Former Alaska governor Sarah Palin said the U.S. is at a crossroads and Americans must be resilient in the face of increasing adversity during a speech at the "Restore Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial on Saturday.
Long before the rally began, a crowd estimated in the tens of thousands stretched from the steps of the memorial, surrounding the reflecting pool on the National Mall all the way to the end. Attendees waved flags including the "Don't tread on me" banner, a Revolutionary War icon and adopted symbol of the Tea Party movement.
Rally organizer and Fox News host Glenn Beck said the event, coinciding with the date and location of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech 47 years ago, was not political but meant to honor America's military service members and veterans.
Beck said he asked Palin, the 2008 vice presidential nominee and a potential 2012 presidential candidate, to speak as the mother of a U.S. soldier. Palin's son Track is a soldier in U.S Army and has served in Iraq.
"I've been asked to speak today not as a politician; no, something more, much more. I've been asked to speak as the mother of a soldier, and I'm proud of
that distinction. You know, say what you want to say about me, but I
raised a combat vet, and you can't take that away from me," Palin said.
"No woman gives birth thinking she will hand over her child to her country, but that's what mothers have done from ancient days."
Palin called the setting "the symbolic crossroads of our nation's history" and invoked Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. during a patriotic speech peppered with biblical language.
She struck also struck a defiant note, arguing that men and women in uniform are a force for good in the U.S. and shouldn't be the subject of apologies from the American government.
"We must not fundamentally transform America as some would want, we must restore America and restore her honor," Palin said to loud applause.
The Rev. Al Sharpton was leading a dueling rally Saturday, marching to the site of the King memorial between the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials.
"Today, the Tea Party and allied conservatives are trying to break that national stance on justice and, in turn, break the crux of what the civil rights movement symbolized and what Dr. King fought and literally died for," read the rally release on Sharpton's National Action Network website.
Sharpton told C-SPAN hours before his event that the focus on states' rights contradicted the message of King.
"The structural breakdown of a strong national government, which is what they're calling for, is something that does not serve the interests of the nation and it's something that Dr. King and others fought against," Sharpton said.
Sharpton's rally included Martin Luther King III; Beck's rally featured King's niece, Alveda King, as a speaker.
While Beck said the rally was not political, it did carry religious overtones.
"America today begins to turn back to God," Beck said at the beginning of the rally.
Attendees sounded economic concerns that are riding high with voters headed toward November's midterm elections.
Tom Stirling of Savannah, Ga., rode up with the "13th Colony Patriots" in three busloads from his home state.
"I've been watching this outrageous spending from George W. Bush on
down," Stirling told The Hill. "It's like the escalator is on high speed. We
can't sustain this."
"I'm not Republican," he said. "I'm not Democrat. I just want smaller government."
Palin spent a large portion of her speech honoring three combat veterans from Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam, recounting their stories of bravery and holding them up as examples of the strength and compassion of the American people.
"Today, we honor fallen around the world. We honor those that served something greater than self, who made the ultimate sacrifice," Palin said. "Also, those that did come home forever changed by the battlefield. Though this rally is about restoring honor for these men and women, honor was never lost."
Palin closed by asking the crowd to summon similar courage while facing the ongoing economic recession and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She asked the crowd to turn the rally into a point of inflection.
"I know that many of us today, we are worried about what we face, sometimes our challenges they just seem insurmountable," Palin said. "But here together at the crossroads of our history, may this day be the change point. Look around you, you're not alone. You are Americans."
"You have the same steel spine and moral courage of Washington and Lincoln and Martin Luther King. It is in you, it will sustain you as it sustained them."