Sunday, October 31, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear)

Because who wants to go to sleep at 3 am when the bus returns home, when one can blog instead?

You will hereby ignore my spelling errors. I am tired, and you are about to appreciate a first-hand account of an historic event, however sloppy that account may be.

The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear was amazing. If nothing else, it refreshed my faith in humanity. Every single human being crammed into the National Mall that day stood together to represent, not ideology, but humanity. People were there to smile, talk, and cheer, not frown, yell, and jeer. It was politics at, I would contend, its best: a gathering of the people, not in protest, but in celebration of life in this great nation.

The rally at 7:00 AM, when we arrived. People already are getting spots. We decided to get coffee instead. Technically, I got apple cider.
I'm not sure how it's going to be portrayed in the media; knowing the networks, it'll either be "a modern Woodstock for peace-lovers of the 21st century" or "a socialist left-wing hippie march that was much to do about nothing." Either way there are hippies involved.

Here's basically what went down: People gathered on the Mall. They brought signs that urged America to either relax, laugh, or get along. We're talking things like "I love cheese" to "I'm not afraid of Muslim people," and "This sign is spelled correctly" to "I don't think anyone likes taxes but I understand their importance to society." It was satire meets - well - sanity. And that was the point.

The point was to stop yelling at people and start talking to people.

Satire and sanity, the messages of the rally.
Two men from LA we met while getting our drinks. They made signs urging people to get their facts straight.
Perhaps the most amusing of the group is the "No Sings" sign. Three cheers for irony.
That's the spirit: let's chill.
A sane sign if I ever saw one: the perfect rallying call. Instead of yelling, how about listening.
The rally wasn't an anti-Tea Party rally, though there were people there who might have thought it was. It wasn't an anti-conservative rally, or an anti-discontent rally. It wasn't for Obama supporters and it wasn't for liberals: it was for people who wanted to stop yelling. It was a rally to be civil and sane, a march to say no to, to borrow the phrase, the politics of hate.

As John Steward noted in his strikingly moving closing remarks, "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 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 press," he said, "can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic. If we amplify everything we hear nothing."

Our view, more or less. Jumbo-Trons and the Capitol. You can make out the stage past the white thing on the left.
That, perhaps, most truly stuck at the message of the event: we can't look at everything and be scared. During the comedic proceedings of the rally, Steven Colbert, the "supporter of fear" (for the purposes of the show, of course), demonstrated the horrible state of the country though media montage, mocking, incidentally, the insanity with which our television networks operate, constantly crying that the end is near, that the "other side" is evil, that we are unsafe. And when they do that, when they tell us how bad everything is and could be, we get scared, and we listen. But it's not right.

The duality theme "sanity vs. fear" which served as the driving force of the rally's message.
Stewart detracted from Colbert's examples. He brought onto the stage examples of good people, and good actions. He exemplified Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga for remaining calm and civil in the face of one of the worst calls in baseball history; he awarded Velma Hart for facing the President with tough questions in a town hall meeting but for remaining civil, and speaking to him, even though the two disagreed; he applauded Mick Foley, a professional wrestler who stands up Make-a-Wish and RAINN, a man who appears violent on television but in the real world is actually saner, a comment, I think, that Stewart was trying to make on the reality of America; and he brought Jacob Isom to the stage, a YouTube sensation famous for having simply ripped the Quran out of the hands of book-burners, shouting simply, "Dude, you have no Quran."

The last example may have been the most important, for two reasons. First, a note on the media. Do we hear about book burnings? You bet. Do we hear about failed book burnings that fail because noble people intervene? Of course not. That's not news. That's not controversy. That's civility. No one said it at the rally, but I think this example really highlights something: we heard about this event on YouTube. Real Americans, doing real, honest, everyday things, on YouTube. Why? Because the news is extreme. The "news" tells us the wost of things, not the truest of things. Everyday heroes are found in the real world, not the news world. It takes a local news station or a self-broadcast YouTube video to remind Americans that 90% of us are real, good, reasonable people. 10% are extreme, 5% on each end. They get the news coverage, that's for sure. But Saturday, some of that 90% turned out to voice their lack of frustration. That's what the rally was, I would say. A demonstration of the masses (over 200,000) of Americans willing to stand up and say: "I'm not with crazy. I'm with sanity."

200,000 Americans. Well, you can't see them all.
More Americans (behind us) that couldn't get quite as close as we did before barricades were put in place.
It's not a picture of escalators. Look behind: those are masses of people leaving DC.
But I have strayed. The second reason for awarding Isom is the obvious: because, as the rally did make the political effort to stress, time and time again, Muslims are not evil. There was no dancing around the issue: Colbert literally said they are evil, that they attacked us on 9/11, and Stewart literally said no. He replied that non-Americans attacked us on 9/11, and they happened to be Muslim. Just as thousands of Americans happen to be Muslim, and they aren't evil. To drive the point home, he brought Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, basketball star and, sure enough, Muslim. Colbert admitted that, perhaps, his generalization had been mistaken.

And that's where they let it be, until Stewart's remarks at the end. "The inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe not more," Stewart contended, to resounding applause, "The press is our immune system.  If we overreact to everything we actually get sicker--and perhaps eczema."

But the tone of the rally was not negative, ultimately:

"And yet, with that being said, I feel good—strangely, calmly good.  Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false...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 or on cable TV.  But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV.  Where we live our values and principles form the foundations that sustains us while we get things done, not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done.  Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives.  Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do—often something that they do not want to do—but they do it--impossible things every day that are only made possible by the little reasonable compromises that we all make."

The free rally-towels, essential because one should always carry a towel.
We were really there. See?
My wall souvenir. That totally makes the 9-hour-each-way drive(s) worth it.
The message to take away was this: Americans, all Americans, are real people who work together. We already do it. We don't see it in partisan politics, we don't see it in the media, and we don't see it from extremist rallies. But that's not really America, that's a distortion. Real Americans, real people, have the capacity to come together, to rebuild cities, to ensure a brighter future, to not merely coexist peacefully and sanely but to truly thrive in the "greatest, strongest country in the world."


  1. Great Blog...sounds like you really had a great time!! Thanks for giving me some insight!

  2. In my era we had Woodstock, which was about me and fun. You and those who turned out at the Mall, congrats. it's about all of us and sanity.

  3. Brian....your blog was extremely informative and very well written, even if you were sleepy! If you ever run for office, you have my vote, hands down!!

  4. karol Cohen said

    Brian I loved reading your blog. Great insight as always. You can be a writer a politician, a computer geek or whatever you want. I am quite a fan of yours...and Colbert & Stewart. Thank you Cheryl for sharing.

  5. Brian, you should submit this to the Daily.
    It is awesome.

  6. wait a minute here.... we just got through an election where many of the right wing fanatics were voted into office by the ordinary citizen. it's going to be difficult to "keep my cool" while the crazies continue to build up their power. maybe the next rally can be called: "restore the sanity and get rid of the crazies"? also, being civil to uncivil people is like trying to be reasonable with unreasonable people- it ain't easily done! however, i admire your optimism and pray that your future is more in tune with your outlook on life. it certainly would be a better world.


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