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Civil rights, labor groups rally on National Mall

The goal is to rouse enthusiasm among Democratic voters and stave off an expected GOP comeback in the midterm elections. The rally is also a liberal response to conservative commentator Glenn Beck's rally in August.

October 02, 2010|By Jordan Steffen, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — Thousands of activists from groups that support the Democratic Party gathered Saturday for a march and rally on the National Mall in a bid to rejuvenate the enthusiasm of more liberal voters and stave off an expected Republican comeback in next month's midterm elections.

Organizers said the rally included more than 400 groups representing black, Latino, gay and lesbian, labor, environmental and civil rights activists who gathered at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial for the "One Nation Working Together" rally.

"We bailed out the banks; we bailed out the insurance companies. Now it's time to bail out the American people. We need to rebuild the infrastructure and provide jobs, and savings for the American people," the Rev. Al Sharpton, a civil rights activist, told the cheering crowd. Jobs, justice and education were frequent themes sounded throughout the day.

The rally was, in part, a response to conservative commentator Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally in August that drew thousands to the same spot to hear a call to return to the American values of liberty and faith. However, "One Nation" organizers said their rally had been planned since April.

The first groups of supporters arrived Saturday, and festivities stretched well into the afternoon. About 50 speakers and entertainers spoke, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and musician-singer Harry Belafonte, NAACP President Benjamin T. Jealous, and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.

The Republican Party — and what speakers called its obstructionist tactics in Congress — was a favorite target.

"For the past two years President Obama has had to put up with the word "no." Forty people — 40 people in the United States Senate — have held down the working man of America," said liberal television and radio host Ed Schultz, referring to Republicans' holding up legislation with filibusters. "Forty Republicans have decided to say no."

The progressive groups also focused on energizing Democrats during an election season in which Republicans and "tea party" activists continue to gain momentum.

Laurie Christmas traveled by bus from Toledo, Ohio, to attended the rally. Christmas carried a sign that read, "Health care. Not war fare," on one side and a plea for green energy on the other. Many protesters wore T-shirts touting their organizations and danced when live music sounded over large speakers.

Christmas said she was excited to be surrounded by progressive thinkers, but said she had doubts about sparking progressive enthusiasm for the upcoming election.

"Where are all the people who represented Obama in 2008?" Christmas asked as she pointed down the Mall. "There should be more people here."

Federal officials and District of Columbia authorities refrain from making even informal estimates of crowds for events on the Mall. Although Saturday's crowd filled areas around the reflecting pool at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial, it was nowhere near the size of the vast turnout for the president's inauguration.

Cara MacDonald, a 21-year-old political science student from the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Va., sported her "I love pro-choice boys" T-shirt and said that even though Democrats may be frustrated this election, she does not believe they will shy away from the polls in November.

"It's hard when people are riding the anti-Obama train," MacDonald said. "But when Democrats get people out to the polls, Democrats win."

A request to stop the "One Nation" rally was rejected by a Washington, D.C., judge on Friday, according to Denise Gray-Felder, spokeswomen for the event. The request was filed by National Events, one of the companies that helped organize the Beck rally.

Beck had criticized the rally in part because, he said, it included members of socialist groups.

Terry Cardwell, 56, of Rome, N.Y., said she viewed the Beck rally as a "white revival," and on Saturday she carried a sign that read, "Fear of diversity makes a bitter cup of tea."

"I'm here to support what we started in 2008," Cardwell said. "We can't go back to what we've already had."

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