Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity

Comedy Central network satirists Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert at the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington DC, October 30th. Photo from Politico.

I'm not sure what I think of today's rally. Except: I wish it had been angrier.

The account in Politico was fair:

Expectations for what Stewart had dubbed his "million moderate march" ranged from the hope of left-leaning groups that the rally would spark the youth vote ahead of Tuesday's midterm elections to the desire for many attendees to enjoy an afternoon of pointed satire inspired by Fox News' Glenn Beck's massive rally two months ago to "restore honor."

For most of the rally, Stewart and his comedic foil Stephen Colbert deftly remained half a step away from becoming serious on the stage at the opposite end of the Mall from the Lincoln Memorial steps where Beck spoke — until the end, when Stewart aimed his wrath directly at the 24-hour Washington media establishment, saying it "did not cause our problems. But its existence makes solving them that much harder."

"If we amplify everything, we hear nothing," he said. "The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we eventually get sicker."

The "Rally to Restore Sanity," which merged with sidekick Stephen Colbert’s “March to Keep Fear Alive,” had been advertised as nonpolitical. Stewart insisted it was “a clarion call for rationality,” and a collective plea for the nation to stop yelling and show more respect to those they disagree with.

The crowd appeared to exceed organizers' expectations, spilling past the boundaries set for the rally. Organizers estimated attendance at about 250,000.

Hundreds of buses, including some chartered by The Huffington Post, began dropping tens of thousands of attendees at the National Mall early in the morning. On Metro's Red Line, trains were full of people headed to the rally.

Katie Shanahan, a 24-year-old who lives in Washington and works at an environmental nonprofit, came with a group of friends. She says everyone in her circle has been talking about the event since early September.

"It must have popped up on 9 million feeds on my Facebook," she said.

Most of those pouring into the Mall Saturday appeared to be younger than 35, and the signs they carried showed a decidedly left-wing bent: "I hope this isn't a trap," "I masturbate to Christine O'Donnell," "Communism was a red herring."
I keep wishing we could put all these young people to work. Why aren't they interested in actual political organizing?

Although the progressives were undoubtedly in attendance, it seems unclear whether this will translate into real votes on Tuesday.
But most people at the rally didn't carry signs and many said they weren't politically active, even if they sympathized with Democrats. Those who were planning to vote said they had already planned to do so before the rally, and none of the rally attendees interviewed planned to participate in the DNC's phone bank efforts.

The atmosphere on the Mall was more like a big early Halloween party. People bounced beach balls as they listened to music and waited for Stewart to take the stage. The wind carried the scent of burning marijuana through the crowd.

The brand of humor that defines Stewart, Colbert and their followers is sharp, satiric, and at times smug. Many of the signs carried were silly ("I am mildly upset by all of this outrage!") and some were nonsensical ("Let's build prisons on the moon!").

If there was politics in the two comedians' performance, it was hard to find.

When surprise guest Yusuf Islam, the British singer formerly known as Cat Stevens, arrived onstage and began singing his hit "Peace Train," Colbert loudly interrupted him and introduced Ozzy Osbourne, who sang his hit, "Crazy Train" before Stewart interrupted him in turn. The two singers then engaged in a musical duel, guided by the two comedians.

Then they all stood aside as the O-Jays sang the Philadelphia soul classic, "Love Train."

“Law and Order” actor Sam Waterson read a poem and Don Novello (whose once played Father Guido Sarducci on “Saturday Night Live”) delivered a benediction. The Roots, Jeff Tweedy, Mavis Staples, Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow also performed.
All this money and star-power, that the left could really use. Instead... well... (?)

As I said, I am not sure what I think. As entertainment, it's just fine. But is that all it is?


DSens said...

What really annoys me about the John Stewart one is he seems be be being in the Lukewarm middle...he want's to restore sanity by having both sides stop shouting at eachother. Well, people habve the right to be angry with the Tea PArty...sometimes anger is needed and is not insane

sheila said...

I wish they would have publicized it like they did with Glen Becks...and maybe even covered it. I would have loved to watch it. I saw little snippets and it didn't appear to be comical...although I think that's what the media tagged it and so they didn't cover it. Maybe? I can't wait until the tea party fizzles away and they are just a bad memory. All their candidates are a very strange bunch.

Charles D said...

I was one of the quarter million people who showed up on the mall yesterday for the rally. Why were we there? I can't speak for others, but here are the thoughts that were running through my mind:

- After 2 years of Obama and 4 years of Pelosi/Reid, we all know that it really doesn't matter whether we vote Repug or Demorat we get the same corporate-controlled pro-war crapola.
- This rally will accomplish as much politically as any other rally held in Washington in the last 40 years. In other words, nothing. There is no point in marching or rallying or protesting. The government is not responsive to the people.
- "If that's all there is, the let's keep dancing, let's break out the booze and have a ball, if that's all there is."

We as a people need to find another way. Rallies aren't working, elections aren't working, violence never works, and waiting for a Savior is foolish.

Ann O'Dyne said...

Way down here at the bottom of Australia we get Stewart and Colbert on FTA TV weeknights, and the rally made newscasts tonight.
The O'Jays would have been worth the trip. The point of the rally would have been lost on the targets of the rally. Those sort of minds are impervious to Reason.
President Obama is pretty darn good and I wish y'all didn't want him to be impossibly PERFECT.

chaos said...

marches rallies and protests are the only way things actually get done. Civil rights, anyone? I suppose history tells us they have to be led by those outside of politics.

Charles D said...

Chaos, I used to think the same about rallies but learned my lesson when millions of people marched worldwide to protest the impending war in Iraq and the government didn't give a crap and went right ahead and did it with only token opposition in Congress.

The political environment has changed drastically since the civil rights movement. The hopes we all had that there would be more real change in America died with the 4 great leaders assassinated in the 1960's. Now that we have nonstop 24-7 worthless newsertainment that ignores any real voices for changes and trivializes the rest, holding a rally only serves to help the morale of those involved.

thene said...

I share your worries. Feels like a mixture of lack of organisational structure - the far right have the rich megachurches to base themselves out of - and the knowledge that no one on either side is ever going to listen to them because they're too in hock to those same rich megachurches. All we've got is entertainment, and it rarely crosses over into anything sincere or real. I wish I could see a way out.

SnowdropExplodes said...

@ DSens. I may be getting the wrong end of the stick from over here in the UK, but I got the idea that Stewart isn't saying "fdon't be angry", he's saying "mindless rage and comparing the other guys to Hitler all the time doesn't actually do anything to solve the things making us angry". Indeed, when he announced it, one of his suggested slogans was "I disagree with what you say, but I'm pretty sure you're not Hitler".

Shouting at each other actually doesn't help (no matter how good it feels and no matter how justified you may be in being angry). What I like about Stewart's show is that his interviews, even with politicians he clearly despises, are calm and measured but still getting his point across about why he feels the way he does about things.

Basically, I understood the point of the rally to be asking American politics to stop being one enormous Godwin fail.

As for the OP and all those young people who are not-yet-activists - I think probably it's worth trying to piggyback on the rally now and follow up. Engage on the level that those people were concerned about and look for what your platform has that speaks to the concerns expressed by the rally.

Anonymous said...

hey! people! the question isn't whether or not marching or protesting works. the question is: what are you marching or protesting for?

Dave Dubya said...

I admire the efforts to restore sanity and applaud all those who went. Stewart and Colbert are more than comedians. They are heroes compared to corporate media shills.

Unfortunately the corporate media, led by FOX(R), will only perpetuate insanity.

chaos said...

charlesd- i agree with lots of what you are saying. I personally have to do something to get rid of my negative energy even if it is futile. said...

Quite helpful piece of writing, much thanks for this article.