It seems to be the season of rallies–tea party rallies, 9/11 rallies, 9/12 rallies, Glenn Beck rallies. I’m all for it; I love rallies.

Beck’s was the most controversial and perhaps the biggest. We’ll never know how big. Some estimated it at fewer than 100,000 people; Fox News, fair and balanced as always, called it 500,000-plus. It was a bunch, leave it at that.

Some worried that the rally, based at the Lincoln Memorial, would be an insult to the memory of Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his “I Have a Dream” speech there 47 years earlier. It wasn’t.

MLK's ShoesNeither was it the racially charged, mean-spirited event that many had feared.

Instead, it was a patriotic, come-to-Jesus revival meeting of pious, well-behaved citizens, about as threatening as a church picnic.

More proof that the Constitution works, if you let it.

Beck had a constitutional right to stage his rally at the Lincoln Memorial, just as…oh, I don’t know…Muslims have a right to build a community and prayer center two blocks from Ground Zero.

Are some people affronted by either of the acts? You betcha, but that doesn’t matter to the Constitution. It’s not an instrument responsive to political hysteria.

Much has been made of the lack of political rhetoric at Beck’s rally, as though that was what made it all right. That’s beside the point. Beck could have announced his candidacy for president for all I cared. He had a right to be there. Period.

The First Amendment is a hard taskmaster. It guarantees the right of people to say what they want, out loud and in public, even if saying it is obnoxious to others. It’s an extraordinary concept, counterintuitive in many ways, but at the very core of our greatness as a nation.

That said, I have to tell you that I don’t agree with much of what Mr. Beck says, when I can understand it. For example, at his rally he said:

“Make no mistake, the flame of freedom is dwindling. The shining city on the hill, the sun is setting. If you don’t want it to go out on our watch, then you must stand in the blaze. The fire of truth that does not burn those who stand in it, but consumes everything that is not. Point others to the truth.”


What’s his first language, Bulgarian? What in the world was he talking about?

More coherent but just as wrong-headed was his claim that “this is the moment that…we reclaim the civil rights movement.”

No Glenn, that’s not the way to do it.

If you were serious about “reclaiming” the movement, you should have sicced police dogs on the crowd like they did in Birmingham, Alabama, back in the day. Or you might have turned high-powered fire hoses on the rally as they did in Selma, making sure to drag some of the demonstrators to filthy jails where they could be beaten senseless by really nasty cops.

This might have prompted an NRA member or two in the crowd to defend themselves with weapons, which would have given you the opportunity to shoot them, like they did Medgar Evers in Mississippi.

Then you could have disappeared, like Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney did in Philadelphia, Mississippi, when they tried to register black people to vote.

Do all of that and you might have ignited a real civil rights movement, something you could sink your teeth into (if you had any left after the police got through with you).

Of course, you wouldn’t be there, would you? You’d be buried in a levee in Mississippi like Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney were.

I hate to break it to you old buddy, but you don’t start an historic movement just by getting a few clowns up on a stage and waving a flag. It takes more than that–courage for one thing.

It takes more than you’ve got, frankly. But you have every right to try.

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Donald Kaul

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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