RALEIGH — As tens of thousands rallied at the nation's Capitol, several hundred conservatives gathered in downtown Raleigh to bone up on conservative policy and strategies, and seek inspiration from some of the movement's stars.
Former Miss California USA Carrie Prejean and Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund gave speeches, and local conservatives hosted more than a dozen workshops on topics such as health-care reform, taxes, government transparency and same-sex marriage.
"We want to train grass-roots activists and educate people about conservative solutions to public issues," said Francis De Luca, executive director of Civitas, the Raleigh-based think tank that hosted the conference.
Prejean spoke during a luncheon Saturday about her experience in the Miss USA Pageant, where she gained national attention with her answer to aquestion about same-sex marriage.
Prejean said she was shunned by pageant officials and attacked by liberal activists for stating her belief that marriage should be confined to heterosexual relationships.
Her Miss California USA crown was later revoked amid the release of topless modeling photos taken prior to her involvement in the pageant.
Prejean says her view on marriage was the real reason she lost the crown.
"We should be able to speak opinions in this country without being attacked," she said. "It's amazing how intolerant people can be."
Leon Bonner, 72, and his wife came from Greenville for the conference, which began Friday and ended Saturday night.
Bonner, a retired Army veteran, said he wants conservative solutions to be discussed in the health-care debate, such as health savings accounts and allowing people to buy insurance across state lines.
"We came to learn and to keep in touch with other conservatives," he said.
About a dozen conservative organizations held demonstrations and passed out literature between workshops.
The event also drew a small group of self-proclaimed progressives from Durham, who said they wanted to learn about conservative strategies.
"It has illuminated why the extreme right-wing grass-roots are so cynical and hateful," said Lanya Shapiro, executive director of Traction Action Fund, a social network of activists.
"Their leaders call the left evil and power-grabbing," Shapiro said. "We want to know what we're up against."
ray.martin@ newsobserver .com or 919-836-4952