For most participants, the trip to the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” started with the subway Saturday morning. The lines to buy tickets looped around the station, and people crammed onto the trains, standing back-to-back with perfect strangers and looking out for the safety of their limbs as the doors closed.
It was like a snapshot from the popular YouTube videos of workers shoving people into trains in Tokyo during rush hour.
But were all these people really going to the rally?
Yes, they most definitely were. According to CBS News, 215,000 people (more than Rochester’s entire population) made their way to the Washington Mall at the call of T.V. personalities Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. The mall looked like a mix between a Halloween party and a political rally. I was able to spot “Where’s Waldo,” along with some popes and even Jesus.
Rally-goers were creative in their sign making, too, ranging from silly (“Is this the line for Justin Bieber tickets?”) to clever (“The mad hatter called. He wants his Tea Party back”). Vendors sold “I make Glenn Beck cry” T-shirts and Team Sanity and Team Fear signs were distributed.
The attempt to get anywhere near the stage was ironically anything but sane, as thousands of people fought for a good glimpse of the stage or view of a TV monitor. Was the rally worth all of this trouble?
As Stewart stated, a rally is either deemed a “tremendous success or a horrendous failure.” Saturday’s event was the former. The event combined comedy, entertainment and purpose perfectly into a three-hour event.
With performances ranging from Kid Rock to Tony Bennett to The Roots, there was something for everyone. They weaved the songs into the rally itself, as Stewart used Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” to back up his argument for reasonableness. Colbert, the advocate for fear, couldn’t bear to get on the “Peace Train.” Instead, he boarded Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” for a classic battle of the ballads. It all worked out in the end when
Colbert and Stewart compromised with the O’Jays’ “Love Train.”
The number of prominent musicians at the rally exceeded my expectations. I was looking forward to some quality entertainment — but not necessarily Tony Bennett or John Legend. Not only did these musicians entertain and excite the crowd, they helped convey the message of the rally. Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow, for example, performed “The Least That I Can Do is Care,” a song about tolerance.
Colbert and Stewart were the stars of the show, though. The two did what they do best by making meaningful, relevant points using humor — with Stewart assuming the voice of reason and Colbert responding with absurd, excessive fears.
During Stewart’s “Keynote Speech,” Colbert interrupted him, demanding a debate of reason versus fear. Colbert defended his beliefs, saying, “Not all the things that I or my fellow Americans are afraid of are not real. What about Muslims? They attacked us.” Stewart responded with his own efforts to instill reason and sanity, bringing out Muslim Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the basketball legend, to show that Muslims are not threats just because of their religion. Although there were smidgens of the rally’s message thrown into the debate, it turned just a little too silly, with a huge Colbert paper-mache figure appearing and Stewart “dying.” This goofiness took away from the importance of the rally, as the skit was too far away from the rally’s focus.
But “The Daily Show” star successfully restored the serious nature of his message in his “Moment of
Sincerity,” which closed the rally. He opened by stating, “I’m really happy you guys are here, even if none of us are really quite sure why we are here.” Despite his playful jabs, his speech clarified the rally’s significance. Without Stewart’s remarks, the rally would have failed to have significant substance.
Much of Stewart’s speech focused on the media’s poisonous negativity. “The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen,” Stewart said.
“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.”
And he’s right. The news is overridden with gloomy predictions and fears — from terrorism to bacteria in our water bottles to getting cancer from cell phones. The press is simply not doing its job. Instead of the media enhancing our understanding of issues, it blasts new worries and concerns at us 24 hours a day.
Think about the news coverage you see everyday — how much of it is positive? Do all the new fears actually get through to us or have we begun to tune it all out? As Stewart said, “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”
Stewart also discussed the media’s pessimistic and incorrect representation of the American people, stating that the press is like a fun house mirror that makes us “have a giant forehead and an ass shaped like a month-old pumpkin and one eyeball.” If we are depicted this way, no one will want to cooperate with each other. We are not the crazies that the media depicts, and the news organizations only hurt our desire to come together, because “Why would you reach across the aisle to a pumpkin-assed, giant forehead, onr-eyeball monster?”
Stewart reminded us of a simple. Yet worthy message: We are not combative, disagreeable people that the media may portray. We live our everyday lives as Americans, not as Democrats or Republicans, and we work together every day to get things done.
Colbert directed the audience’s attention to the jumbotron screens to make this point, which displayed the image of cars merging into a single lane a tunnel entrance. The drivers all have a common purpose — to get through the tunnel. To do so they must cooperate, applying a “you go, then I go” approach, despite their differences evident in their beliefs, appearances and bumper stickers.
“Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back to the light, we have to work together,” Stewart said. “And the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together.”