Patricia Duval and her friend Johnnye Lee took a 12-hour bus ride from Atlanta to Washington, D.C. to take part in the massive "Restoring Honor" rally on the National Mall on Saturday, saying they were there because they believe the country has gone off-track and "needs to be fixed."
Seated comfortably on lawn chairs adorned with miniature flags under two large umbrellas, Duval and Lee waited patiently on the hot August morning before TV and radio commentator Glenn Beck and former Alaska governor Sarah Palin stood at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and called on the nation to recommit itself to tradition values. The two middle-aged women were first-time activists and were among the hundreds of thousands of mostly white demonstrators and Tea Party activists who converged on Washington over the weekend to be part of the major event.
“This is dipping our toes into the water,” Duval said. “I’m not ready to pledge to either party right now. It’s not about parties. It’s about Congress listening to us and talking about our values.”
The $1.4 trillion federal budget deficit, huge government spending on economic stimulus programs and bailouts of the financial system, and the perpetually high unemployment rate were issues that weighed heavily on Duval and many of the others who were drawn from around the country for the weekend event. “I have to live on a budget, so why can’t Congress do that?” Duval asked. “It’s our money and they don’t realize it.”
Duval appeared particularly incensed by Obama administration stimulus spending for job creation and economic expansion. "We are already spending too much," she said. "We need to steer our country away from the socialist direction it's heading in." While many experts say the financial crisis was fostered in part by lax government oversight of Wall Street and the financial markets, Duval said Congress and the administration are going too far in imposing new regulations and that they should "let Americans do what they want."
With the Washington monument as their backdrop, Duval and Lee proudly wore their “Restoring Honor” t-shirts. Duval said they were enthusiastic to be part of large grass-roots movement to bring awareness that the “country is off track and needs to be fixed.”
Meanwhile, Susan Davis and her husband, Kirk, drove from Pittsburgh, Pa., with 12 other friends to take part in the rally, where Beck touted a religious brand of patriotism and called on the nation to commit itself again to traditional values he said were hallmarks of its exceptional past.
“Our economics are in a sad state of affairs,” Davis said. Davis and her husband identified themselves as conservatives who were tired of what they consider to be wasteful government spending, especially on stimulus programs. They said that Obama has failed to make good on his promise to bring down the unemployment rate. As a nurse practitioner, Davis said she was worried about possible cutbacks in government health care spending when the new health care legislation fully kicks in.
Many of the people who attended the rally said they wanted to be part of the "bigger event" and make history. Many were Glenn Beck supporters but also came simply to observe. Many of them stood or sat so far back from where Beck, Palin and others were speaking that they couldn’t hear what was being said, but that didn't bother them.
Ben Thielen, of Washington, D.C. wore an “Obama 2008” t-shirt and caused a stir by holding a sign that read: “It is because of the First Amendment that Glenn Beck can spew his filth on these steps.” Most passers-by laughed when they confronted him. An older woman ran up and ripped the sign out of his hands.
Pam Shepherd of Alexandria, Va., was one the counter-protestors who came to the event separately but teamed up with Thielen and others. “I am morally offended by Glenn Beck’s message,” Shepherd said.
She later attended the Rev. Al Sharpton’s civil rights counter rally across town. Sharpton’s event was a three-mile march from a local high school to a designated monument honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King. The two rallies Saturday were held on the 47th anniversary of King's "I have a Dream" speech at the Lincoln Memorial.
Larry Bacon, 38 of Alexandria, Va., and Alyssa Stanton, 24, of Washington, D.C., both identify with the Tea Party and said they are seriously concerned with the political polarization of Washington as well as runaway government spending. “There are too many career politicians representing themselves on both sides of the aisles,” Bacon said. “There is too much talk and not enough getting done."