I went to Jon Stewart's Rally To Restore Sanity on Saturday, along with my wife Julie, for a variety of reasons. Chief among these was to be entertained, have fun, and be inspired. I also wanted to stand up and be counted as supporting the basic premise of the rally, that rationality and civility need to be restored to political and social discourse in this country if we are going to solve some of our real problems. But my original and strongest desire, I must admit, was simply to be counted. I wanted to be part of a statistic showing that there are more people willing to be reasonable than there are those who are mean spirited, solution blocking fundamentalists (religious, political, and otherwise).
The day began at about 3:00 a.m. arriving at the parking structure in downtown Raleigh to meet the buses that were going from here to D.C. As cars arrived and predominantly white haired people got out, Julie commented, "This is allowing the people from the 60's who marched in anti-war demonstrations to participate again in something they feel good about." And she was right. On the full-up buses from Raleigh and the packed-tight National Mall in D.C., those old enough to remember protesting the war in Vietnam were well represented.
From my perspective, this was one of many things that were inspirational about the Rally. The crowd clearly showed a mixed demographic; it was definitely not just a celebration of teenagers, 20-somethings, 30-somethings. Everyone was represented, including seniors. The mall was already mostly filled up by 9:30, when we arrived, and proceeded to pack elbow to elbow as more and more people arrived to fit into the same space. This meant there was no hope of sitting down--for more than five hours. Aching knees are NOT inspirational.
The crowd was good-spirited and enthusiastic, the musical entertainment was upbeat and loud, the jokes and gags ranged from inspired to lame. Opening the show was a concert in itself by John Legend and Roots. After an outstanding performance, Roots then became the house band for the rest of the three-hour program. Not surprisingly, I thought, was an especially warm reception for the former Cat Stevens (who sang parts of "Peace Train" in what turned out to be a duel between Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who was represented by Ozzie Osborne) and Tony Bennett, who sang "America the Beautiful."
The signs many people carried were one of the most interesting aspects. They demonstrated, in themselves, the many kinds of ideas represented in the rally. I was able to copy down a few. "Separation of Corporation and State," "More Sanity, Less Vanity," "In Comedians We Trust," "It's a Democracy, Not an Auction," "Disagree Agreeably," "I'd Rather Be Pissed Off Than Pissed On. Say No To Trickle Down Economics," "Follow the $$$$s. Tea Party Is Not Grassroots," "I Miss the Days of Sarah Palin Being the Scariest Candidate," "Science Is Not a Conspiracy," I Want Patience and I Want it Now," "I Respect Your Right to Say Stupid Things."
A "minor" thing that I thought demonstrated the kind of reasonableness people can demonstrate when they are asked to was that there was virtually zero litter left on the National Mall when the Rally was over, something that pre-Rally info had called for. Aside from that, Jon Stewart's almost entirely serious final speech left an exhausted crowd feeling good. He ended with: "If you want to know why I’m here and what 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.
My final goal and Stewart's may never be exactly assessed, but the figures are persuasive. Glen Beck's Restoring Honor rally in late August drew fewer than 100,000 participants. The New York Times Live blog estimates the Rally To Restore Sanity crowd at more than 200,000. Canadian news station CTV says 2500,000. I'll go with Stewart's estimate of 10 million.
Then, it was a brief stroll around our beautiful capital, back on the bus, and back in Raleigh at 11:00 p.m. Our 20-hour rally day.
(Pictures to be posted shortly)