We went to Washington DC with very good friends of ours, who were kind enough to drive. We had booked our hotel about a month earlier not long after the rally was announced, and found some inexpensive hotel rooms at a very pleasant Holiday Inn near Old Town Alexandria, VA. That turned out to be a great decision, since downtown Washington would have been a complete zoo. We were a 20-minute Metro ride from the rally, and since we were so far out we had no problem getting comfortable seats before the crowds started piling on.
The excitement mounted as we approached the National Mall. We were surrounded by others who were also obviously heading for the rally; many wore T-shirts and other "Rally to Restore Sanity" or "Fear" paraphernalia. We arrived at the National Mall a little before 10 a.m. and walked along, heading toward the direction of the stage,taking pictures of signs that we thought were noteworthy, and finally realized we'd reached a spot as close as we could get; the front section was already packed with people and was closed off. We eventually ensconced ourselves in front of a Jumbotron, behind a crowd control gate. As it turned out, this was an excellent decision, since later arriving attendees were so far back they weren't even close to a Jumbotron and had trouble hearing any of the performances, let alone seeing them.
So, what was it all about? It was a combination of musical acts (The Roots, Sheryl Crowe, John Legend, Kid Rock, Ozzie Osborne, Yusuf - formerly Cat Stevens in his previous life, the O'Jays, Mavis Staples), Daily Show/Colbert type skits (Fear vs. Sanity) and more. The crowd was warmed up by the music of The Roots, then by the guys from Discovery Channel's show "Mythbusters", who got the crowd to do a "wave" from front to back, then from both ends of the crowd. They also had everyone jump and land at once to see if it caused a seismograph to register the impact as a slight earthquake (it did; very slight, like a 35 mph crash of a car into a wall).
There were a number of points made in the course of all this. I sent an update to our local "placeblog," Baristanet.com, where they kindly published my comments. Here is what I had said about the rally:
"The rally seemed to attract a truly like-minded crowd full of people who really did feel as if things have gone way too far beyond insane in politics. Jon Stewart’s main message, based on his final speech, was that the 24/7, all-hype all the time, news media is doing us a disservice; that most Americans are willing and able to compromise in order to get things done. He used the example of a stream of traffic gradually narrowing down to one lane to get through a tunnel – no matter what their beliefs, they are all just trying to get to their jobs and get things done, and they are able to give a little in order to get a little.
A lot of great points were made – that just because people of Muslim descent happened to be the terrorists who blew up the Towers, doesn’t mean all Muslims are terrorists. That individuals should be considered, not groups.
The guest stars were all great, the music was too. It was a huge crowd. I’ve never gone to something like this before, so can’t judge, but it sure looked as if an immense number of people attended this rally. There were people for peace, people for irony, people who were pro-Democrat, people who were pro-nonpartisan. It was all good. Everyone was polite and no one littered as far as I could see (a special request from Jon Stewart). We were thrilled to see and hear the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens (now called Yusuf) sing “Peace Train.” There were a lot of amazing musical acts and the crowd enjoyed it all."
At the end, when Jon Stewart got serious, it was very inspiring. I know this was not a Martin Luther King moment or anything like that; don't get me wrong. Jon Stewart is a comedian, I know all that. But he was serious about this. And he said it so well. This article describes the effect of the speech better than I could. If you haven't heard the speech yet, please click on it below:
I know, I know, you want pictures. So here are the ones I took:
Yes, I admit, between the Christine O'Donnell ones and stuff like this one below, not all the signs were nonpartisan. But the majority of the ones I saw were in the spirit of the rally.
This sign said "Pray God is on EVERYONE's side!"
Then there were silly ones like this....
These twin Obama signs listing his accomplishments were held by two red-headed twins, who unfortunately walked by too fast for me to get the full effect.
Many signs referenced the origins of the sign-holders. They came from all over the country.
One of the Jumbotrons showing videos from the shows leading up to the rally before the rally actually began.
Loved this one. I know it's hostile and not in the spirit of the rally, but it was good nevertheless.
People of all ages were there, from kids up to seniors who were probably at the 1963 MLK march.
Below is my friend's daughter with her ironic handmade sign (we found cardboard and a Sharpie at the event for her to make a sign). It says "Notice. This is a really bad notice. Thank you for noticing this notice. Your notice will be noticed.* *This asterisk means nothing, Mr. Ates." Mr. Ates is her history teacher. Don't ask me what it all means but she was proud of it.
It also came in handy when our feet got tired, as we were able to sit on it instead of on the damp grass.
This is her dad holding up the shirt he bought on the way in to the rally, which shows a picture of Bush and says "I screwed you all, but thanks for blaming it on the black guy."
Crowds on the steps of what may be the National Gallery of Art (or possibly the Museum of Natural History), taken as we were leaving.
Leaving the Mall at the end of the event was not an easy task. The crowds were packed tightly and moved slowly; yet everyone was polite and in a good mood. Then once we finally made it to the Metro, it was even worse - people were packed in like sardines. Again, everyone was still patient and pleasant. We finally got on a train back to Alexandria, arrived at our hotel, and settled in to the bar for a couple of drinks and nachos, followed by dinner in the hotel. We had hoped to go into Old Alexandria for dinner but couldn't face walking another step.
Naturally, since the rally, there have been hundreds of articles written, blog posts posted, and discussion about the event.
Keith Olbermann was not happy that Jon Stewart showed clips of him as well as Fox News pundits, as an example of extremism. He says, with some justification, that it really is a false equivalent to compare his show to, say, Glenn Beck's. His contention is that he reports on actual facts, not made-up stories, and adds emotion to them, which is not the same as the kind of fear-mongering done over at Fox. However, he has announced that he will suspend the "Worst Persons in the World" segment of his show and replace it with something that is less over the top. If you click on the link it also includes a video clip of his comments.
Rachel Maddow also weighed in on the rally. In her show, she concluded with praise for Stewart, saying (paraphrased slightly since I couldn't find an exact transcript):
"I have two things to say about Jon Stewart's speech: Number 1: Bravo. And Number 2: Bravo. I'm a small l and capital L liberal and that 'you go, I go, you go, I go' principle, I believe it and I am really happy that in my country over 200,000 people turned out to cheer that. No joke."
Now, I know a lot of liberals are unhappy that Jon Stewart skewered the Left along with the Right in his show. But I also know a lot of liberals who don't admit that there is some nasty extremism on both sides. Maybe Jon would have been better off showing a few clips like these, instead of Keith Olbermann or Ed Schultz:
Because, let's face it, a lot of us liberals don't like to think about the fact that there are nutjobs on both sides of the fence. "Oh no," we say. "We're not like THEM. Besides, we're right! Bush IS a serial killer - and a war criminal!" Well, yes, technically if you consider sending people to war as being a serial killer, he has killed a lot of people - indirectly. And yes, we shouldn't have gotten into that war in the first place. It's a complicated issue and yes, more should have been done to bring to justice people who committed atrocities on Iraqis. But no matter what, he's still NOT HITLER. Which is Jon's point. (Now Cheney...he comes a little closer, in my opinion....)
So let's see...what else has caused controversy? Oh yes, of course. Yusuf. The former Cat Stevens, turned Muslim 30+ years ago. Back in 1989 he seemed to agree with the fatwah against author Salmon Rushdie. He claims to have been taken out of context and misunderstood. From the abridged video clip on the internet it's really hard to tell what his intentions were in the British television show in which he participated. The full episode link cannot be found.
If you go to the Frequently asked questions section of his website you can get his responses to many of the controversies surrounding him. Personally I tend to believe in his sincerity. But you know what? It was over 20 years ago. Since he now says he did not believe that, even at the time, I have to take him at his word. And even if he did believe it at the time, his actions since then have been about peace and philanthropy. Funny how we can always forgive someone's foibles (the late Senator Robert Byrd's racism comes to mind) unless, of course, they are a Muslim.
Yusuf was one of the many Muslims who expressed their deepest sympathies and sorrow over the 9/11 attacks. He issued a press release, as follows:
"I wish to express my heartfelt horror at the indiscriminate terrorist attacks committed against innocent people of the United States yesterday. While it is still not clear who carried out the attack, it must be stated that no right thinking follower of Islam could possibly condone such an action: the Qur'an equates the murder of one innocent person with the murder of the whole of humanity.
We pray for the families of all those who lost their lives in this unthinkable act of violence as well as all those injured; I hope to reflect the feelings of all Muslims and people around the world whose sympathies go out to the victims at this sorrowful moment."
He also performed an a capella rendition of "Peace Train" for the Concert for New York City in memory of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
From his other website, here are his comments on his participation in the rally:
"The show was a huge success. At a time when battle clouds are gathering and the country is bracing itself for another dangerous political showdown, about one hundred and fifty thousand ‘sanity seekers’ converged on the Capital and enjoyed a blissfully sunny, bright and funny Autumn afternoon on the lawn.
This event may not change the world, or the destiny of the elections, but it was great reminder of the peaceful hopes of many, to rise up and re-state their ardent wish for more sanity and less fear. Glad I was there."
So, given his controversial past, why did Jon Stewart choose to have Yusuf at the rally? Personally I think that he was part of the point Jon Stewart was trying to make; that we all have different beliefs and yet we manage to get along during our daily lives.
And besides, he needed him to sing "Peace Train," so Ozzie Osborne could interrupt with "Crazy Train," and then both be driven off the stage with the O'Jays singing "Love Train." It wouldn't have worked without the "Peace Train" part.
It was not the first time Yusuf has been involved with Stewart/Colbert. He appeared on Colbert's show in May of 2009.
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
I hope people who still can't forgive Yusuf for a controversy that is two decades old will not magnify his appearance all out of perspective and castigate Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for including him in the show. I can tell you, the attendees went nuts when he started singing "Peace Train" and actually booed when Colbert interrupted the song!
The main point Jon Stewart was making, besides toning down the rhetoric and trying to work together, was that we need our news to be news, not commentary. It seems as if there is nowhere to turn anymore for truly unbiased news - news where the reporters TRULY report, and let YOU decide, ironically copying the Fox News motto.
I have to say, even the New York Times, which I used to really feel was the "paper of record," has been disappointing me in this regard in the past several years. More and more, stories appearing on the front page that should be straight news reports, include a level of subjectivity and bias that is obvious. Sometimes they have articles labeled "news analysis," which is OK because at least it warns you that this is what you are reading. But more and more I'm seeing this tone in articles with no such labels.
Come on, Fourth Estate. You can do better. Let's get back to real news and stop telling us what it all means. Let US figure it out. And go vote accordingly.
Last, many people who weren't at the rally are commenting on blogs and other forums that this was a corporate sponsored event, that it wasn't grassroots, that the people who attended are just silly and didn't even know why they were there. I disagree. While Comedy Central and The Daily Show and Colbert Report initiated this rally, it took off beyond their wildest expectations. They only had a crowd permit for 60,000 people. They got almost 3 times that many. Many people I know through the progressive blogs and Facebook pages I read immediately decided to go - some made their reservations to fly the morning after the announcement of the rally. I was at that rally, I saw signs from people all over this country and from other countries as well. There were satellite rallies in other cities. Whatever Colbert and Stewart envisioned this rally to be (and I do think Stewart was completely sincere in his final speech, that he really does want to restore some semblance of sanity to this country), it succeeded beyond their expectations and tapped into something deep in the American psyche, especially among moderates and progressives.
No, it wasn't the Martin Luther King march for civil rights in 1963. But it was something important, and it sends a message to Congress - whoever may control it after today - that the American public is sick to death of what's been going on for the past - heck, 10 years. Thirty years? More?
Biggest message of all, which wasn't stated, but I think implied by holding the rally right before the election - GO VOTE FOR SOMEONE SANE TODAY.