Having attended two Tea Parties in D.C., and having watched the Restoring Honor rally on TV, I was anxious to compare how a rally staged by the Left in the same venue would compare. I drove in from Maryland, and spent from noon till 1:30PM observing the crowd. Based on what I saw, I got the feeling that the Left is trying to adapt their message to meet a changing environment, but it’s still a work-in-progress. It’s hard to see how this rally will be impactful in any way.
My first sense of the One Nation rally is that the organizers understand how powerful the message from the Right is resonating in the country, and that this power eminates from a strong sense of patriotism and love of country. This rally attempted to coopt those feelings by cloaking itself in patriotic and religious themes. The rally started with the Pledge of Allegiance (including under God), and a beautiful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner. The tone at the beginning of the rally had the feeling of a Southern Baptist revival meeting, though strangely with John Lennon’s “Imagine” as an introduction. The crowd was very polite and peaceful. I saw no overtly offensive signs.
The crowd was much different than the Tea Party crowd, in that it was made up of several clearly defined factions. It was easy to identify most of these factions by the color of the t-shirts, and some by their signs. The factions included various unions (jobs not bombs), gays (marriage is a right), anti-war protestors, socialists, open-borders advocates, and teachers (invest in public education). I did not see any interaction between the different factions, not even between members of different unions. If you saw a maroon t-shirt, it was surely surrounded by other maroon t-shirts. The crowd was not huge (I’ve got a great picture of 100 yards of open grass next to the reflecting pool taken at 12:40PM).
Ed Shultz delivered his speech in a loud and aggressive tone, but, he had difficulty riling up the crowd. The most notable part of his speech was a not-so-veiled attack on our Representive Republic form of government, and specifically a threat to the 40 Republicans in the Senate. He railed about how, out of the entire country, only 40 people were responsible for ‘holding up progress’. Outside of this threat, Shultz’s speech was like all the others, listing off a half-dozen seemingly-poll-tested issue phrases with no apparent substance. There were large gaps between speakers where music was played, which made it seem like the rally was lacking in organization.
The rally had a very-manufactured feel to it. When you saw a group of people walking to the rally, they all had the same color t-shirts, i.e. almost everyone was bussed in (I had no problem parking on 21st Street, 5 blocks away). Almost every sign that I saw was professionally produced, and the signs covered the same themes. The most enthusiastic people that I saw seemed to be the ones that were taking advantage of the free bus ride to do a little sight-seeing away from the rally. There were several groups who sat at a distance from the rally in the shade (it was a beatiful and cool day) who were seemingly uninterested in the message of the speakers, and who had the look of ‘I’m putting in my time’.
The crowd had a noticable lack of energy, and apart from isolated people who had specific grievances, it seemed like most people were just following orders (wear this, walk this way, hold this sign, repeat what the speaker says). The crowd was comprised of a few true believers and a mass of followers. It is difficult to understand how this coalition can be held together for very long with these messages. Surely, the Socialists couldn’t have been happy with the patriotic and religious themes presented at the rally. It’s also hard to see rank-and-file union members getting excited about open borders bringing in cheaper labor. The only topic that received an overwhelming response was Universal Health Care.
For me, it turned out to be a great day. Even though I live close to D.C., I had never visited the World War II Monument, which is at the other end of the Reflecting Pool from the Lincoln Memorial where the rally was being held. At the Monument, there were a few World War II veterans with t-shirts saying “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a veteran”. It is a very beautiful monument, and I was very moved by the thought of America’s role in making the world a better place. It was a little strange transitioning between the two areas, and even stranger to think that the heros of World War II had given their lives to uphold these protesters’ rights.