Staying home on Halloween almost feels wrong; I normally love the holiday and dressing up, but this year I am in my pajamas, about to watch a few episodes of The Simpsons’ Tree house of Horror. I find it is the best way to unwind and work off my jet lag, since I just got back from D.C. this morning. First of all, if you’re ever given the option to fly from the East to West at 6 a.m., just say no. That part was not my idea. What was my idea was a quick turn around to D.C. to participate in Jon Stewart and Colbert’s “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.”
I knew it was going to be a big crowd, but I have honestly never been a part of a crowd of over 200,000 people. It was kind of overwhelming.
Yeah, I am somewhere in there in the middle. Can you spot me? Yeah. I was actually kind of over to the right, near the trees. For much of the rally, I was stuck behind a tree and couldn’t see a whole lot, but eventually I got a good view of a jumbotron.
The best part of it was just being there and being a part of that crowd. I’ve read a few responses to the rally today online, and I’m disappointed with the way a lot of writers have misinterpreted or looked for the negativity in it.
No, it was not a political rally. Say what you want about the audience of The Daily Show and Colbert Report being mostly liberal, but I was there, and the message was pretty apolitical. One of the friends that I went with is a Conservative. While the rally did in many ways mock Glenn Beck’s recent rally(mostly just in name and location), it was a lot more about musicians playing, and Stewart and Colbert doing their usual satire on mainstream news media.
But I’ve read a lot of complaints (mostly in blogs) about how it demonstrates the lack of purpose and direction of moderate to liberal generation x/y-ers, how depressing it is that 200k people would gather to mock something rather than to do something, and that no one really knew why they were all there.
Now I know everyone had his/her own understanding of what it meant to be there and why. But from being there, interacting with people,and listening to the performances, I can say that I think that the fact that it was a mock-rally-turned-rally is exactly the point. The people who have complained that instead of attending a mock rally, young people should be rallying for specific causes miss the actual point. If there was a point, part of it, I’d say, is that at some point, we’ve all got to look around at the culture of extremist politics and say “Enough is enough!”
Sure, there are causes that I support, but no, I don’t want to carry around signs, shout, and call people names. I don’t want to listen to people who are doing just that, no matter what the message is. Nor do most people, I assume. Because shouting, taking on extreme ideologies, creating artificial dichotomies of “us” versus “them” is just counter productive and a waste of time. There aren’t “good guys” and “bad guys.” There are people who might have opinions that I strongly disagree with, but I don’t think that they are necessarily awful people (ok, some are, but not most). I am obviously not alone in that sentiment. So if anything, the rally’s point was to shed light in a humorous fashion on how absurd political culture has become, and that we need to stop yelling and start listening more. We all want to see some kind of change, and we might all slightly disagree on what kind of change, but unless we make small compromises, NOTHING will change.
Jon Stewart’s speech at the end (which was followed by Tony Bennett singing; I’m not gonna lie, that was pretty dope), was inspiring, in my opinion. I liked his example of freeway traffic that has to merge lanes to make it through a tunnel– each driver of each car has a different perspective; we might even disagree with the sticker on his/her car, or the type of cars the others drive. But then we get over it, and we let one person go, then I go, then you can go, then I’ll go– until everyone squeezes into those lanes. That is indeed what happens every minute in America, and we need to remind ourselves of what we can accomplish when we work together.
But more than that, I am still annoyed and maybe offended by one popular OC blogger that calls people like me at the rally cowards or weak for not truly fighting for important causes– his example was the DREAM act; a cause that I also feel strongly about, and so I felt even more offended by his assertion that I give in to mainstream culture and don’t stand up for a cause.
But what I wish that people with that kind of attitude would remember is that real social change, real change when you see ideologies shift and stretch to bring about good to more people, comes not from any extreme position, but from subtle change in the middle. Civil rights, womens’ suffrage,and workers’ rights started with extreme points of view, but were effective when people in the middle of the political spectrum started talking, listened to new perspectives, and made minor concessions. The drafters of the United States Constitution were not the homogeneous patriots that people today imagine; it was also created concession by concession, with Adams and Jefferson strongly disagreeing on the role of federal government throughout. But rational discourse and compromise made it happen.
So what did this rally accomplish? Maybe nothing. But if it encouraged some people to stop bickering and start listening to one another, if it encouraged people to talk rationally instead of shouting over one another, then I think it was worth it.
Remember when I said I was standing in the part of the mall where the trees are? Well after a while, people started climbing those trees to get a better view. One young guy tried climbing, but got kind of stuck on the way up. People started shouting advice and encouragement to him, and as he seemed to get a strong grasp, people clapped for him. Then his foot slipped, and a collective sigh/groan came out of the surrounding crowd. “Yes you can! Yes you can!” the hundreds in our section began chanting. He pulled himself up a little more to where someone else in the tree could give him a hand and help him up the rest of the way. As he waved back down to his audience, the crowd burst into applause and cheers. If my little corner of the rally was in any way emblematic of the rest of the crowd, then I am optimistic about the potential of American people.