America has clearly seen better days. With infrastructure crumbling, high
school and college graduation rates no longer at their pinnacle, and the
TEA Party rearing its ugly, angry head like a serpent bent on total
ignorant and wanton destruction of that very thin line between “We the
people” and “We the mega corporation” any objective observer could look at
us from the outside and merely utter “holy shit” at the sight of it.
With the economic conditions in shambles comes anger and righteous
populism; however, it has never boiled down quite like this. The yelling
and the name-calling has reached a new level of vitriol, hyperbole and
paralysis, the likes of which we have never seen. While this is all going
on, our media sources have largely played into the TEA Party by giving
them plenty of exposure without doing nearly enough to question the
motives of their leaders and the TEA Partiers themselves.
It has gotten so bad that it took two comedians—not elected officials,
news casters, or community officials—to take the initiative to attempt to
restore sanity and civility to our undeniably fractured level of
discourse, and to pull back a country that leapt off the deep end of
things a very long time ago. John Stewart’s beckoning to restore sanity at
a rally on the National Mall was met with laughter, but below the surface
was greeted with a dire need to make good on it.
It had not really dawned on me to actually attend—in fact, I am not part
of the “Million moderate march” as Stewart put it—I am an outspoken
progressive NY Democrat. However, as a student of politics and history, I
realize the need for civility amongst our civic life—and not just the
half-assed attempts at bipartisanship politicians like to throw around to
court vacillating voters around election time, but the need to have adult
conversations about the direction as a collective body politic we need to
* * *
I met up with Brad and Ashley in Penn Station in New York City.
Coincidentally, we all almost missed our train due to delays or poor
reading skills. Luckily for us the train was delayed a few minutes and we
got on fine. Brad and I went to college together and we started talking
about how life after graduation had not really worked out as well as we
would have hoped. Ashley is currently a journalism student at the
University the two of us attended. School had been my safe haven from the
brutal economic realities; unfortunately, being in school was not exactly
a saving grace for Ashley: humanities programs are being targets to our
alma matter for cuts (“The world within reach” my ass. Great to see you
still have the money to throw down on losing sports teams though).
It really strikes you about the situation we find our country in as Amtrak
hovers along, bumping and squealing mechanically around Philadelphia. Just
from the window of the train car you can see abandoned factories littered
with broken windows. Rust adorns the sides of the building where, one can
assume, there used to be paint. Inside these hollowed structures probably
exist the jobs and the products that used to occupy the building. Long
gone are those days. The part of Baltimore we passed through was desolate;
certainly that part of the city had seen livelier times. Three-story
houses standing without purpose, boards over the windows and doors. It
looked like a scene directly out of the TV show The Wire. Their past
remains a daunting reminder of where we find ourselves today. It is almost
as if the cruel specter of the American dream that once was has appeared
to guide us out of the wilderness. Too bad ghosts do not have a lobbying
While we may have passed through what is commonly called “rust belt”
areas, we also passed through much of the sterile suburban areas America
became famous for. William Levitt broke ground in Levittown in the 1950s.
So many people, mostly on the right (generally) are yelling that we should
return to that era. Times were simpler then, they argue. This is true.
What is also true is many people in that era did not have rights, and
cigarettes were basically considered a food group: oh, America, the
beautiful. These are the things that have been left out; we have moved
passed that, and moved together.
Maybe it has to do with the fact that almost my entire life has been spent
in a community like Levittown, and maybe it’s because through college I
worked my hardest to get out of said community, only to graduate and
return with no hope of leaving in sight, but these places do not do
anything for me. They have no character, as far as I can see. They are
this Mecca of insulation that I cannot accurately explain to people who
are not from a similar background. It was very clear to see the sharp
contrast in landscape on the American continent, and we were only going on
a five hour train ride. The difference in landscape reflects the very
difference among our electorate.
Ashley and I talked for a while about the election, which at this point
was five days away and it looked as though the Democratic Party would be
losing the House of Representatives faster than you could say “Change you
could believe in”. We spoke at length about the TEA Party, which we both
seemed to come to many accords on; we also agreed that given the
circumstances, people have a right to be angry and frustrated, that people
could disagree on matters of policy; however, it comes with great
importance for the country that you be constructive about it. This is
something that the TEA Party has yet to show maturity—despite their
* * *
We got to DC and wandered around Union Station aimlessly for a little bit.
A transit authority worker was gracious enough to show us how to get
tickets and point us to our train. We were staying in a hotel in a
neighborhood indicated by the subway map as Roslyn. After we found the
hotel, we ventured off around the neighborhood to find a bite to eat.
As we sat down at a table, we heard the family next to us talking about
the rally. The young woman and her children told us they were from North
Carolina. We spoke for a little while. I indicated that I hoped that we
got more people to show up than Glenn Beck did. She agreed and said that
we would exceed his rally. She then added, “Anyone with half a brain will
come to this. It’s going to be great.”
We woke up early the next day to get set for the rally. The packed metro
trains, and phone calls early from other friends attending indicated to me
that this was going to be huge. As we climbed out of the subway station we
saw a sea of people walking towards the national mall. Not to sound corny,
but it was awe inspiring in a lot of ways.
As we settled into our spots, we started talking to the people next to us,
a couple around my parents’ age. They told me they were from Salsburry,
Maryland (I had asked if they were from Boston due to the Husband’s Red
Sox cap). They were friendly and engaging, and everything you would expect
of someone to be at a rally like this: a genuinely good person who cares
about the country’s direction. When they asked us where we were from this
conversation took place:
Me: “We’re from New York.”
Husband: “Oh, don’t hate us because of the hat!”
Me: “Oh, no, absolutely not. That is why we’re all here isn’t it? To
respect each other’s differences?“
We all laughed. They were good people. They also happened to run into the
only person in the state who could not care less about baseball.
One of the main aspects of the rally that immediately struck us was the
number of amazingly creative and funny signs we saw. Some of the notable
“Obama, bring back Arrested Development!”
“Palin/Beck 2012. How did the Mayans get it so right?”
“Oregon representatives: GO DUCKS!”
“This sign isn’t nearly as high as I am.”
“I’m not you.”
“The Constitution belongs to us too.”
“Generic political slogan”
Amongst many others.
Members of the coffee party were also there. They were informative, not
pushy, and handed out free stickers—you can never go wrong with free
stickers. Soon though, it was time to start the rally.
The Roots started the rally off and were soon joined on stage by John
Legend. They played a few songs. They were very good and the crowd was
receptive. Soon Jon came out and thanked everyone for being there.
Apparently Stephen was afraid and came to the rally at first, via
satellite from his “fear cavern”. Soon Jon was able to convince Stephen
not to be afraid and he emerged from the cavern dressed appropriately: in
a Captain America Costume.
Soon after, the two guys from Myth Busters came on stage and did a few
experiments with the crowd. It was fun, but not really the highlight of
the day. Stephen and Jon then came back on stage as Jon invited Yusuf
Islam (better knows as Cat Stephens) to come on stage and play “Peace
Train.” Colbert cut his off and invited Ozzy Osborne on stage to play
“Crazy Train”. Jon and Stephen then argued about the train they wanted to
get on and settled on “Love Train” by the O’Jays.
The Daily Show correspondents were amongst the audience, playing both
sides of the media, in showing the protest as being a success and a
failure. It was a great critique on the spin and subjectivity that the
media presents as fact and made a great point.
Jon and Stephen then gave out awards for “Reasonableness” or “Fear”.
Reasonableness award winners:
1. Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga (an umpire made a bad call ruining his
perfect game and Galarraga handled the mistake with grace).
2. Velma Hart who asked very tough questions to the President at a town
hall, but kept her civility and said they experience was mutually
3. Mick Foley who later threatened anyone who was not acting reasonable
saying, “If you get out of line, I will . . . come down there and politely
ask you to stop.”
4. Jacob Isom, the Youtube sensation who stopped someone from burning the
Fear medalists include:
1. The news organizations that would not let their employees go to the
rally for fear of “making them look bias.” The award was presented to
“Someone with more courage: a seven-year-old girl.”
2. Anderson Cooper’s tight black t-shirt.
3. Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater.
4. Teresa Giudice (apparently there’s a TV show about New Jersey
Housewives. Why didn’t the rally include a need to stop reality TV?)
5. Mark Zuckerberg
There were other musical acts, but I honestly do not remember enough about
them to talk about them. Tony Bennet did close with “I Left my Heart in
San Fransisco” and an Acapella version of “America the Beautiful”.
Karim Abdul Jabar also appeared as a “non-scary muslim”.
Stewart’s closing remarks were more along the lines of a plea with the
American people. He started with:
“I can’t control what people think this was. I can only tell you my
intentions. 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 to 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. “
He later went on to say “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.” His
criticisms of the press became more amplified as he stated: The press is
our immune system. If we overreact to everything we actually get
sicker–and perhaps eczema.”
The rally was overwhelmingly positive. Everyone was civil, fun and well
behaved. It seemed as though everyone had a great time and it did not
seem as though anyone got too out of line. It seemed as though people
were speaking freely with one another and in general, just explaining why
they came down, opening discourse with people from different places and
offering perspective. If only our government could do that.
The rally in a lot of ways was a joke, and just a place to have a good
time. However, it says a lot that two comedians could fill the national
mall with the idea of restoring sanity and/or fear. Colbert’s “fear”
throughout the rally was distinguished by called to reasonableness. The
idea that the people not screaming hyperbole are not the majority was the
overarching theme, along with media’s incessant need to drive up ratings
by giving coverage to the loudest voice. Well, many of us need to not
have a horse voice for work tomorrow, so we never get heard.
Stewart’s plea was not particularly directed at the audience, but really,
directed from it. Stewart was making an effort to speak for those in
attendance, and those who had other things to do. The idea that our
politics and media are so intertwined with one another, that sanity could
be so easily lost, is insane. Stewart was not merely speaking as a
comedian, but as a citizen calling for the restoration of order to a
system that, by and large, is no longer the bastion of sanity it was
created to be. The congress and the public, in a lot of ways, seem to
have shifted roles: the congress now being the unruly mass, and the
public now being the carriers of sense. But it comes back to that small
fraction that yells the loudest being thought of as “the voice of the
people”. What Stewart proved is sometimes it is not those who speak the
loudest, but those who speak, and whose voice shakes as they do it. Those
who speak the truth—or the truthiness if you will.
It is sad that our discourse has gotten to the point where we no longer
look to our leaders to lead us out of the troubled times, but when we
turn to satire to take our minds off of the absurdities of it all.
However, Stewart and Colbert effectively channeled that absurdity into
something that was overwhelmingly positive.