Glenn Beck's 8/28 rally delivered a swift kick in the rear to anyone who claims he or the conservative grassroots movement is irrelevant or idle.
"Welcome to Restoring Honor. You are standing on the banks of greatness, the banks of American dreams," said Beck, during his initial remarks. "America is a land of opportunity."
Beck's opening salvo set the tune for the rest of the day, which focused on the founding fathers, with a heavy dose of religious reverence and military pride. Somewhere in the ballpark of 500,000 followers crowded the space between the Lincoln and Washington monuments, dwarfing Beck's original estimate of 100,000 people. During the 3 1/2 hour spectacular, there were no long polemics about the follies of the Obama administration or evaluations of our ongoing economic despair. Instead, there were awards: for baseball player Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals, who was honored for his dedication to his family, to God, and to his charity as a role model to his community; and also for Tom Kirk, an Air Force squadron commander, who spent time in the Hanoi Hilton with Sen. John McCain.
"Something beyond imagination is happening. Something that is beyond man is happening. America today begins to turn back to God," said Beck. "For too long, this country has wandered in darkness and we have wandered in darkness in periods from the beginning. We have had moments of brilliance, and moments of darkness, but this country has spend far too long worrying about scars...today we are going to focus on good things in America."
Sarah Palin was a headlining speaker, and Beck played up her credentials as a mother instead of as a conservative political force. Regardless of whether Palin is even able to avoid politicizing an issue given her activism and personality, she did manage to avoid any sort of policy discussion by focusing on military achievements from her family and from other families across the U.S.
"Say what you want to say about me, but I raised a combat vet, and you can't take that away from me," said Palin. "I'm proud of that distinction, but it is not one that I had imagined, because no woman gives birth thinking that she will hand over her child to her country. But that's what mothers have done, from ancient days."
Palin, along with a host of other speakers, largely upheld Beck's initial mantra of faith, hope, and honor. Justice Raul Gonzalez, retired from the Texas Supreme Court, awarded the Badge of Merit for Charity to Jon Huntsman, the Utah businessman philanthropist.
"Forty years ago, on these very steps, Martin Luther King had a dream. The dream seems a simple one," said Gonzalez. "On that day, 200,000 people — black and white, young and old — gathered across the National Mall to hear King's word. Many had lost faith...[King] knew that this was the day to inspire change."
There were performances by country singer Jo Dee Messina and prayers from Jewish Rabbis; gospel performances by black Christian groups and testimonials from military mothers who praised their sons' commitment to serving our country. Unlike many traditional tea party rallies, participants didn't jump to their feet constantly or gush about politics at the slightest opportunity. There was a palpable calm over most of the crowd for the majority of the event, which was fitting with the many the many groups who offered prayers and preaching.
"People need to — like the old Testament tells us — we need to get on our knees and be humble before God, and take care of the world... so that we can be restored," said Jodie Anderson, from Indiana. "This event is unbelievable."
A plethora of media commentators denounced the message as hokey; none of the 500,000+ attendees seemed to doubt it one bit.
"I'm here honoring my country, and the great things we do in this world in the time of uncertainty," said Jebin Collins, from Virginia. "Seeing this many people come in from all over the country, come together peacefully, honoring God, and their country — it's beyond belief."
Beck's event was the first rally Collins had attended, and he was sporting a United States Marine Corps t-shirt, as were many other people in the crowd. Children relaxed on blankets in the parks adjacent to the Reflecting Pool, though the crowd was decidedly middle-aged. There were virtually no-counter protesters visible from the main stage near the Lincoln memorial, despite well-publicized plans for counter-protests.
Dr. Alveda King, Martin Luther King' niece, spoke to the crowd in a tone that echoed her uncle. She repeated "I have a dream," again and again, and continued with her desire to end racism, poverty, white privilege, and her desire to continue the foundation of holy matrimony.
"How many of us know that we need to rebuild America?" she asked the crowd. "We need unity to do that."
After a series of presentations, Glenn Beck himself took to the stage for about an hour at the end of the program, delivering further remarks on the founding fathers and military respect.
"Unless we challenge ourselves to be better than what we currently are, we will not grow the next great monument," said Beck, pointing to the monuments around him on the National Mall. "America, now is our moment. Yesterday is gone. This is our challenge. This is our goal. This is the American destiny. With charity towards those who struggle, faith in a God who guides us, and truth in who we really are, we pledge today to restore honor and the promise of America."