WASHINGTON - Progressive groups hope to draw tens of thousands of their supporters to the Mall on Saturday and create a show of force that will rival the conservative tea party movement.
The One Nation Working Together march is the culmination of months of planning begun by civil rights organizations and labor unions. In recent weeks, more than 400 supporting groups have signed on to the rally, which is to span four hours and feature speeches, poetry and musical entertainment.
NAACP President Benjamin Jealous, a lead organizer of the event, has said it will be the most "diverse march in the nation's history."
"What unites our coalition is a common goal to pull America back together and put America back to work," Jealous said. "We are unified through a deep concern over a lack of civility in the political discourse. We are unified around our common vision of an America where we acknowledge our differences and work together to solve problems."
The groups backing the march - including the National Council of La Raza, the NAACP, the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, U.S. Action and the U.S. Student Association - hope to make a strong statement in response to conservative commentator Glenn Beck's rally in August. That gathering partly filled the Mall with tens of thousands of his supporters, and tea party groups across the country have held anti-tax rallies.
Many of the groups involved in Saturday's event are stepping outside their usual parameters. Socially conservative African American church groups have signed on to a march that supports equality for gays and lesbians. A miners union has endorsed the rally along with environmental groups.
"It's about jobs and the fact that we need jobs now," said Arlene Holt Baker, executive vice president of the AFL-CIO. "At the same time, we do not ever back away from being a part of a broader coalition that supports the rights of all people, no matter their race or sex or gender or sexual orientation, to be treated fairly."
The One Nation Working Together groups are focusing on three issues: jobs, justice and education. They define those in a set of principles that also lays out a list of causes largely supported by liberals, such as ending discrimination in the criminal justice system, protecting Social Security, spending federal money to create jobs and improving public education.
"This really will look like the America of the 21st century, and we have a shared set of concerns that revolves around the economy," said Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
March organizers hope to motivate constituencies that have traditionally supported Democrats to turn out to vote in the midterm elections a month away. Polls have indicated that supporters of Republicans are more enthusiastic about going to the polls.
The rally has stirred a rivalry between Beck's supporters and One Nation. In recent days, both sides have been slinging mud. Beck spent a segment of his Fox News show decrying the march - and pointing out that among the more than 400 groups that have signed on are the Communist Party USA and the New York City Democratic Socialists of America.
"All of these groups, and the president of the United States, want nothing short of fundamental transformation of America," Beck said on a recent show. "Do not allow them to get away with the lies! Do not allow them to say that we are just 'one nation, working together.' 'We're just trying to put America back to work, and putting America back together.' These people, a lot of them, have fought their entire life to destroy America!"
Jealous, who has criticized Beck and the tea party movement as divisive, said the One Nation rally is the antidote to the tea party. The NAACP has launched a Web site called Tea Party Tracker" which collects photos of racist signs that have sometimes been on display at tea party functions. Tea party supporters have condemned the Web site, suggesting that the signs may have been planted by tea party detractors.
The rivalry between the two groups even surfaced in a last-minute lawsuit. The Chantilly-based event-staging company that helped produce the Beck rally sued unsuccessfully Wednesday to stop the One Nation event. The company, National Events, alleged that the groups organizing the One Nation rally solicited a bid sheet from the company to help stage Saturday's event and then used its proprietary information to secure lower prices from vendors.
The Tides Center, a nonprofit organization doing business as One Nation Working Together and also known as U.S. Action, said that it never contracted with National Events and that it never agreed to keep National Event's bid information private.
A judge said Friday morning that the One Nation event could go on as planned.
Staff writer Spencer Hsu contributed to this report.