Attempting to make a mockery of the Tea Party rallies and Glenn Beck’s March to Restore Honor, three counter rallies have been announced just in time for Election Day.
Longtime U.S. Communist Party official Angela Davis and Black Panther head Stokely Carmichael – both who have been out of the limelight since hippies faded away in the 1970s – were billed to appear at the first event.
It was scheduled for October 2 and billed as "One Nation Working Together."
The other two rallies were scheduled by Comedy Central cable TV channel comedians Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert. The two have daily "faux news" or fake news shows in which they parody the day’s current events. Stewart is blatantly liberal in his stand-up routines and skits on "The Daily Show."
"The Colbert Report" is supposedly conservative. It spun off of Stewart’s show, where Colbert had played a bumbling reporter who usually lost arguments by posing absurd challenges to liberal dogma.
Now on his own show, Colbert plays a blustery right-wing pundit. How much of his act is sincere is open to speculation. He is highly supportive of the U.S. military, even going through a few days of boot camp and receiving an enlistee haircut on camera.
He frequently features actual soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen in a respectful manner and has broadcast from Iraq, where he conducted USO-type shows for the troops. However, far too often, he has fun lampooning the right wing.
Within hours of Stewart announcing he would hold a "Rally to Restore Sanity" on the weekend before the November 2’s Election Day, Colbert proclaimed that he would hold a counter-rally, the "March to Keep Fear Alive," scheduled at the same time and place as Stewart’s rally.
"In a nifty two-for-one," reported Gloria Goodale of the Los Angeles Times, "fans of Comedy Central’s late night ‘fake news’ block now have both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert headed to Washington – on Halloween weekend, no less.
Promoted on popular Internet social networking sites such as Twitter, Reddit and Facebook, the two "dueling rallies," quickly had thousands of people pledging to attend one or the other. Within days of announcing the simultaneous rallies, Stewart bragged that he already had more people pledged to attend the event than had come to Glenn Beck’s "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial.
The two rallies "could easily produce a tally of more than a million followers, but it has yet to be seen whether the current pace can continue or whether these people will actually show up," wrote columnist Jay Tower.
On the liberal Internet news site the Daily Beast, the editors proclaimed "unless Stewart’s rally significantly under-produces from its current numbers, it will undoubtedly be larger than Beck’s. Stewart has sold his rally as an effort to give a voice to more reasonable moderates, who he claims make up a larger percentage of the population."
"Stewart argued that the current political discourse in America is dominated by those who advocate the most extreme viewpoints, and with the loudest voice. While not specifically mentioning Beck, his reference seemed clear. Colbert will likely be mocking personalities like Beck with his ‘March to Keep Fear Alive.’"
Colbert enthusiasts had been pushing for their "leader" to host what they had been calling a "Restoring Truthiness" rally as a satirical counterweight to Beck’s event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. But, in a move that political commentator Jeffrey Jones called "very smart indeed," the two comics opted instead to headline supposedly competing rallies.
"In the spirit of the spooky season, the two may be donning the cloak of fun and games," wrote the Daily Beast but as Stewart says, he has a grown-up goal: to revive the moderate center of our civic discourse.
"The decision to join forces speaks volumes about their underlying motivations," said Jones, author of Entertaining Politics: Satiric Television and Political Engagement.
"The event is set on the doorstep of the November 2 election, which makes its potential impact with younger voters undeniable," says Ari Berman, a political correspondent for the Nation. "The younger demographic, which came out so effectively for Obama in 2008, has been noticeably disaffected in this midterm election. It’s possible that a major event hosted by two media figures with such caché among younger voters ‘could easily help to mobilize action in time for the election,’ he said. One thing is certain, ‘all the media will be there, so it will be sure to get coverage.’"
"If team Colbert-Stewart stays with its strong suit, namely comedy, this could affect the election," agrees political scientist Saladin Ambar of Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. "The president is often at his best when he is funny.
"As the whole Tina Fey-Sarah Palin episode demonstrated, humor can destroy an image or candidate as well as any 15-minute stump speech. As the Democratic base struggles with an enthusiasm gap, perhaps Stewart can at least give a good many on the left reason to get involved beyond the logical and very real possibility of Dems losing the House."
Humor can stir the passions
"Voting is an illogical action," Ambar added, "and humor can stir the passions as much as anything."
"But this is precisely the challenge the pair faces in mounting what is arguably an event without precedent," said Syracuse University media pundit Robert Thompson. "When have we ever seen something like this?"
History shows many powerful rallies by people with clear points of view, from Martin Luther King Jr., "even Glenn Beck," he said.
But Stewart and Colbert are operating with multiple levels of communication – from the serious, underlying message that Stewart seems to desire to the joke-within-a-joke persona of Colbert’s supposedly conservative talk show.
"Their fan base will come expecting comedy, and delivering that in this kind of setting will be the biggest challenge they face," said Thompson. "It’s entirely possible this could end up being the very kind of thing that both he and Colbert do so well at skewering."
Old hippies and anti-war activists
Meanwhile, the October 2 rally featuring aging ex-hippies and Communists was eclipsed by the comedians’ stunt.
That march’s message is that the U.S. should immediately withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan, that all military aid to Israel should be ended, and that Iran has the right to develop nuclear weapons.
Former executive director of Veterans for Peace Michael McPhearson is one of the key organizers of the event. "I’m not all that concerned if you’re a Republican, Democrat, or Marxist or Communist, whatever," he said. "I just want us to work together to make our country better. That’s what I look at – not if you’re a socialist."
He said he designed the event to counter the Tea Party events and Beck’s rally.
When asked about the involvement of Communist groups, McPhearson shot back, "What is radical? We are trying to bring everybody together under one tent. In the United States everybody has a voice and speaks their opinion."
"He said the Tea Party has its own share of controversial people," writes Cliff Kincaid of the media watchdog group Accuracy in the Media.
McPhearson described the purpose of the rally as "to demonstrate our recommitment to change."
The "national campaign manager" of the October 2 demonstration was listed as the Reverend Leah Daughtry, whose website lists her as "a nationally recognized teacher, preacher, speaker, organizer, leader and Democratic strategist." Her work for the Democratic Party included serving as Chief Executive Officer of the 2008 Democratic National Convention Committee and Chief of Staff of the Democratic National Committee.
"The mainstream media, however," noted Kincaid, "can be expected not to highlight the fact that the Democratic Party and its constituency groups running the rally, have made common cause with Communist groups dedicated to the destruction of the American system."
Black Radical Congress
McPhearson participated in the 2008 national convention of the Black Radical Congress, a gathering that included representatives of the Communist Party, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America.
The theme of the event was "Forging a Black Liberation Agenda for the 21st Century." McPhearson said he spoke to the gathering.
McPhearson works out of New Jersey for the National Conference for Community and Justice and is married to Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the New Jersey ACLU, in a ceremony that received sympathetic coverage for the two "peace activists" from the New York Times. The paper even ran a photo of them holding hands in front of the Statue of Liberty.
Official "partners" of the October 2 rally included the AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), National Council of La Raza, the Campus Progress affiliate of the Center for American Progress, the American Federation of Teachers, Pax Christi, Rainbow Push, Color of Change, United for Peace and Justice, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Queers for Economic Justice, and ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism).
"ANSWER," writes Kincaid, "is a Communist front that switched its affiliation from the Workers World Party (WWP) to the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) when members of the former left to join the latter.
Communist front that changed its name
"For example, Brian Becker is a former WWP member who joined the PSL and now functions as the national coordinator of ANSWER. Its website promotes the October 2 rally, supports accused traitor Bradley Manning, urges the release of five imprisoned Cuban spies, and promotes a book calling Israel a pawn of the U.S. ‘empire’ in the Middle East.
Although McPherson’s group claims to represent veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Veterans for Peace has helped organize demonstrations directly in support of Bradley Manning, the Army soldier and troubled homosexual activist charged with leaking classified information to WikiLeaks. Officials say his actions undermined the war effort and risk the lives of American soldiers.
When leftist "historian" Howard Zinn passed away earlier this year, VFP paid tribute to him, noting that Zinn had been a member of the organization since the late 1980s. Zinn was exposed through his FBI file, released after his death, as a secret Communist Party member who lied about it to the FBI.