "fundamentally transform" America. The rally was a strange mix of extreme patriotism and evangelical revivalism. To create the illusion of diversity, there were quite a few token African American speakers and singers. However, the overwhelming majority of the participants were white.

Despite Beck’s efforts to describe the date as a coincidence, according to Salt Lake City Tribune writer Leonard Pitts’s article titled Memo to Glenn Beck, Beck said, on this radio program three months ago,

“This is a moment that I think we reclaim the civil rights movement. It has been so distorted and so turned upside down. ... We are on the right side of history. We are on the side of individual freedoms and liberties and damn it, we will reclaim the civil rights moment. We will take that movement, because we were the people that did it in the first place!”

Consequently, Beck’s rally has generated a lot of controversy. The date and location are peculiar because Beck and his Tea Party comrades are opposed to most of aims and objectives of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King sought to unite all people regardless of race. Beck, Palin and other Tea Party public figures divide the people with their vitriolic rhetoric and incessant race baiting. For instance, Beck described President Obama as someone who has “a deep seated hatred for white people.” He also described America during this Obama era as “Planet of the Apes”. Sarah Palin has been at the forefront of the racist, Islamophobic opposition to the building of a Muslim cultural center two blocks away from ground zero. After Dr. Laura Schlissinger’s racist “N” word rant, Sarah Palin advised Schlissinger via Twitter “don’t retreat…reload!”

Dr. King urged the federal government to actively address the problems of racism and poverty. Beck and friends advocate for a limited government and support tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans. During his interview on Fox News Sunday, Glenn Beck acknowledged that he opposes the Civil Rights Movement’s economic agenda. Dr. King was a man of peace who opposed American imperialism and militarism. Beck and friends romanticize militarism and drape it in the garb of exaggerated patriotism. Dr. King advocated progressive liberation theology. Beck condemns such theology.

If King, Roy Wilkins, A. Philip Randolph and the other prominent 1963 March on Washington organizers were alive today, Beck and Palin would call them Marxists and socialists. As others have said, such civil rights heroes would be on Beck’s conspiracy chalk board.

Moreover, right wing conservatives like Glenn Beck have revised history to suit their political purposes. They have reduced Dr. King and the Movement down to a single phrase, “judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The Right has attempted to neuter and, in the words of Cornel West, Santa Clausify Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Under the guise of creating a color blind society, some conservatives have used that "content of character" phrase to eviserate everything that King stood for. In their upside down bizarre world, white men are the victims and African Americans are the racists. Affirmative action and other measures designed to promote racial diversity are viewed as reverse discrimination.

Unfortunately, the Restoring Honor rally will legitimize Glenn Beck and the far right Tea Party movement. The crowd size speaks volumes. Apparently, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the Restoring Honor rally. Like rapper Jay Z says, “man lie, women lie, numbers don’t.”

Now, to end on a more positive note, I also watched Rev. Al Sharpton’s “Reclaim the Dream” rally. The central theme was: “We have made progress but we have not arrived yet.” Other speakers included National Urban League President and CEO Marc Morial, NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous, U.S. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C. Adrian Fenty, Warren Ballantine , Black Farmers Association leader John Boyd, U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and others.

The “Reclaim the Dream” speakers addressed a wide array of pertinent issues including poverty, inner city violence, mass incarceration, unemployment, educational and D.C. statehood. During the rally, John Boyd pointed out how approximately 80,000 black farmers filed race discrimination complaints against the United States Department of Agriculture and no one was fired. However, Shirley Sherrod was fired on the spot based on half-truths and distortions. Mr. Ballantine summed up my view the rally when said, “A dream without a plan is nothing more than a wish.” As Sharpton stated during his speech, the Reclaim the Dream rally cannot just be a one day event.

Judging by the size of Beck's crowd, they are apparently ready and organized to “take the country back.” Commemorations are great, but the real question is “are we ready and sufficiently organized to move this country forward”?

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