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‘One Nation Rally’ Proved its Point, Despite Reports to the Contrary, Comparisons to Glenn Beck Rally

On Saturday, an estimated 175200k people gathered on the National Mall for the “One Nation Rally,” a progressive reply to the Tea Party movement, and to Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally. The media narrative, well-summarized by our resident Glenn Beck expert Glynnis MacNicol, seems to be characterizing this rally as a failure. In fairness to the rally’s critics, this is something of a self-inflicted wound by “One Nation’s” organizers, who have elected to use “Restoring Honor” as their yardstick. Be that as it may, there are several important things to consider when judging the rally’s relative success.

The main point of contention regarding the two rallies is crowd size, a measure that’s apparently more elusive than Sasquatch. Beck estimated his own crowd at around 500k, but one estimate, based on aerial photography, pegged it as low as 87,000. Interestingly, TheNewsofToday.com reports the exact same estimate for “One Nation.” Apparently, the science of crowd estimates is based on the work of Rain Man.

For the purpose of this discussion, however, let’s accept the premise that there were more people at Beck’s rally, even that there were twice as many. When making this comparison, however, it is important to remember that Beck benefited from relentless promotion, not only from the #1 cable news network, but also from MSNBC and CNN. A TV Eyes search for each rally shows that, up until the day before each event, “Restoring Honor” was mentioned 2,877 times, versus 520 mentions of “One Nation Rally.”

Given that disparity, there’s little wonder Beck outdrew “One Nation,” despite Ed Schultz’s Joe Namath-esque guarantee. Regardless of other events, 175,000 people is an objectively impressive number, and even more so in light of the promotion gap. And what do these crowd figures say about the makeup of these rallies’ attendees? While both have been portrayed as the salt-of-the-Earth, everyday America, it stands to reason that the folks who have been hardest hit by tough times, the ones with the most skin in the game, would be least able to afford to jet off to Washington, DC for a rally.

On that score, much has been made of the fact that labor unions chartered buses for thousands of their members, versus “Restoring Honor” attendees who “paid their own way.” This seeming contrast ignores the fact that unions are funded by their members, so by definition, the union members on those chartered buses did pay their own way. You couldn’t really ask for a more textbook example of grassroots action.

Still, it is a monumental mistake to rest even a small portion of your own merit on relative popularity. We live in a country where Firefly gets canceled, while CSI: Miami flourishes. Having a bunch of people agree with you doesn’t make you right. Instead of bragging that he could easily draw a bigger crowd than Glenn Beck, Ed Schultz would have been much better served explaining why the simplistic Beck/Tea Party message is such an easy sell. (In fairness to Schultz, he did note the gap in promotion when qualifying his boast.)

There have also been some critics of “One Nation” who have tried to raise the issue of protest signs, as an answer to offensive, much-publicized Tea Party placards. Newsbusters gives this its best shot, but there’s really no comparison. The Daily Beast’s Jon Avlon, though, unintentionally makes a great point about the wingnuts at these rallies:

The signs started off badly as I approached the Washington Mall. “Yes We Can… Bomb Civilians!” read the first sign I saw, held aloft by a 2008 Ralph Nader supporter from Providence, Rhode Island, named Adrian. Behind him, representatives from “The World Can’t Wait” positioned a black-hooded orange-jumpsuited effigy to protest Guantanamo next to signs that read “Stop Occupation and Torture for Empire!”

A pregame rally south of the Washington Monument featured drum circles and papier maché puppets. President Obama was called an “imperialist president” who was insensitive to the “African community” and “the 2.5 million people in concentration camps called prisons.”

The big difference here is that the fringe kooks at the “One Nation” rally don’t have any influence on the Democratic Party. The Democratic candidates who oppose Barack Obama, by and large, do so from the right. The Republican Party is a different story, where wingnuttery is mainstream.

If the point of the “One Nation” rally was to show that progressives, too, are prepared to rally to their causes, then it is hard to argue this wasn’t a success. It’s easy to play points-scoring, but the truth is, as many as 200 thousand progressives stood in Washington and told all of America that they count, too.

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