Groups pushing for progressive policies will gather in the nation's capital this weekend for a march aimed at recapturing momentum for their agenda and mobilizing supporters before next month's midterm elections.
The "One Nation Working Together" rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday comes one month before the Nov. 2 elections and one month after conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally. Organizers say more than 400 organizations — ranging from labor unions to faith, environmental and gay rights groups — are coming together to advocate for job creation, quality education and justice.
Although organizers describe the rally as nonpartisan, they also hope to raise awareness of their concerns before political contests that are expected to sweep out many Democrats.
"It's critical that as we stand there on Oct. 2, that people think about Nov. 2, that they own the fact that what happens on Election Day is up to them," said Benjamin Todd Jealous, president of the NAACP, one of the organizers. "We need people to stand up now, at this key moment in this country, when there's so much at stake."
The groups said on their National Park Service application that they anticipate 100,000 people to attend. Washington's Metro subway system also is opening an hour earlier than usual on Saturday, costing the groups $29,500, which will be refunded if Metro gets enough riders. They also will pay extra to operate additional service on one of the system's rail lines. Organizers say they have 1,600 buses with parking spaces confirmed coming to the event.
Beck and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin gathered near the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech last month to urge a vast crowd to embrace traditional values. Though also billed as nonpolitical, the rally was widely viewed as a protest against the policies of President Obama and congressional Democrats.
One Nation organizers say they began planning their event before learning about Beck's rally, and said Saturday's march is not in reaction to that.
However, some participants said the rally will provide an opportunity to speak for what they consider a more representative swath of Americans and their concerns, which they feel have been overshadowed by more vocal groups on the right.
Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, a rally sponsor, said people who want to build a middle-class economy make up a majority of Americans, whose voices need to be heard.
"We're hoping that people come together and say, 'We're the majority and we can have a different kind of country,' but we have to make our presence known," said Trumka, whose labor agenda would be imperiled should Republicans make major gains in the U.S. House or Senate.
He said groups such as the tea party and their corporate backers are trying to divide workers.
"We're fighting back," he said. "They're not going to get the final word."
Peter Burr, 62, a retired physician from Franklin, Tenn., who plans to attend the rally, said he hopes their message translates into action.
"I'm hoping that if we get a really good turnout that it will help to put some pressure on the government and it will help to increase the level of enthusiasm among supporters of the Democratic agenda," he said.
Sally Milbury-Steen said the interfaith peace and justice organization that she heads in Wilmington, Del., has chartered a bus for nearly 50 people for the rally. Milbury-Steen said not all in her small state share the views of tea party-backed U.S. Senate Republican nominee Christine O'Donnell, who has been propelled into the national spotlight.
"There's a diversity of opinion in Delaware," she said. "I think coming from our state, it will be an outward, visible sign of people who want to see policies that take care of everybody, policies that take us closer to being our brother's keeper."
James R. Cox, 62, of Augusta, Kan., said he plans to come to Washington by train to attend the rally.
"Whether it makes the larger point or not, I have to do it for myself," he said. "I'm going to tell the Democrats to get a backbone and stand up. Forget about the Republicans and get things done."