A Canadian couple came over to me as I was sitting on a park bench in front of the Lincoln Memorial, trying to fend off a squirrel who wanted to share my snack. It was an obvious photo op as the cheeky little rodent climbed onto my bag, looked over my shoulder at my laptop, then sat on my keyboard eying me expectantly. I think he and I ended up on about a dozen passing cameras.
The Canadians noticed my Rally button and gushed, “Oh, were you there? We were, too! What an incredible experience!”
Like many who attended, the Canadian couple had decided almost spontaneously to come to the Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear). As Jon Stewart had announced it, the event was supposed to be a rally for “The Rest of Us,” all the people who weren’t marching in front of TV cameras screaming extremism. All of us who have families, jobs and lives, trying to get along with each other and get on with it, and are thoroughly sick of the opposite political poles drawing Hitler mustaches on each other.
“We said, ‘That’s for us! Maybe we’ll get to meet some nice, normal Americans for a change, not just the loonies we always hear about on the news.’ So we got our parents to mind our goats, and we made our reservations.”
The couple and I never really introduced each other, just talked about how we both had animals, which made it difficult to travel, and how grand the experience of the Rally had been. “It was so worth it! We’ve met so many really nice people. And we couldn’t believe how many came!”
I was pretty impressed myself. The show that Colbert and Stewart put on was silly at times, but with a serious undertone. Fear and hyperbole divide people, make them afraid of each other, and that isn’t helpful. The Right and Left are not nearly as evil as they are made out to be, and could probably find common ground if it wouldn’t be painted as colluding with the enemy. Evidently this message resonated with an awful lot of folks.
“It was a historic event,” my Canadian friend concluded. “I think it was the Woodstock of our generation.”
It really did have the feel of a 1960s peace rally (for those of us old enough to remember what that felt like). But it was structured specifically to accommodate people who couldn’t sacrifice a large chunk of time. It was not youth oriented, or party oriented. There was no drinking or drug use (at least if there was, it was very discreet). All ages, lots of families. They came from all over the country (and outside, like the Canadians I talked to) driving or flying in from Texas, Indiana, Florida, Wisconsin, South Carolina, New England, just to be there for the afternoon. Then they had jobs and obligations to get back to.
But for one, beautiful, sunny afternoon on the Washington DC Mall, an astonishing number of mostly normal (if there really is such a thing) people got together to say phooey on extremism. I took random crowd shots the whole time I was there, and they say it all. The diversity of the crowd included all races, genders, ages, agendas, yes,including the left wing. “Legalize Pot”, but also, “Let’s Get Along”. “Fear Beck-ons”, but also “Don’t Be Mean” and “Friends don’t let friends vote angry”. “Coffee, not Tea” but also “Conservatives for Sanity” (which included the subtitle, “If I’m in your way, just let me know”).
In keeping with the theme, many of the signs went something like, “I’m not entirely happy with various aspects of the Government, but I’m okay with tolerating it for an indefinite period of time” and “Hey, Society, what’s with the ludicrous need to put a label on everyone? We are not cans of soup!” and “Give us insights, not sound bites!” and “Sanity is not just for Liberals.”
Some folks took an attitude that parodied the whole business of protest and sign-waving with messages like, “This sign could have been more creative…” and “Hurry up, I have sh*t to do!” and “Is this the line for Justin Bieber tickets?” And just, “MEH.”
The Rally for Sanity included the playful. Costumes (we found Waldo a number of times, and spotted Abe Lincoln sitting in a tree smoking a cigarette) and signs (“Touched by His Noodly Appendage”) interesting variations (“I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Cthulhu”) and beach balls being tossed around the crowd.
Park Service estimates have put the number of people attending the Rally at something between 200,000 and 250,000. Imagine getting that many people together in one spot with no hassles or incidents. Packed like vertical cordwood for the entire length of the Mall into the streets and up the stairs of public buildings for more than three hours. And as soon as the crowd began to disperse, volunteers began running around with trash bags, cleaning up. A crowd that size generates a lot of garbage, no doubt, but it was all piled carefully around the trash cans. The Mall was clean.
Congenial and polite, civil and responsible, fun and friendly. Nobody’s head got stomped on and nobody got kicked (or if they did, it was an accident, and apologies were profuse).
Rally to Restore Sanity: Mission Accomplished.
[I’ll be posting a lot more on this later, but right now I must be sensible and get to laundry and looking after critters.]