I’d like to tell you what it felt like to be at the Rally to Restore Sanity and / or Fear, but it’s difficult to convey in words. I’m sure by now many of you have seen the bad reviews. As I had a hard time seeing and hearing things at the rally, I watched my TiVo recording of the entire thing last night, and was disappointed by much of the content. Yep, it was boring, at times awkward, and mostly music. I could give you the rundown on everything that happened, but you can find that elsewhere. Suffice it to say, if you were judging on the event only on what went on onstage, you would be disappointed.
But as usual, the truth is far more nuanced, and this was one of those occasions where you just had to be there. To be packed in with 215,000 other people was amazing. The excitement was thick. Everyone was smiling. No one was shoving. People were polite and reasonable, as the Jon Stewart asked them to be. Some people brought signs and stickers that they were passing out free to others. It was a big feeling of community. You really got the sense that the attendees were there because they believed in the Sanity message, not Fear, and certainly not some overly radical political agenda.
Sure, that number of attendees has been debated. Estimates range for 200,000-250,000, though 215,000 seems to be the number most media outlets have gone with. I’m sure FOX puts it at much lower number. Their reviews talked about ‘political radicals’ and ‘backlash against the tea party’. Sure, I only saw a small fraction of the crowd, but I can assure you, most signs were not politically motivated on either side. Most were just plain fun. Throughout this article, you’ll see some of the pictures I took, and they are much more representative than what you may have heard from that famously-biased news network. Ok, let the negative commenting below begin.
I can tell you, the spirit of hope was everywhere. It was like the best days of President Obama’s campaign. Eating the provided continental breakfast at the full-booked hotel outside of D.C. (from which it took nearly an hour to get downtown), people all around me were talking about heading to the Rally, and what it meant to them. From first thing that morning, there was already something in the air, and it was coming from that far away.
What was happening onstage wasn’t all bad, though. Jon Stewart gave out medals for Sanity, and he made some really great choices from recent news stories. One went to the young man that took the Koran from the guy who wanted to burn it. Another went to the pitcher who lost a perfect game to a bad call from an umpire.
As some have said, Stephen Colbert’s place, and Fear itself, was for comic relief. While there have been complaints about the reduced, unbalanced role, it was definitely appropriate. Colbert’s show, which I love, is one big joke. He is a satiric pundit, whose purpose is to make one side of the aisle look ridiculous, and play a character with a huge ego. He served that purpose just fine at the rally. Colbert certainly has his place, but if he had been given too much focus, and his character’s opinions (Colbert’s opinions are much more sane) allowed to be legitimized, it would have undermined what was going on there.
Finally, Jon Stewart’s speech was beyond mesmerizing. He really captured the spirit of not only the people gathering in D.C. to see him, but a whole lot of Americans out there fed up with what’s happening. Below is part of the content of that speech, to give you an idea of what his message truly was. After you’ve read it, I’m sure there will be little doubt what Stewart is about, and why the Rally needed to be held at all:
“I can’t control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.
But unfortunately one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24 hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic.
If we amplify everything we hear nothing. There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats but those are titles that must be earned. You must have the resume. Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Partiers or real bigots and Juan Williams and Rick Sanchez is an insult, not only to those people but to the racists themselves who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate – just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe not more. The press is our immune system. If we overreact to everything we actually get sicker. And perhaps eczema.
And yet, with that being said, I feel good—strangely, calmly good. Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us through a fun house mirror, and not the good kind that makes you look slim in the waist and maybe taller, but the kind where you have a giant forehead and an a** shaped like a month old pumpkin and one eyeball.
So, why would we work together? Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin a**ed forehead eyeball monster? If the picture of us were true, of course, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable. Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own? We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is — on the brink of catastrophe — torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day!
The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live our values and principles form the foundations that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done. Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do — often something that they do not want to do — but they do it – impossible things every day that are only made possible by the little reasonable compromises that we all make…[People must get along when traffic merges.] …And they do it. Concession by concession. You go. Then I’ll go. You go. Then I’ll go. You go then I’ll go.Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Well, that’s okay—you go and then I’ll go…
…If you want to know why I’m here and want I want from you, I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me. Your presence was what I wanted.
Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine. Thank you.”
Hearing those words, it was impossible not to be moved. No matter what your political views, most of us are reasonable, and want to find ways to get along. Most of us are willing to work with the other side of the aisle, and most of us do not demonize the people who disagree with us? How can we? They are our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncle, cousins, siblings, friends. My family was almost perfectly split down the middle in 2008. I’m sure it wasn’t the only one.
No one can tell yet what effect the rally might have on today’s mid-term elections. Likely, that effect will never be known. Will Stewart have mobilized millions of people to go out and vote, based on his audience, mostly young liberals? Will he have reached people on both sides to bring the candidate who they feel will most likely bring a real American spirit of compromise? I think the Rally definitely inspired many, although to what extend, I can’t be sure.