I have been struggling all week to write about the Rally to Restore Sanity, which Alex and I attended in Washington D.C. last Saturday. At first I thought I was just tired after having driven one thousand miles to D.C. from Boston and back. I had many conversations with people about the Rally, and was able to speak about it with ease. Why then could I not strap down my thoughts to some loose leaf? Why?
I spent the week pondering this simple question until finally, the answer dawned on me. Why can’t I think of one meaningful thing to say about the Rally? Because people don’t care about it. How can I write about something no one cares about? Or what’s more, why don’t people care? Could it be because the whole event was immediately buried by the media, practically the moment it was over? Could it be that the comparison to Woodstock, made by countless media outlets prior to the event, turned people off, or caused them to dismiss it as some crazy hippie gathering? Could it be that the event, which was also labeled as “entertainment” by those same countless media outlets, instead of as the political gathering that it was, caused people to dismiss it even further? Perhaps the answer is “all of the above”.
Let me be clear about one thing: I did not go to the Rally to be entertained; I went to be empowered. And I was.
But before I get ahead of myself, let me boogie on back to the beginning: Boston, the night of October 28th. I left work at my normal time and rode the train home as I usually do. When I got to the station in my town I ran over to my already packed car and drove directly to New Brunswick. Nothing like a four hour race to Jersey after a long day of work with Issac Brock, Jimi Hendrix, and the Eagles of Death Metal for company. I slept soundly that night after splitting a bottle of chianti with my hosts, who always put up with my silliness whenever I come to New Jersey.
The next day, a friend and former writer for the JVP met me at 8am. We visited the bank to exchange a bag of coins for cash, grabbed some pancakes at the Palace Diner, then hit the road by 9:30am. By the time we got to Baltimore, the party music was already bumping. We arrived at Alex G’s apartment around 1pm. The drive was shorter than I had anticipated. Somehow Alex managed to get us a serious hookup for parking. My little Masshole Jetta sat by itself in the half circle in front of his huge apartment building for the entire time we were in D.C. Thank you Alex.
After catching our breathe, resting our feet, and snacking to the tune of Nas for two hours, we set off on what would become a twelve hour drinking marathon. The only word to describe the nature of our situation during that time other than belligerent is excessive. Perhaps youth is cruel after all, or is it whiskey?
Regardless, youth is what got us out of bed the next day, armed with breakfast sandwiches, coffees, waters, cameras, film, and, of course, my press pass. While my driving buddy survived the twelve hour marathon, he did not make it to the Rally in time to meet up with Alex and I, so the two of us embarked on our mission to find a good spot at the Rally.
This endeavor proved to be most difficult. There were, literally, hundreds of thousands of people descending upon the National Mall for this Rally. When we realized that planting ourselves with a good view among the enthusiastic crowd was not going to work, we made our way outside the designated areas for the public attendees, and up toward the stage (which was about 5 blocks away). We took turns leading the way through the swarms of excited people; there were tons of young people, many in costume or carrying signs. I could say that young people made up the majority of the crowd, but I’d be lying to you. So in the interest of truth, I’ll tell you what I really saw. I saw babies– yes, infants– and their parents, and their grandparents, and their aunts, uncles, neighbors, their teachers, their preachers, and their future college professors. Every kind of person these babies will meet in their lives was at the Rally– except for Glen Beck, of course. I didn’t see him there, except on the giant TV screens when Jon and Stephen showed us what the platform of fear in the media looks like.
After forty-five minutes of weaving through the largest and most diverse collection of people I have ever seen or been a part of, Alex and I finally made it to the Press entrance. A press pass goes a long way, let me tell you. The security official inspected my pass and waved me to enter. I told him that my camera man (pointing to Alex) was also with me. The guard let us both through to the spacious, guarded press section, which came equipped with its private selection of portable potties! We were not only in great audio range of the stage, but our view was direct and close to it as well. We could actually see Cat Stevens and Ozzy Osborne perform together. We could really see Kareem Abdul Jabar come on stage to prove a point to Colbert on behalf of Jon Stewart: that he cannot make generalized statements about all Muslims hating Americans because it is simply false. We actually got to see Tony Bennett sing “God Bless America”; and we, or at least I, sang along with him.
Alex and I were lucky. We did not have to climb a tree, or climb on top of portable potties (even collapsed ones), or sit on each other’s shoulders to get a good view. We were not those people who tried to jump a guarded fence to find a better place to stand.
When Jon Stewart came out to make his speech, he thanked us all for coming out, and appeared to be humbled by the size of the crowd that had responded to his call. If I had to wager a guess as to how large the crowd was, I’d say there were at least a few hundred thousand in attendance. Still, that feels like a modest guess. After having been in that crowd, and having had a good enough view to see the magnitude of it, I would even go so far as to say that half a million people were there. Look at this shot, which was taken after the Rally had ended and we had walked several blocks away from the National Mall:
Consider this: the crowd you see in this photo is only a fraction of the people who attended. This is just one boulevard going off in one direction away from the Rally.
As soon as Stewart started talking, the crowd quieted down immediately and gave him their utmost attention. The level of respect for the man that I witnessed among the crowd was grand. More than anything, it was uplifting to see, to witness in real life how one person can reach across generations, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, and states, to peaceably unite an enormous group of people. There was an electricity in the air as he talked to us and grew more passionate. He talked about how every day in this country people find a way to take care of their responsibilities while working together; the only place this spirit of ‘working together’ does not occur is in government. He talked about how the outlet for people to express their grievances and their discontents with our government, the media, is the system that is broken. As Stewart talked to us, he moved around a lot on stage, gesturing with his hands as he grew more passionate. And while his passion was obvious, it was not overwhelming. It was just right, in fact.
Not surprisingly, when I got back to Massachusetts, people had hardly heard anything about the Rally, only what they’d heard prior to the event taking place. The question about the Rally that I answered more than any other was some version of this: “Was it really like Woodstock where everyone was… you know… (puts pointer finger and thumb to mouth to mimic smoking a joint)?” My answer: “No. It wasn’t like that at all. Not even in the slightest. People were there for the cause, not for music or for drugs. The spirit and energy of the crowd alone made that obvious.” What can I say really? People were attentive, respectful, eager to listen, and generally speaking, in good spirits. They really were. And as a result I felt connected to the people around me, even though I quite obviously knew none of them (except for Alex of course). For the first time in my short life I experienced that feeling of connectedness on such a large scale. The feeling is non-replicable.
But now reality settles in again. The media will (and did) treat the Rally as they see fit, not as it was. And while I felt inspired and empowered by Stewart and the atmosphere of the Rally, I find that at present, I have never felt more discouraged or powerless. Why the contradictory feelings, you might ask? Because here I am, sitting at my desk, writing this article, and I know that the connectedness is gone. Why is it gone? Because now, a week later, when the Rally has been successfully buried by the mass media, all I can feel is ignored. I feel belittled. And more so now than ever, I feel like change is neither imminent, nor possible.
Perhaps this is the great downfall of all political movements: what to do when the Rally is over. What do we do after we disperse and return home? How do we keep the spirit alive when our platform to do so, the media, refuses to acknowledge it, refuses to cover it, as if it never happened at all? A tree did fall in the forest. I was there to hear it. Hundreds of thousands of people were there to hear that tree fall. And yet, here we are, a week later, and no one knows that tree was there in the first place. It is a sad day for America when thousands of eager voices come together to be heard as one and someone turns the volume off.
Original Publication Date: 11.08.2010