What I Saw at the Rally, Part 1: A View from the Cheap Seats

by Derrick G. Jeter

I like Glenn Beck.
Sometimes I get the impression he hasn’t quite planned out every show—that he’s making it up as he goes along. This is often true of the second half of his shows, which irritating and off-putting. But, then again, I have never had to schedule a one hour television show five days a week. Sometimes Beck employes the verbal technique of hyperbole too much and is often overtly sentimental. And sometimes he is too conspiratorial for my tastes. But I like him. I think he and I could sit down for a beer . . . on second thought this wouldn’t be a good idea, Beck is a recovering alcoholic. But we could sit down for a glass of ice tea and have an engaging conversation about history, politics, American exceptionalism, the Founding Fathers, character, family, faith, and any number of other topics; and I think we’d find wide agreement. If the opportunity ever arose, Glenn Beck and I could be friends.
But that is not why I attended Beck’s August 28, 2010, “Restoring Honor” rally—because I think we could be friends. I attending the rally because much of what Beck has been saying the past year about America’s drift from our founding principles and how to stop that drift resonates with me and my own reading of history. I attending the rally to show my solidarity with the truth that if the American people return to God (more about this and Beck’s language of faith in a subsequent article) and reestablish virtue within their personal lives then America might become, once again, what our Founders envisioned for our country—a country of small, limited government, governing according to enumerated powers within a constitutional system; a country of maximum individual liberty, where citizens govern themselves; a country where entrepreneurship flourishes without intrusive governmental interference. The rally itself was apolitical, but the implications of the message has political effects—just as it has personal effects.
Clearly, Beck’s message of personal and national renewal not only resonated with me, it struck a cord with hundreds of thousands. On Friday, the evening before the rally, I walked the National Mall and hundreds were already starting to gather around and on the Lincoln Memorial; they intended to spend the night siting in their lawn chairs, on their blankets, or on the marble steps of the Lincoln.
The next morning at 7:00, the morning of the rally, I stood on a platform of the Metro system waiting for a train along with a few hundred other participants. By the time we squeezed ourselves in a train car and made it to the Foggy Bottom stop, thousands of people crowded the station. As we waited to exit the station, in the heat of the crowd, I overheard some say that the Metro officials were purposefully keeping us bottled up in an attempt to make us late for the rally. I tried to assure them that that wasn’t so. The Metro probably didn’t anticipate the numbers and that they were doing their best to get us through the gates and out of the station. But once a conspiracy has taken hold, it works like a cancer in the consciences.
When we did finally start moving and I made my way to ground level, I joined a mass of people walking past George Washington University and the State Department on our way to the Lincoln. As we approached the memorial, from the back, a large crowd had already gathered on both sides and was spreading out north and south, filling in toward the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials. Walking past the reflecting pool in front of the Lincoln, people were packed in tighter than a tick on a hound. I wouldn’t find a place to land anywhere there, so I kept walking toward the Washington Monument. Once I reached the World War II Memorial, almost a quarter mile from the Lincoln, I finally found a cozy little spot in the shade next to a couple from California and a mother and daughter from South Carolina. It was a great spot, sitting there in the shade inside the WWII Memorial, except I couldn’t see the stage and, depending on how the wind was blowing, I could only hear about half or three-quarters of what was said. But no matter. I wasn’t there to hear speeches (I could stay home and do that), nor was I there to see Beck or Sarah Palin. I was there because I believe in honor and civility and personal responsibility and America.
Many others were further from the stage than I was. Those who had to sit or stand behind the World War II Memorial, all the way back to the Washington, probably couldn’t have heard a quarter of what was said from the stage. But I suspect, as it was for me, that’s not what they were there for either.
After I returned home I heard about how many of the talking heads were painting the participants as angry or lost or disgruntled or racist. Nothing could be farther from the truth based on what I experienced. I saw young and old, white, black and brown, singles and families, Christians and Jews. I saw people with purpose and respect and patriotism. People smiled and laughed and cheered. When “Abraham Lincoln” came walking by he was rushed with offers to shake his hand and to take pictures. (No telling what the crowd was have done if “George Washington” had suddenly appeared in our midst.) Afterwards, the Mall was virtually spotless.
In fact, the only negative episode I witnessed didn’t come from a participant, but from a government employee—a park police officer. Some people, in an effort to see better, were standing on the World War II Memorial. Something they should not have done, but instead of reminding them where they were and asking them to please get down this officer thought a more abusive tact was necessary. She screamed—disrupting everyone within ear shot—for the offenders to “GET DOWN! NOW!” This happened a number of times, with different people, and each time I thought to myself: “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”
I what I observed, looking out and mingling among a crowd that I’d estimate between 300 and 500 thousand people, was no vinegar at all. And I’m glad I went, for the taste of sharing a common love for our country among so many good-hearted folks was sweetness to the soul.