by Talibah Chikwen
(NNPA) – People from across the county flowed into the west end of the National Mall, in front of the Capital Building, on Sept. 12 in a march organized by Freedomworks, Tea Party Express and several other groups. The goal of the march seemed to be determined by who was speaking at the time.
Brenden Steinhauser, grassroots director of Freedomworks, a group headed by former Congressman Dick Armey, said the message of the march was, “Big government isn’t popular, whether it’s done by Republicans or Democrats.
But comments from the crowd, and certainly their signs and T-shirts, indicated that it was more than big government being protested. There were many people displaying signs against health care reform, President Obama’s right to take office and calling his ideology and religion into question.
There has been a dispute about the number of attendees, which has fluctuated from the 1.7 million Glenn Beck claims an unnamed university counted, to around 70,000, a number attributed to a District spokesperson who denied providing an estimate.
Pete Piringer, spokesman for the Washington, D.C. Fire and EMS Department, shared his observations from the day. “It was a good sized crowd,” he said. “It was pretty much between Third Street and the Capital, a relatively small portion of the mall.”
He added that the march was just one of several events taking place in the District on Sept. 12. Others were the Black Family Reunion, a triathlon trial run, a 5K run, the Eucharistic Congress and, he added, normal tourist traffic for the season.
The group protesting in Washington, distinguished not by its size but by its lack of racial diversity, marched down Pennsylvania Avenue to the mall and there heard several speakers and performers.
David Meadows, director of communications for the District of Columbia Democratic Party, said the march reminded him of the previous tea parties and town meetings, characterizing those participating as “male or female, [ages] 55-60 and White.”
While the number of Blacks and other minorities in the crowd seemed nonexistent, that was not the case for featured guests and speakers. African-American headliners include Deneen Borelli, a Project 21 fellow; Charles Lollar, chair of the Charles County Republican Central Committee; Nic Lott, first Black student government president at the University of Mississippi; Lloyd Marcus, creator of the Tea Party Anthem; rapper, Vance Venom and the Rev. C.L. Bryant from Shreveport, La.
Borelli railed against big government. “We the people have had enough,” she said. “We will not sit by while our liberties and freedoms are being looted by elected officials serving their interests and not the interests of their constituents.”
She admonished “Black liberal politicians” for playing the race card instead of facing up to the fact that their policies have failed. “Personally, I will not sit by and let those who criticize our cause call it about race and call us rednecks,” she said. “My neck is not red.”
Rev. Bryant also spoke against big government. “Yes, we need reform. Yes we know something needs to be done about our health system,” he said.
“We send this message to you. We want reform, but there will be no government takeover of one more American industry.”
He also spoke about the division in this country, pointing the finger at politicians for causing it
“Politicians are building walls between the people,” he said. “You are building walls of misunderstanding. You’re building walls of hatred. You’re building walls of racism. You’re building walls of classism and in the words of Ronald Reagan, when he spoke to Mikhail Gorbachev at the Berlin Wall, Mr. Obama, tear down this wall.”
U. S. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md), saw the Sept. 12 march in a larger context, and it caused him some concern. Noting the lack of diversity in the crowd, he pointed to the lack of diversity in the Republican ranks in Congress and mentioned that it seemed disingenuous to call either group a cross-section of America.
He referred to statements from march participants, saying, “When you listen to their comments, many of them didn’t know what they were protesting. So it makes you wonder what it’s really all about.”
Citing the statistic that 1 in 3 people had a lapse in health care coverage in the last two years, he said the very people protesting are the people who would be helped by reform. “Most of them are arguing against their best interest,” he said.
When asked what he believes this is all about, Cummings said, “Basically what you have is a lot of people upset that Barack Obama won. He is a brilliant, competent and honest elected official.
“I am convinced there is a genuine dislike—and in some cases hatred—for this African-American president.”
Meadows said, “They’ve [the loud minority] been loud, rude and obstructionist and quite harmful to a lot of citizens. I think, unfortunately, it [dissension] does tend to discredit the health care reform initiative.”
Organizers of the march seem to think their efforts will affect the process. Steinhauser said, “I think it will make an impact with moderate Republicans and moderate Democrats.”
Cummings said folks should take a look at the mindset driving this and used Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) and Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) as examples. He said South Carolina has the highest rate of uninsured residents in the country, 17 percent, and then repeated a quote from DeMint: “If we’re able to stop Obama on this [health care reform] it will be his Waterloo. It will break him.”
“He would rather kill Obama’s dream than give his constituents what they need,” Cummings said. “I think this will strengthen the resolve of Democrats to take advantage of this once in a lifetime opportunity. This means we’ve got to move ahead without Republicans. We’ve got to get this through. We’ve got to make this happen.”