'Restore Sanity and/or Fear' Rally-Goers Converge on National Mall
||Saturday, October 30, 2010
||Annie Groer with reporting by Peter Fulham
Comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert riffed and giggled, strutted, sang and otherwise carried a big shtick for the first 100-plus minutes of their two-hour "Restore Sanity and/or Fear" rally on Saturday. And the tens of thousands of people who thronged the National Mall ate it up.
The fake anchors gave Medals of Reasonableness (Stewart) and Fear Awards (Colbert) and presented musical acts ranging from gospel singer Mavis Staples to Yusef Islam, the balladeer once known as Cat Stevens. It was a high-production variety show, complete with the iconic US Capitol and a clear blue sky as a backdrop.
Then, with some 20 minutes remaining, Stewart got to the point of the extravaganza aimed at those watching it live, or on TV and computers worldwide: To consider the frayed notion of civic discourse seen through the shrill prism of a right/left rant-o-rama video montage on jumbo screens, featuring, among others, Ann Coulter, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Chris Matthews, Keith Olbermann, and James Carville.
nd finally, Stewart's earnest Voice of Reason, whose one-line takeaway might well be, "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing."
As for the purpose of the mass gathering: "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."
The 24-hour news cycle is partly, though not wholly, to blame. "There are terrorists and racists and Stalinists and theocrats but those are titles that must be earned." Stewart cited the importance of distinguishing between "real racists and Tea Partiers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez," because failing to do so "is an insult, not only to those people but to the racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate." Both Williams and Sanchez, were fired, by NPR and CNN respectively, for ethnically disparaging remarks made on other news outlets.
"The press is our immune system.If it overreacts to everything, we actually get sicker. And perhaps eczema. And yet, with that being said, I feel good. Strangely, calmly good."
And so did the crowd.
Arriving singly, in pairs, in groups, and occasionally in costume, the un-countable throng--from infants to octogenarians-- created a rancor-free zone that was long on home-made signs.
Stewart has been touting the notion that the time is right for people of good will everywhere to end toxic political rhetoric. For those who think achieving such comity would be right up there with levitating the Washington Monument, a more achievable goal was expressed by many rally-goers: Be sure to vote in Tuesday's hotly-contested midterm elections.
Stewart -- whose role as an entertainer was endlessly dissected by the media as possibly and dangerously oozing over into the realm of politics -- gave all things electoral a good leaving-alone. "I know there are boundaries for a comedian pundit talker guy....Some of you see this as a clarion call. Some of you just wanted to see the Air and Space Museum and got royally screwed. A lot of you are here to have a nice time and I hope you did."
It sure seemed that way.
Some said they came from as far away as California, Texas and the other Washington in the hope that the leftish Sanity/Fear love-fest would draw more bodies than Fox News talker Glenn Beck's Aug. 28 "Restoring Honor" rally at the Lincoln Memorial. Beck estimated that his event -- which featured Sarah Palin and countless self-identifying tea partiers -- had a half-million attendees. CBS, which hired professional crowd-counters, put the number at 87,000.
Shortly before 1 pm, "Mythbuster" Adam Savage announced there were 150,000 folks trying to do the "wave" across the Mall. Scientific? Hardly. But he seemed to be the only person willing to commit to an early number.
Stewart, representing Sanity, solved the dilemma by tossing out a ludicrous "over 10 million" estimate, explaining that it's only "color and size" that matter in rally coverage. If there are too many white people there, he said, you're considered racist. Too many people of color, you must be asking for special rights.
Fear-monger Colbert cited all manner of scary scenarios, starting with being buried underground. His dramatic entrance came via a Chilean-mine-rescue style tube that rose from beneath the stage. Dressed in a Spandex bodysuit and cape and brandishing that country's flag, he warned the crowd about killer bees, saying it's vital to raise awareness of "potential danger." Nice metaphor, Stephen.
Stewart presented three Medals of Reasonableness to famous people who did the right thing: Detroit Tigers pitcher Armando Gallarraga, whose perfect game was derailed by the call of an umpire and whose hand he shook the next day; Velma Hart, who politely grilled President Obama at a forum and to pro wrestler Mick Foley, for his charity work.
Colbert had three Fear awards: The first went to ABC, CBS, the New York Times, Associated Press and "especially National Public Radio" for barring employees from attending the rally. The medal was hung around the neck of a seven year old girl.
Anderson Cooper's "tight black T-shirt" was honored for adorning the body of CNN's chief calamity correspondent and the last went to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who did not show up because, Colbert cracked, he values his privacy more than he values yours.
Among those in the vast crowd, which stretched from the base of the Capitol Grounds to near the Washington Monument, were advocates of such causes as keeping abortion legal and decriminalizing pot.
Democratic Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the capital city's non-voting member of Congress and a frequent "Colbert Report" guest, came to lobby for full voting rights and congressional representation for what some Washingtonians call America's last colony.
"I want to get even with the man who has made a career out of ridiculing me, and by proxy, the District, for not having the vote. I wouldn't think about not showing up," she told Politics Daily's Peter Fulham. "I want him to know he's in D.C. voting rights territory. Its time for him to make voting rights something he's for, not something he makes fun of."
Everyone in the crowd had a reason for braving packed subways and buses to get to the Mall.
Marty Capodice, 68, made the 13-hour drive from Concord, N.H. with his wife, political analyst Arnie Arnesen, because "I think of Jon Stewart as being one of the most important political voices in America, and because my favorite vehicle for transmitting ideas is humor. I have cancer and I re-arranged my chemo and radiation schedules to come here. I wouldn't have missed it."
Amanda Fox, 28, flew from Durango, Co. and though she says "I am usually not very political, I got really excited in '08 voting for Barack Obama. Now with all the craziness going on, this seemed like the right fit." Dressed as Alice In Wonderland, she wore a sign quoting verbatim from the Lewis Carroll classic: "It's the stupidest tea party I ever was at in my life."
Hers was among hundreds of creative, hand-made messages, including these doozies:
Sanity Is A Pre-Existing Condition
I can see America From My Back Yard
Hawaii Birthers for Statehood
Make Awkward Sexual Advances, Not War
I Came Here Illegally. I Went 5 mph Over the Speed Limit On I-95
Free Hugs from a Militant Atheist with a Gay Agenda.
He's Black, Get Over It
This Sign Contains Correct Grammar and Spelling
I love America. Even Though We Get It Wrong Sometimes, It's Still a Nice Place To Raise a Family.
Speak Softly And Carry a Bibliography of Statistics
Retired CIA Analyst for a Sensible Drug Policy
Minorities: They are Not So Scary When You Get to Know A Few
We The People, Not We the Corporations