On The National Mall, Divisions Kept In Check Washington, D.C., became a crossroads of American politics Saturday, when two rallies represented two very different ideas of what this country should be. At Glenn Beck's conservative rally, a church picnic atmosphere pervaded. Meanwhile attendees at Al Sharpton's gathering insisted they weren't there to disrupt.
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On The National Mall, Divisions Kept In Check

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On The National Mall, Divisions Kept In Check

On The National Mall, Divisions Kept In Check

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

The National Mall here in Washington, D.C. became a crossroads of American politics yesterday. Two rallies represented two very different ideas of what this country is and should be. Conservatives gathered, many tens of thousands, to honor the military and Christian values, while a much smaller group demonstrated in support of the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's March on Washington.

NPR's Andrea Seabrook roved the Mall yesterday and filed this report.

ANDREA SEABROOK: The big event at the Lincoln Memorial was hosted by a big personality.

Unidentified Man: He brings you the truth every day. Now, he brings you an effort to restore honor in America. Ladies and gentlemen, Glenn Beck.

(Soundbite of cheering)

SEABROOK: Glenn Beck is the Fox News commentator who's brought together small government Tea Partiers with traditionalist social conservatives with this message:

Mr. GLENN BECK (Commentator, Fox News): We simply must remember who we were, who we've been, who we can be - not what we've allowed ourselves to become.

SEABROOK: And though Beck insisted this event was not about politics, he enlisted the support of a pretty popular Republican: Sarah Palin.

Former Governor SARAH PALIN (Republican, Alaska): May this day be the change point. Look around you, you're not alone. You are Americans.

SEABROOK: The crowd packed in around the Reflecting Pool and spilled out over half the Mall, almost to the Washington Monument. Couples planted their folding chairs and families grabbed space under trees. As far as Washington demonstrations go, it was very calm and genial, almost like a massive church picnic.

Betty Fitzgerald came down from Morton, Pennsylvania. She's wearing a button on her lapel.

Ms. BETTY FITZGERALD: It has Glenn Beck's picture on it and we bought at it a Tea Party rally in Philadelphia.

SEABROOK: Fitzgerald said this day is not about politics, it's about values.

Ms. FITZGERALD: I guess maybe just to be a better person and be good to your friends and neighbors and - that kind of stuff always chokes me up a little.

SEABROOK: The values, Fitzgerald and others said, do inform their politics, and there were quite a few Tea Party activists in the crowd.

Joe Alek made the trek from Cinnaminson, New Jersey with this message for elected officials.

Mr. JOE ALEK: You know, so we're not going to buy the lies anymore. Every politician wants us to buy into them so that they stay in power. That's going to stop.

SEABROOK: They're going to have to stand for something, says Aleck, and keep to the Constitution.

Mr. ALEK: And when they don't follow that, they're out - Republicans and Democrats, don't matter.

SEABROOK: The other rally in Washington yesterday was hastily organized after black leaders realized Beck's event would take place on the date and at the site of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech 47 years ago. But protester John Cook of Mattawan, New Jersey said they weren't trying to disrupt the conservative rally.

Mr. JOHN COOK: You know that's it not about the vision; it's about us trying to reclaim the dream that Martin Luther King had 47 years ago. Because a lot of the things that he spoke about have not been achieved today.

SEABROOK: When ralliers did cross paths later in the day, both sides were very careful and polite.

It was a day that Cheri Newell won't ever forget, she said. After a long bus trip from Valparaiso, Indiana, it was worth it to be with Glenn Beck and the huge crowd of conservatives who were moved by his message.

Ms. CHERI NEWELL: I love my country and I love the Lord. And that's why we're here.

SEABROOK: Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, Washington.

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