Washington – Thousands of liberal and labor activists rallied in the nation’s capital on Saturday and in other U.S. cities, calling for young or disillusioned Democrats to vote in the November elections.
If conservative Fox commentator Glenn Beck’s late August rally invigorated tea party enthusiasts to vote for Republicans, many of those who turned out for the “One Nation Working Together” event saw it as their chance to shout back.
Rally participants were determined but appeared fewer in number than at Beck’s “Restoring Honor” event. Enrique Alvarado, 29, a student from Boston College, charged that tea party activists are “intolerant and racist,” and said, “This crowd is a much more diverse and representative crowd of people.”
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MSNBC anchor Ed Schultz whipped up the midday crowd, from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
“The conservative voices of America, they’re holding you down!” Schultz shouted, calling them “forces of evil.” He said conservatives “talk about the Constitution but they don’t want to live by it. They talk about our forefathers but they want discrimination. They want to change this country.”
Schultz said progressive activists haven’t gotten all the policies they wanted in the first two years of the Obama administration, they were obliged to stand by the Democratic leadership. “This is no time to back down! We cannot give up on Nov. 2!”
“We can maintain the momentum, that is our challenge,” said civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton.
More than 400 organizations endorsed Saturday’s event, from gay rights groups to a DC voting rights coalition to the AFL-CIO and the SEIU. They promoted a grab-bag of causes from job creation and higher pay to universal health care, more public school funding, ending the war in Afghanistan, supporting Palestinians, giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship and promoting civil rights protections for gays and Muslim-Americans and vegetarianism.
Soraya Gardner of Yardley, Pa., a union member, said she’s sick of “the racism, the tea party stuff.” She, her husband and her daughters stood with signs reading: “The Coffee Party: Wake up America!” and “Hey Glenn, We’re here. You’re not. Honor restored. You’re welcome.”
Peggy Brown, who lives in the Washington suburbs, said “Fox News, that’s about as bad as you can get” and that conservative personalities Beck, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh “preach and spew out hate” and have “brainwashed” Americans.
“Are you smarter than a half-term governor?” read the poster Cornelius Boss of Columbus, Ohio, was carrying, taped to a toilet seat along with a photo of ex-Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin.
Matthew Leber, a member of the University of Massachusetts teachers’ association, said he was rallying out of concern for his four granddaughters’ future. Their father lost his job nearly two years ago.
“The government needs to give incentives, tax breaks and whatever it takes for people to get back to work and stop giving tax breaks to the rich,” Leber said.
Ellen Zablow, who travelled with her husband, Len, from New York, said: “We’re here because we want peace. We want the soldiers brought back from the war. We have children and grandchildren, and we fear that fascism is coming back.”
Harold Beatty of Wilmington, N.C., president of his local NAACP chapter led a group of 52 demonstrators. “We are here to support the change that the president asked for during his campaign,” he said.
Elizabeth Gutierrez, 18, of Charlotte, N.C., was among an immigrant rights group marching, blowing whistles and chanting, “Yes to education.” One man in the group carried a sign that declared, “We are America’s Future,” and declined an interview request, saying, “I don’t speak English.”
Some rally participants including Makayla Reed, 16, of Ellsworth, Maine, are considering returning at month’s end for the satirical “Rally to Restore Sanity” and “March to Keep Fear Alive,” event being staged by Comedy Central hosts Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Others saw the Stewart-Colbert rally as more of a publicity stunt that could distract for turnout efforts the weekend before the election.
(Yewon Connie Kang and Catherine Ngai of the Medill News Service contributed to this report. The news service is a Washington program of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Kang and Ngai are graduate students at Medill.)