Rally to restore sanity: a retrospective

{liberatormagazine.com exclusive feature}

Angus McLinn offers personal reflections on undercooked expectations and feelings of dislocation surrounding the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, which took place on October 30, 2010 on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., led by Jon Stewart and an in-character Stephen Colbert.

According to Wiki: The rally was a combination of what initially were announced as separate events. Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity and Colbert's satirical counterpart, the March to Keep Fear Alive. Its stated purpose was to provide a venue for attendees to be heard above what Stewart describes as the more vocal and extreme 15–20% of Americans who "control the conversation" of United States politics, the argument being that these extremes demonize each other and engage in counterproductive actions, with a return to sanity intended to promote reasoned discussion.

Rally to restore sanity: a retrospective
by Angus McLinn (Intern, The Liberator Magazine)

After 20 hours of watery coffee, fast food, and endless political attack ads, I was certainly ready for a bit of a sanity boost upon finally arriving in Washington, D.C. for Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Following a night of dorm room style reminiscing at George Washington University with an old friend, my group awoke bright and early to make our way to the National Mall a few blocks away and await the beginning of the rally.

The first thing that impressed me during the run up to the event was the sheer magnitude of the whole thing; by some estimates there were 215,000 estimated attendees and it wouldn’t surprise me if there were more. It was truly a sea of people who, judging by the license plates we spotted while stuck in traffic, came from all across the country. Naturally, the first thing that comes to mind when you’re sandwiched between the Washington Monument and the Capitol with a quarter million sign waving citizens are the great rallies and marches that had taken place in the neighborhood before, from the Bonus Army to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom to more recent activity, such as protests against Proposition 8 and the Iraq war. In this context, things started to get a little weird.

I found myself feeling strange, having a little difficulty taking myself and my fellow Americans seriously. This was compounded by the fact that we were all standing there with signs ranging from ‘Legalize Pot’ to ‘Who Would Jesus Bomb’ watching clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report on giant television screens. Twenty hours to get to D.C. and exercise my freedom of assembly with 215,000 others and we’re watching TV in front of the Capitol building. Something just wasn’t clicking.

While I’m all for a bit of good, clean, cable entertainment based fun, in the end I found the Rally to be somewhat disturbing. After all, what does it really say when you gather together that many people to watch Youtube clip length segments of Comedy Central programming followed by two hours and 48 minutes of pop culture icons and comedy routines with a brief, vaguely political epigram?

The lineup of musical guests epitomized the Rally’s lack of clear direction; Cat Stevens, The Roots, The OJs, Sheryl Crow, Ozzy Osbourne, and Kid Rock all made appearances. The clear takeaway from the event seemed to be that ironically coming together in the name of level-headedness was in fact a bit of a rash decision. It’s difficult not to feel silly when you’re protesting next to Winnie the Pooh and a guy whose sign reads “Sweaters are Warm”.

Probably the most distressing aspect of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Keep Fear Alive was that it matched the attendance of the most recent protest against what has recently become a decade of war in the Middle East twentyfold. And that’s using the estimates made by the organizers of the March 20th, 2010 anti-war protest; when using the numbers from a U.S. Park Police officer who was present there were 86 times as many people at Jon Stewart’s rally. The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Keep Fear Alive also had more attendees than the October 2nd, 2010 One Nation Working Together rally for better jobs as well as immigration and education reform as well as the October 11th, 2009 National Equality March (supporting equal protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people) and the March 21st, 2010 March for America (immigration reform). The only rally in Washington within the last year with higher attendee estimates was Glen Beck’s Restoring Honor Rally, which is hardly a consolation and was no less vague.

None of this is to say that the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Keep fear alive defied my expectations; just looking at the title and hosts offered a strong clue as to what was in store. Regardless, I couldn’t help but feel a little concern for my soul, and that of the country when it was illustrated that we as a nation are more inclined to rally, either irately or ironically, around entertainers than political figures and ideals. There are a lot of serious concerns in this country today that have reached a point where they need to be addressed. Aside from making this fact, and our inability to form a coherent response to it, abundantly clear, the event did little to confront these issues.