WASHINGTON (AP) — Tapping into the same anger that fuels the tea party movement, a coalition of progressive and civil rights groups marched Saturday on the Lincoln Memorial and pledged to support Democrats struggling to keep power on Capitol Hill.
“We are together. This march is about the power to the people,” said MSNBC host Ed Schultz. “It is about the people standing up to the corporations. Are you ready to fight back?”
In a fiery speech that opened the “One Nation Working Together” rally on the National Mall, Schultz blamed Republicans for shipping jobs overseas and curtailing freedoms. He borrowed some of conservative commentator Glenn Beck’s rhetoric and promised to “take back our country.”
“This is a defining moment in America. Are you American?” Schultz told the raucous crowd of thousands. “This is no time to back down. This is time to fight for America.”
With a month of campaigning to go and voter unhappiness high, the Democratic-leaning organizers hope the four-hour program of speeches and entertainment energizes activists who are crucial if Democrats are to retain their majorities in the House and Senate. The national mood suggests gains for the GOP, and Republicans are hoping to ride voter anger to gain control of the House and possibly the Senate.
“We’re here to show the rest of the country that there are people who support the progressive agenda,” said Ken Bork who came from Camas, Wash.
But he acknowledged Republicans are enjoying an advantage heading toward November.
“There may be an enthusiasm gap, but we’re not going to know until we have an election. A lot of the noise from the extreme right-wing stuff, it’s been well orchestrated by big money. But it’s not as bad as they’re making it out,” Bork said.
The Rev. Al Sharpton, addressing the crowd that swelled through the day, warned activists against being apathetic.
“We’ve got to go home and we’ve got to hit the pavement. We’ve got to knock on doors. We’ve got to ring those church bells,” Sharpton said, urging the crowd to volunteer for candidates.
Rose Dixon, a health care worker from Pawleys Island, S.C., said she hopes the rally sends a message to lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“Stop the obstructionism. Work together,” Dixon said. “Stop playing politics as usual and to put the American people first. We’re tired of the politics and the posturing and the games.”
Organizers said they intended the event to send a message about job creation, quality education and justice. But the largest organizations behind the rally, such as the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union, tend to back Democratic candidates.
And the speakers hardly shied from criticizing Republicans.
“If Sarah Palin had a bright idea, it’d be beginners’ luck,” comedian Charlie Hill joked from the stage.
Van Jones, who was forced from his job as a White House environmental adviser after Beck made public his comments disparaging Republicans, said progressives must stand with Democrats to put America back to work.
“They don’t need hateful rhetoric. They need real solutions,” Jones said.
The event drew a thousands-strong smattering of groups, from those who wore their union T-shirts and others who carried banners advocating expanding Medicare for all Americans. While the Beck rally stretched down the iconic National Mall, Saturday’s event seemed smaller along the reflecting pool and other monuments.
Many said they viewed the event as a counter-protest to the Beck rally. They spoke about perceived racism they see among the tea party-style activists, even though no one who spoke at the Beck rally neared anything approaching criticism of Obama or his race.
“I hope people look at the mall because this is what America looks like,” Sharpton said.
Just a month ago, Beck and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin gathered near the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech to urge a vast crowd to embrace traditional values. Though also billed as nonpolitical, the rally was widely viewed as a protest against the policies of President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.
One Nation organizers said they began planning their event before learning about Beck’s rally, and said Saturday’s march was not in reaction to that.
“Our strength is your strength,” said SEIU’s president, Mary Kay Henry. “We are one nation, coming together.”
Obama was spending the weekend at Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland.
Associated Press writer Natasha Metzler contributed to this report.
Rally site: http://www.onenationworkingtogether.org
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