Rally for Sanity: Jon Stewart’s Call for Action
I traveled 15 hours to get to the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” on Saturday in Washington, D.C. Where did I come from? New York City. Was that insane?
What drove me to sit in Holland Tunnel traffic for 2 hours on a Friday night and crawl down the New Jersey Turnpike was probably the same thing everyone else en route was motivated by: Passion! A passion for having our voices heard, a passion for making the statement that our country is not controlled by extremists or haters, a passion for openly declaring our love for country, freedom, mutual tolerance and our way of life. These were the lovers that went down to our nation’s capital. By all accounts, more than two hundred thousand people attended the “Rally for Sanity and/or Fear”—twice the amount that showed up for Glenn Beck’s rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August. It was good to know that more people attended an anti-hate rally than a pro-hate one.
One of the most interesting aspects of the amazing turnout was its intergenerational quality. Twenty-somethings to sixty-somethings filled the overcrowded Metro and the National Mall. Some said they were liberals; others called themselves conservatives. Many said they were “moderates” not confined to labels. All were voicing their protest simply by their presence to the heated and empty vitriol currently favored by politicians and pundits. In Jon Stewart’s moving closing speech, he echoed this theme:
Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, Liberals or Conservatives.
How do Americans live their lives? He continued in his usual deadpan style:
Americans live their lives just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often something they do not want to do. But they do it. Impossible things that are only made possible by the little reasonable compromises we all make.
It was the “reasonableness” of ordinary people that Stewart and fellow funnyman Stephen Colbert emphasized. Jon Stewart declared:
We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate and how it is a shame that we can’t work together to get things done- the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here (gestures to Capitol Building) or on Cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on Cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the basis that sustains us while we get things done—not the barrier that prevents us from getting things done.
Stewart used the analogy of traffic merging into one line to get through a tunnel. He pointed out that somehow despite our differences we work together to get through to the other side:
But this is us…individuals with strong beliefs and principles they hold dear, often principles and beliefs in direct opposition to their fellow travelers…
Despite our differences we get through the tunnel:
…concession by concession: you go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go.
How does this impossible task happen? Stewart points out:
Because we know, instinctively, as a people, that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together. 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.
The theme of the Rally was exactly that—a call to action to work together to solve this country’s problems. The Rally provided an antidote to those wishing to divide our citizenry by claiming who is a “real” American. Colbert sang a little ditty on patriotic hypocrisy “It’s the greatest strongest country in the world…my roll of toilet paper used up 67 trees. There is no one more American than me.” The song gently mocked those who claim to “love” the U.S. at the exclusion of anyone who disagrees with their politics. Stewart tells Colbert, “Let’s not fight about who is more American than anyone else.”
The unity message was interwoven throughout the Rally and embodied in Stewart’s speech. He told the crowd:
This was not a Rally…to suggest that times are not difficult or 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 animas, and not be enemies.
Stewart expressed his belief that pundits and print reactionary journalism is the greatest barrier to finding compromise.
The country’s 24-hour, political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder…If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.
Stewart claimed that, “The press is our immune system.” Its higher purpose is to:
..hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen…If it overreacts to everything, we actually get sicker – and, perhaps, eczema.
Stewart assured the Mall crowd,
And yet…I feel good. Strangely, calmly, good. Because the image of Americans that is reflected back to us by our political and media process is false. It is us, through a funhouse mirror.
As if to prove Jon Stewart right ,the mainstream pundit machine responded in kind and mirrored the event through its funhouse mirror. The New York Times chose to relegate the 200k Rally report to page 24 in the Sunday Times. NPR barely gave it a cursory mention on Sunday morning talk shows. Pundits throughout Saturday on DC Metro radio and Sunday political gab fests poked holes in the Rally’s Call for Action. One pundit on Washington radio called it a “marketing ploy for Stewart and Colbert.” Another pundit on Halloween Sunday dismissed the Rally’s call for responsible and non-reactionary press as simply a testimony to Stewart and Colbert’s “star power” and nothing more.
Perhaps remarkably, the mainstream press missed the point that did not escape the hundreds of thousands of participants who traveled hours upon hours to get there. There is a strong opposition voice rising to the growing militancy and hysteria sweeping American politics and pundits. Stewart spoke of “the exhausting effort it takes to hate,” that makes us “less safe not more.”
Finally, funny man Jon Stewart spoke eloquent and serious words to the crowds who came to support his message of compromise and common concern.
Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine.
Thank you Jon. Thank you Stephen, Comedy Central and the Daily Show. You restored not only my sanity, but my faith in Americans to work together to move from the darkness back into the light. I and everyone else on the Mall this weekend spoke louder in action than words. For “we, the people,” who share the common value of live and let live, the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear has restored hope in a new and more “reasonable” America.
It was well-worth the 27 hours it took to get there and back.
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