I had the great pleasure of attending Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Keep Fear Alive in Washington, DC on Saturday. Perhaps Stewart summed up the event best in his closing comments, which you can watch here:
The crowd was a mix of Americans representing every imaginable skin tone and representing all walks of life. While the event was not exactly a transformative experience for me, it was comforting to be surrounded by so many people who seem to be in on a great unspoken joke of sorts. That, and it was just plain fun. Most estimates put the attendance around 230,000, which makes for a nice Fuck-You to Glenn Beck. I was only too happy to be a part of that.
There has been no shortage of coverage of the rally by people who had far better access than myself. So, for what it's worth, you can read about what my experience was like below the jump:
The rumors swirled for a few days; would they or wouldn't they? When the announcement was finally made that Comedy Central's Dynamic Duo of mock news pundit/anchors Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert would indeed host some sort of rally in Washington, D.C., at least as a counterpoint to Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally in the Capitol on August 28, I knew I was going. It helped that my friend Bob lives in nearby Baltimore and it helped that I had some frequent flier miles to burn.
After finalizing travel plans, I endured a couple of weeks of people telling me that they had heard that the rally wouldn't be very big or that it had been cancelled due to any reason from Comedy Central not having the right permits in order to their inability to secure the requisite number of port-a-potties. I paid no attention to this noise and soon enough, myself and Bob, his fiancée Lisa, and her friend Kim were up bright and surly on the morning of the rally heading south on I-95, toward Washington, D.C. Our plan was to park in a commuter parking lot at Greenbelt, the northern-most stop on the D.C. Metro's Green Line, and take the train to our final destination. We got into the expansive parking lot easily enough even though it was nearly full and filling quickly, but we were met with a surprise.
Starting at the entrance to the train station and snaking through the parking lot was, very simply, the longest line of human beings that I have ever seen. The line snaked back and forth and around the perimeter of the lot. It may well have been half a mile long, averaging about five people wide. Clearly, a lot of people on their way to the rally had the same idea that we did.
We quickly parked and then set out to find the end of the line. This proved difficult because with every second, the line was growing, so the end kept moving further and further away from us. When we finally did reach the end, we weren't at the end for long before more people filled in behind us, but we realized that we were in for a very long wait until we would be on a train. As we shuffled along the perimeter of the lot, Bob stepped between a couple of parked cars and walked toward the service road that ringed the lot to see if there might be some alternative to waiting in the interminable line. An alternative showed up in the form of a hotel courtesy van and a driver who first invited Bob to gather his posse together and, once we were all inside the van, excoriated us for being stupid enough to actually stand in line and not get creative. "You never stand in a line like that. It's just stupid!" He drove us and a handful of others up the service road to the station and guided us inside to the ticket vending machines. I can't imagine how much time this guy saved us. He made a handsome tip for three minutes' work. Our good fortune continued as, minutes later, we were among the first to board a train and actually get seats. This was important because it got to the point that the train was standing-room only in the sense that it simply was not possible to put more persons on board. And so we trundled our way beneath the streets of our fair Capitol toward The National Mall.
We emerged from the train station at basically 7th Street and Jefferson Drive, just south of The Mall, to a dizzying crowd swarming in the late October sunshine. We had five minutes to spare before the noon rally start time. We walked up 7th Street (closed to traffic for the event) until we got into The Mall proper and then it wasn't walking as much as stumbling and squeezing our way through a compressed sea of humanity in search of something that might pass as a vantage point. We found an area from which we could sort of see two giant television screens, one on each side of The Mall. For some reason, I assumed that these were on either side of the stage. I didn't realize that the stage was much further away, and that standing in 7th Street, I was looking at the third pair of such screens from the stage, which was basically in front of the Capitol Building. I never saw the actual stage. There were simply too many people and the contours of The Mall's ground simply would not give up a view.
As the event opened, The Roots kicked out a jam that I could only partly make out because the sound simply wasn't making it to where I stood. The Roots were soon joined by John Legend and they went into some material that I didn't recognize, but sure was noodly on the guitar – I would later learn that this was Bill Withers's "I Can't Write Left-Handed." Chants of "Louder!" rolled around the crowd and eventually the sound engineers managed to squeeze a few more decibels out of their systems.
Stewart and Colbert got into some of their usual antics, with Stewart begging Colbert to come up from the depths of his "Fear Bunker" because we were a very nice crowd and not an angry mob. Once Colbert was on-stage, Father Guido Sarducci (Don Novello) was invited to give a benediction to the proceedings. Then actor Sam Waterston read a poem penned by Stewart.
Stewart introduced Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Stevens), who got about a minute into his classic "Peace Train" when Colbert interrupted, insisting that he would rather have Ozzy Osbourne sing "Crazy Train." And so Jon/Yusuf/Cat and Steven/Ozzy effectively had dueling trains until the shenanigans gave way to the O'Jays singing their classic, "Love Train." Later, Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy brought everybody down with a barely audible "You're Not Alone." Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow performed a song called "Care" in public for the first time.
When that was done, Stewart gave out the first Medal of Reasonableness to Andres Gallaraga for his graceful response to an umpire's bad call that cost him a perfect game. Colbert countered with a Medal of Fear to the various news media outlets that asked their employees not to attend the rally. And back and forth they went.
Other Medal of Reasonableness recipients included Mick Foley for defending a child mocked for being viewed as gay; Velma Hart for telling President Obama that she was tired of defending him; and skateboarder Jacob Isom, who, upon seeing an evangelist who was about to set a Koran on fire, snatched the Koran and said, "Dude, you have no Koran!"
Medal of Fear recipients included Facebook mogul Mark Zuckerberg for making everyone fear for their on-line privacy and Anderson Cooper (specifically, the award went to Coopers' black t-shirt) for always appearing in natural disasters.
All of this took us to about 2:30 in the afternoon. We had been unfortunate enough to have migrated, in search of a better view (no luck), to a spot near an air-shaft for the subway. The shaft's metal grate in the ground was surrounded by sandbags, some of which had burst open, so every time a train would come through the tunnel and force air up through the vent, the air carried aloft millions of tiny bits of sand that would rain down on us. We had our very own sandstorm. We were a bit sunburned, our feet hurt, we were hungry and we had to pee. So off we went, pushing and squeezing through the crowd north on 7th Street in search of relief.
As we exited, I heard Stewart introduce Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as an example to Colbert of a muslim everybody could like.
Once we got off of The Mall's grounds, it was obvious that there was no going back in. And that was that.
Oh, and the Giant just won The Series.