When National Action Network members gather at Washington, D.C.'s Dunbar High School this Saturday, the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s beatified "I Have a Dream" address, they'd like everyone to be certain of one thing: They're not reacting to Glenn Beck. "It's something we do every year," says Rachel Noerdlinger, a spokesperson for NAN. "It's definitely not a countermarch."
Over the past several weeks, members of NAN have been endlessly frustrated by reports that the group — along with NAACP President Ben Jealous, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and an estimated "several thousand" supporters from all around the country — planned its Reclaim the Dream march as a response to Beck's Restoring Honor event, which will take place the same day just blocks away, at the Lincoln Memorial. On Aug. 11 The Washington Post called the NAN march a "countermarch," an assessment that Noerdlinger says is inaccurate. "We announced our D.C. event in April at our national convention," she says, "well before Glenn Beck announced his intentions."
Though Noerdlinger asserts that Beck didn't force NAN's collective hand, NAN's president, the Rev. Al Sharpton, does have opinions about the propriety of the Fox News host's intentions. Like National Urban League President Marc Morial, who called Restoring Honor "insulting," Sharpton thinks that Beck's politics clash harshly with Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy. In a speech from the steps of the John A. Wilson Building today, Sharpton told a small audience of reporters and onlookers, "I have no problem if Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin want to march and have a rally. What I do have a problem with is Mr. Beck saying he's reclaiming the civil rights movement."
About two minutes into his speech, a sightseeing bus drove by, and a man in an American-flag T-shirt yelled, "Reverend Al!" Sharpton, however, did not waver. "We can have different views on Dr. King — Dr. King is not owned by blacks," he said. "But we can't have different views on Dr. King's speech. His speech says clearly that he wanted to see a nation where the federal government protects us from those in states that would not hold up our civil rights. [Beck] is having an anti-government march on the day that King came to appeal to government. You can't have it both ways."
For his part, Beck has never said that Restoring Honor is going to be an "anti-government march." While he has in the past called America's expansive federal government "out of control," the host has made no statements indicating that tomorrow's rally will include such a message. On his radio program on June 28, Beck briefly addressed charges that his rally would conflict with King's stated ideals:
As Beck and guests like Sarah Palin commence with the speechmaking on the National Mall, Sharpton says, the Reclaim the Dream rally will focus on the fights the black community must win in order to fully realize King's dream. "Forty-seven years ago … blacks coming to Washington had to ride in the backs of buses. They couldn't check into a hotel," Sharpton said with D.C. City Council Chairman Vincent Gray at his side. "Tomorrow, people will be coming in first class and staying in whatever hotel they want, and all because of the sacrifices made 47 years ago. But it is not enough to talk about how far we've come. We still live in a nation that, if you are not a certain color, you don't get the same education, you don't get the same treatment in the criminal justice system, you still don't get the same employment opportunities."
Sharpton will lead the Reclaim the Dream march from Dunbar High School to the site of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial. Appropriately, perhaps, construction on the memorial is unfinished.
Cord Jefferson is a staff writer at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.