A steady stream of red, white and blue-clad tea party members flowed through the Foggy Bottom Campus Saturday – the first official day of move-in – for the much-anticipated “Restoring Honor” rally, causing only minor delays for students moving into residence halls across campus.
Students moving into their residence halls said the rally crowded sidewalks as they moved their belongings into their rooms, but many said they weren’t too affected by the day’s events.
Freshman Tamia Burkett described her move into Madison Hall Saturday afternoon as “pretty fast,” saying she thought she avoided the rush.
The University sent Infomails to students warning of potential challenges due to the rally, including traffic issues and non-GW affiliated rally attendees attempting to enter residence halls to use restrooms.
Freshman Vickie Walsh moved into Potomac Hall before Saturday, but said her roommate had a hard time finding parking on campus to move in that day.
“It was so crowded, just packed,” she said.
On the Mount Vernon Campus, freshman Andre Garcia-Lutri said it was “confusing trying to move into Somers when all of the rally attendees were blocking up the streets.”
While Dean of Students Peter Konwerski said campus was busier for move-in than in years past, he said the rallies on the Mall didn’t impact safety and security on campus.
“We did not experience problems,” he said.
Though the rally was a mostly peaceful gathering, two rally attendees got into a heated argument with an employee at the GW Deli over the D.C. bag tax, which ultimately resulted in the tea party member throwing a sandwich in the deli employee’s face. The GW Deli declined to comment on the issue.
The rally – which was hosted by Fox News host Glenn Beck and featured other prominent speakers including former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin, Dr. Aleveda King, niece of the late Martin Luther King, Jr. – seemed more like a religious revival than a political event. Rally attendees calmly cheered, clapped and occasionally uttered “Amen.”
“Today America begins to turn back to God,” Beck said at the event.
As most students were moving in, the GW College Republicans were at the Beck rally handing out pamphlets advertising a rally for Rep. Bachmann, R-Minn., that took place later that day. Bachmann formed the tea party caucus in Congress, and many participants wore shirts associated with the tea party.
“While the event in itself is nonpolitical, it gives our members an unprecedented opportunity to witness the marvelous transformation of the Republican Party,” said Jake Wolf, chairman of the CRs. “We are able to see the move of our Party in the rightward direction, strengthening the electability of the GOP while also ensuring allegiance to conservative principles.”
The “Restoring Honor” rally began at 10 a.m. with a crowd similar in size to the one at the Inaugural Concert in 2009 lining the reflecting pool as Beck stood on stage.
Beck placed the number of people in attendance at as much as 500,000. The Associated Press, however, said there were tens of thousands of people at the rally. The National Park Service doesn’t give out crowd estimates.
Beck stressed the themes of faith, hope and charity throughout his rally, and gave out a medal for each theme to Pastor C.L. Jackson, baseball player Albert Pujols and philanthropist Jon Huntsman, respectively.
The event drew widespread criticism for Beck’s plan to hold it on the anniversary of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.’s storied “I Have a Dream” speech.
Beck gave a brief speech on justice and King’s original ideals, saying that “love is the only way to create change. We’re all born knowing the truth and today we as a group are reawakening the collective conscience of our great nation.”
“I think he wants to capture what Martin Luther King said because we as Americans have lost that,” said Donald Turner, 53, who came from Arizona to attend the rally. “MLK had a dream, and for the last 47 years, we haven’t lived up to our responsibility of achieving that dream, and I think Glenn wants to capture that.”
Palin said she spoke “not as a politician…but as the mother of a soldier.”
She introduced a few soldiers and veterans and recounted their acts of bravery. Palin drew loud applause when she said, “We must not transform America, as some want; we must restore it.”
Many who attended the Beck rally shared Palin’s dissatisfaction with the state of the nation.
“I’ve fought for my country and I never thought, as I saw the demonstrators in the 1960s as I was going off to Vietnam, I thought we were done with that,” said Carl Scheidegg of New Hampshire, a 23-year Air Force veteran. “Now that I’m in my 60s, I’m on the grass for the first time with the people you see around us saying enough is enough. We cannot lose this nation for our children.”
Delia Mannix, a retired employee of the New York Police Department, came to Beck’s event from Whitestone, N.Y.
“I’ve seen a growing awareness of where this country is heading politically, and fundamentally where we were never meant to go,” Mannix said. “I’ve been so impressed with how the realization is hitting so far and wide.”
Beck stressed both before and during the rally that it wasn’t a political event.
“[This] has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with God,” he said. He stressed the need for America to wake up, and that anyone in the audience could be the one to do it.
Also Saturday morning, Al Sharpton and the National Action Network gathered for speeches about equality and marched as King did decades ago.
“They called us troublemakers, but now the folks that used to criticize us for marching, are trying to have a march themselves,” Sharpton said, according to video of his speech given at Dunbar high school.
Sharpton said blacks and whites have unequal employment opportunities, and that black students remain behind in reading and math compared to white students.
“We come because the dream has not been achieved. We made a lot of progress, but we still have a long way to go,” he said, emphasizing that his message was “not about a one day thing.”
-Ethan Bursofsky contributed to this article.