I was fortunate enough, along with my boyfriend and two good friends to attend the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The idea behind the event was supurb. There is too much insanity. So much of what we hear is yelling - all around us. Little can get accomplished with much blame going back and fourth. Below is a piece I put together, roughly summarizing the events of the day, and what I took away from it.
The idea was simple – reasonable people, coming together for one afternoon on the National Mall in Washington, DC to promote reasonable discussions about the future of America. That was the idea behind the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, hosted by satirical “news” hosts Jon Stewart from The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report (who was originally holding a counter-event, The March to Keep Fear Alive – the two events merged several weeks prior.) Such a day was Saturday, October 30th, 2010.
Upon of announcement of the Rally to Restore Sanity on September 17th, Stewart said that it seemed to him as though most of the time we hear, through the media, the views and opinions of the more vocal and extreme 15-20% of the population. The rally would provide an opportunity where like minded, reasonable people could come together with shared values and the goal of creating a sensible conversation about the direction we want our society to move.
The scene was picturesque on the eve of the rally. At the east side of the National Mall, the stage was dwarfed in contract to the United States Capitol which sat as it’s backdrop, as the sun set on the city.
On October 30th, the Mall was taken over with what is reported as 250,000 people, from all across America. Lining the Mall several blocks wide and stretching back to nearly the Washington Monument; well beyond the reach of the JumboTron’s and speakers there were set up several blocks back down the Mall, the crowd size far exceeded expectation, which was estimated for permitting purposes for just over 60,000 people, while port-a-potties were provided to be adequate for up to 150,000 people.
Meanwhile, for those unable to make the trip to the Nation’s Capitol for the Rally were not left out. Comedy Central, the network who hosts The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, reported that over 2 million people watched the event live on the network, that there were reportedly more than 570,000 live streaming views of the coverage on their website. The event was also broadcast on CSPAN, who is not rated by Nielsen, so no estimates have been made regarding their viewership. In addition, prior to October 30th, there were satellite rallies scheduled in 47 states and 6 foreign countries.
The Washington Metropolitian Area Transit Authority saw their prior Saturday ridership record for 786,358 trips set in 1991 after at Desert Storm rally, shattered with 825,437 trips on October 30th. The average number of trips on a Saturday is 350,000.
With musical performances by The Roots, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Bennett, Mavis Staples, Jeff Tweedy, The O’Jays, Four Troops, Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow, as well as guest appearances by Sam Waterson (of Law & Order fame), Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman (of Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters), Don Novello (as former Saturday Night Live character Father Guido Sarducci), Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and R2D2, it proved be a fun, and entertaining afternoon.
There was a message and common theme on the Mall that afternoon. As signs held by rally goer read messages like, “I am a Muslim, and I am afraid of terrorists,” “getting unscrewed takes time,” “health care is good,” “I’m pretty sure Obama isn’t trying to ruin America,” and a personal favorite, “it’s a sad day when our politicians are comical and I have to take our comedians seriously!”
As I stood taking in the scene, it was surreal. People of all races surrounded me. I saw babies in strollers and the elderly in their hover-rounds. There was no generation gap. Upon making the decision to make the 8 hour trek to DC following the announcement of the Rally, we had no idea what to expect. Except, that it would be, in my opinion a once-in-a-lifetime chance to be part of something bigger than myself.
In closing of the afternoon’s events, Stewart took a few moments to speak sincerely to audience which stretched as far as one could see.
“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.”
He went on to say that the 24-hour news “conflictinator” has not caused the problems our country faces, but that its existence makes it more difficult to solve them. “If we amplify everything we hear nothing,” he said.
Stewart argued, “if the picture of us were true, of course, our inability to solve problems would actually be quite sane and reasonable,” he continued, “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, (gesturing to the Capitol) or on cable TV.”
Noting that most people do not live their lives just as Democrats, Republicans, Liberals or Conservatives, Stewart said that most people are doing things, that maybe the don’t want to do, but they do it, because it’s about reasonable compromises which people make in their everyday lives.
Stewart closed saying, “because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light we have to work together. And the truth is, there will always be darkness. 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.”
Was this of the history-making magnitude of the March on Washington and Martin Luther Kings, I Had a Dream, speech of 1963? Maybe not. But I reasonably believe it made an impact. If it did nothing more than create a conversation among the reasonable people in America about working together, across party lines, in all forms of government, for the greater good of the future of America, I would consider that a success. It may spur activism in some, or a desire to become more involved for others. Some may simply walk away from the day’s events, entertained.
I walked away proud. Proud to be an American, proud to be reasonable, and proud to have been a part of something – whatever it was, or history turns it out to be.
In these difficult times that American’s face all across this nation, it is important to understand that we will all disagree from time to time. We may disagree about the weather, or Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative, paper or plastic, but it’s about making reasonable concessions for the greater good and working together each and every day to move this country forward.
To reiterate Stewarts statement, “we live now in hard times, not end times.” We need to remind ourselves of this when things seem the darkest, and be determined to push forwards. We are America – this nation was not built without encountering obstacles. We now must tackle those with are in the way of progress, for a brighter tomorrow.