The Tea Party's grassroots momentum will be on display Saturday as the conservative movement converges in Washington, D.C. for Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally, an event that has come under fire from some civil rights leaders for being held on the same day as the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s historic freedom march.
Tea Party groups from across the country are mobilizing efforts to support the rally, even though organizers are shying away from putting the Tea Party label on it, and even went as far as shunning signs.
Beck has said the rally will be non-political, even though it's name may suggest otherwise. The other keynote speaker besides him is Sarah Palin, a fierce critic of the Obama administration's policies and a leading voice in the mid-term elections.
From all of the Tea Party Patriots' chapters around the country, "I can't find anywhere that people aren't coming from to go to this event. Our members are coming from all over the country," said Mark Meckler, co-founder of the organization.
The National Park Service estimates about a 100,000 people will be in attendance. The DC Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) is preparing for a crowd of between 100,000 and 200,000 for all rallies taking place in the nation's capital that day.
Al Sharpton's National Action Network will hold a "Reclaim the Dream" march, one of several marches commemorating King.
Dueling rallies and marches celebrating Martin Luther King Jr. have created some concern about clashes although both sides have promised a peaceful gathering.
"There are certain concerns based on the nature of the events and the conflicting themes," said Millacent West, director of HSEMA. "But we believe we're working to address each challenge as it comes up. We have not heard or seen anything that would lead us to believe this wouldn't be peaceful."
Sharpton and several other African American leaders have blasted Beck and the conservative right for distorting the legacy of the civil rights movement.
"What they are trying to do is divert the nation from the agenda of Martin Luther King to their agenda, and I think that's hijacking his legacy," said Rev. Carlton W. Veazey, minister of the National Baptist Convention and president of Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, which held a press conference Thursday to announce its opposition to Beck's rally.
Glenn Beck's 'Restoring Honor' Rally to Celebrate Martin Luther King
Veazey referred to Beck's comment from July 2009 that President Obama has "over and over again" exposed himself as a guy "who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture."
"What they have said all the time, have been trying to divide people, trying to exclude people," Veazey said. "For him to lead a rally with that kind of attitude taints the whole affair."
But Tea Party activists say that idea is absurd. Brendan Steinhauser, director of federal and state campaigns at FreedomWorks, said he got inspiration from last year's Tea Party rally on Sept. 12 from King's 1963 march.
"As an organization and individual, we're inspired by what the civil rights movement in America did. It's a great model for what wer'e trying to do. I don't think people should be offended at all," he said. "It's incredible that they're trying to paint us in that light when the left has a longer, clearer and more consistent history of violence [in their rallies]."
FreedomWorks, which organized last year's Tea Party extravaganza in Washington, D.C. and is planning another rally on Sept. 12, is helping Beck's team with promotion and logistics.
To drive their point home, the "Restoring Honor" rally will feature King's niece Alveda King, who will discuss King's work and legacy.
"Uncle Martin's legacy is big enough to go around," King wrote in an op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor.
Tea Party To Drive Numbers
Most major Tea Party groups from across the country are supporting the rally, although some have reserved their backing.
Tea Party 365, one of the largest organized groups in the New York metro area, said it is not officially endorsing the rally, although some of its members were participating in it.
Tea Party groups deny the assertion that the rally is a reflection of their strength and numbers.
"I don't think it's intended to be a Tea Party rally or overtly political in any way," Meckler said. "It's not about politics or taking over Congress. It's about the concept of honor in America."
Nevertheless, in an economic climate where conservatives have seized on the Obama administration's policies and bombarded Democrats' on the stimulus and health care, the turnout is expected to be driven heavily by the politics of the moment.
The Republican establishment has distanced itself from the conservative commentator's rally amid concern that such close association could hurt the GOP.