“Louder! Louder! Louder!” was the chant from the crowd outside the barriers. It was obvious that the organizers of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear did not expect so many people to show up. Fearful of not being allowed back in, I ended up being stuck in a fenced area near the main stage for most of the day.
As a recent emigrant to the US and a fan of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, I could not pass up the chance to attend the Washington rally. Held on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon the day before Halloween, the rally brought an estimated 215,000 people together to hear the most trusted figures in US news media: two comedians.
By the end of the day, people were climbing trees and portable toilets for a chance at a better view even though they could barely hear a thing. The large speaker towers only faced into the crowd on the Mall, while none faced the tens of thousands gathered along the side streets, nor were any speakers available for those all the way back towards the Washington Monument.
Few of us really knew what to expect. Even fewer---Jon Stewart included(1)---could really articulate why they were there. Like the millions who watch Stewart and Colbert every weeknight(2), I enjoy their comedic skirmishes with America’s body politic, but a rally is something different.
One thing I expected was a diverse crowd of people. Instead I saw diversity only in age. The crowd was predominately white, well educated and middle-class. Contained within this mass of people were those who poked fun at the absurdity of the cable news industry and its fondness (or fetish?) for epithets and stereotypes.
Within this crowd wandered two white college students dressed as Mexicans telling everyone they were here to take their jobs; A South Asian man dressed as Hitler; a sign reading, “I masturbate to Christine O’Donnell
”; and three people, all of different races, dressed as Jimmy McMillan
, the internet sensation and New York gubernatorial candidate best know for his The Rent Is Too Damn High Party. Comedy always brings people together.
Humor aside, I must admit that overall I was disappointed by much of the rally. I felt sorry for those stuck outside of the fence. Rallies are supposed to be about getting as many people together as possible to hear a message. Much of that message was lost due to poor planning.
Similarly, many of the musical acts---Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, Yusuf Islam and Ozzy Osbourne---were irrelevant to the overall message of sanity. Only Ozzy was on the appropriate side: Colbert’s fear corner. Yusuf’s comments on the fatwa
against Salman Rushdie and Crow’s anti-toilet paper crusade
are not the best examples of the type of rational discussion Stewart and Colbert wished to promote.
But it was not the musical guests that people came to see. When conversing with those around me, both at the rally and on the long train ride home, I found a common thread in their reasons why they came: they wanted to feel connected with the political discourse again. Most people had never been to a rally, let alone a massive one in Washington, DC, but here they realised they weren’t the only ones who felt the need to shower after watching cable news.
Filled with simple yet eloquent language---“we live now in hard times, not end times”---Stewart’s speech
was a call for sanity in America’s political conversation. Stewart’s main target, the cable news industry, was chastised for exuding fear from every sound byte. “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing,” he told the audience, pointing out that “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.”
I’ve long been an observer of US politics, and it was impressive to see so many Americans standing up against the very worst instincts in their politics. Such a sight is rendered even more important considering we live in an age the when the cerebral yet accessible thoughts of William F. Buckley, Jr.
have been replaced by the nonsensical and factually challenged ramblings of Glenn Beck.
Using the New Jersey Turnpike---where 14 lanes become two under the Hudson River---as a national metaphor, Stewart showed how easy and natural it can be to compromise, especially when each person knows it helps the process as a whole.
“This is us,” Stewart told the crowd. “Every one of [those] cars is filled with individuals of strong belief and principles they hold dear...And yet these millions of cars must somehow find a way to squeeze one by one into a mile-long, 30-foot wide tunnel carved underneath a mighty river.”
And this, finally, was Stewart’s vision: a rational, respectful and dignified national discourse, maintained even if “the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the Promised Land,” just New Jersey. (X)
Michael Davies is a recent émigré to the United States. He has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and International Relations from the Australian National University, as well as a Master of Strategic Affairs from the Strategic and Defense Studies Centre in Canberra, Australia. He has previously worked as a media analyst for Media Monitors, Australia.
1. In his closing speech, Stewart said: “Your presence is what I wanted. To see you here today has restored [my sanity].” This seemed kind of weak considering how articulate and precise Stewart is on his show.
2. In the last month and for the first time, Stewart’s “The Daily Show” beat both “The Late Show with David Letterman” and “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” in ratings for the key 18 to 49 demographic.
Top 10 placards at the Jon Stewart rally
• I disagree with you but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler
• Even God gave it a rest for one day – tone it down America
• [Picture of Uncle Sam] I Want YOU to switch to decaf
• God hates signs
• If Ms O'Donnell is really me, then she masturbates daily (sometimes twice)
• You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own spelling
• Want to live in a place with no government? Try Somalia
• Think outside the Fox
• I won't call you a Nazi if you won't call me a Commie. Let's agree that 1930s totalitarian doctrines don't have to be our only options here
• Protest signs are an ineffectual means of communicating my nuanced views on a variety of issues that cannot be reduced to a simple pithy slogan
From the Guardian.co.uk
. See more at Huffington Post