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A Glimpse Into My ‘Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear’ Experience

| On 02, Nov 2010

My vantage point from the Rally to Restore Fear and/or Sanity. Remember, there are two sets of Jumbotrons IN FRONT OF the actual stage. That's how far back I was. #fail (Photo courtesy of Stevie/PJM)

For the past couple of weeks on Twitter, I reminded everyone that I would be attending the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” in Washington, D.C. The event was hosted by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report.

Well, the big day came this past Saturday. I’m still alive, so that’s always a good start.

The event, for those that don’t know, was a call to “restore more sanity” to the way we do politics, punditry, etc. The media is dominated by fringe groups and voices. Sometimes the regular people, like us, who lead real lives get lost in the shuffle. The rally spoke to people that have priorities: work, bills, debt, relationships, and other miscellaneous things to do.

One thing I can say from the rally is that I’m a little more sane, yet a bit more fearful after Saturday. Here’s why. Lol…

In my life, I have never been surrounded by that many people in one space. Seriously. For someone who enjoys his personal space, quiet time, and small gatherings, being on the National Mall with an estimated 215,000 – 250,000 people was a whole helluva a lot.

The day started with me missing breakfast, grabbing snacks, fighting the mega crowds on the Metro train, and standing for a whopping three stops to get to L’Enfant Plaza. I felt ready for anything. I exited at the station with (what seemed like) a trillion other people and headed upstairs to the intersection of 7 Street SW & D Street SW.

Immediately, I was met with some friendly faces and a whole lot of handmade rally signs. Many of them were sarcastic or ambivalent in nature. Others were just downright funny as hell. I stopped and took a bunch of pictures and tapped my inner tourist for a quick second.

It was cold outside. So I bundled up, got a hot dog, bought a rally memento, and followed the crowd of people toward the National Mall a few blocks away.

The closer I got to the Mall, the more I could tell that my Saturday was going to be one of the longest of my life. The nice steady stream of people, in almost an instant, turned into people going in 170 different directions. Some were stopped and taking pictures, while others trying to find the closest entrance to the stage (there were none at this point). I just followed the crowd into the “center” of the gathering (between the U.S. Capitol and Washington Monument).

By the time I got squeezed (literally) into my standing room only area on the Mall, it was a few minutes before 12:00 noon, the official start time of the Rally. To say we were packed in like sardines was an understatement. Let’s just say I could easily tell who did and didn’t wash their ass on Saturday morning. In my opinion, sanity starts with warm soap and water. Others may not agree with me.

For all the hype and my own excitement, a few harsh realities set in standing right there on the National Mall in the first few minutes. For starters, even if I wanted to move to another location, I couldn’t. There were too many people around. Next, I couldn’t see any damn thing around me. People were holding up signs blocking my view of the nearest Jumbotron that was at least a quarter of a mile away. So, I thought I would look past the signs and try to find the actual stage. Umm, it was a half-mile away. I was failing at every turn.

So, I was resigned to stand there and listen to all of these eclectic music acts do their thing (i.e., John Legend, The Roots, Tony Bennett, Sheryl Crow, Ozzy Osbourne, Mavis Staples, etc.) without ever laying eyes on their human frames. Then Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert hit the stage. Just like the musicians, they were performing in my mind. I was stuck on the National Mall listening to Jon Stewart, the host of one of my all-time favorite shows, like he was the voice of God from heaven. I could hear him, but couldn’t see him. Later in the program, after some people lowered their signs, I was able to get a few glimpses of Stewart and Colbert on the Jumbotron.

An ode to U.S. Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell. One of the thousands of hilarious signs on the National Mall on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of Stevie/PJM)

The message from the stage in all of this madness was that the loudest fringe groups shouldn’t always have a say in our political and media discussions. I agree. There are real people with real jobs out here who care about issues affecting the country, but they have other more pressing priorities. The event blended music, comedy and satire into a neat three-hour package for the everyday citizen who is fed up with business as usual.

One of the most memorable things from the rally was its ability to be so non-political with hints of political overtones. It didn’t make much sense to me at first, but I kinda get it now. The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear spoke not to the issues or politicians themselves, but more to the conversation and attitudes we have about them. For instance, people can respectfully disagree with Sarah Palin. But, do those same people have to be labeled as those who “don’t love America” if they don’t share her viewpoints? You get it.

Everyone keeps asking me what I thought about the rally. It has received glowing reviews from what I’ve read. But, I respectfully disagree.

Yes, the event was great and well put-together. However, there was a figurative 800 lb. gorilla on the National Mall that not many people were talking about. The rally was three days before the midterm elections. Without supporting a specific political party, I felt there were a host of other ways Stewart and Colbert could have engaged the audience in the political process.

Reminding people that we need more sanity in politics makes sense only when we have the offending politicians and media outlets at or near the same table. To me, it was a bit of preaching to the choir. I kept wondering how much was public debate really going to change even after a rally hosting 215,000 people. I’m still not sure.

It will be interesting to see how the rally plays out in the media after today’s midterm elections. Stewart definitely had a willing audience for this one with over two million TV viewers, 500,000 web viewers, and 215,000 people in his face. In his next public venture, I want to see him more hard-hitting and politically challenging like he is on his program. It is that clear, yet sarcastic, voice of reason that does not have a  loud voice in politics and media.

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