Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

To my left stands the fountain to the National Museum of the American Indian, a large, 30 foot sandstone structure incorporated into the side of the building. Water jets off the tops of its plateaus past the dozens of people who have risked climbing over its slippery boulders and 5 foot drops for a place to sit.

Attendees risk a nasty fall climbing the fountian outside of the National Museum of the American Indian to get a better view of the rally

To my right stands the reason they have risked a fatal fall for a place to sit: 215,000 people taking up nearly every square foot of the East end of the National Mall. An evil clown stands by a dozen people on top of a dumpster, one of the few places someone could catch their breath. Police are seen weaving in and out of the crowd barely able to maintain the crowds organization: every few minutes they are seen pulling people off of in-use porta potties, walls and out of trees. Not even before the officers had fully vacating the potentially hazardous vantage points were there new people climbing back up from the other side.

Costumed ralliers take to the tops of dumpsters to find a place to sit.

Law enforcement attempted to keep people down from dangerous areas, including trees, porta poties, open dumpsters and walls. In some cases it just let to people seeing an empty spot from the other side and taking their place once seconds after the police move on.

Two ralliers grab a seat on a power transformer

Ralliers hang off of the side of porta poties to get a better view.

“Can you dig it!?” screams from the center of the mall, where The Legendary Roots introduce John Legend to the giant stage, where the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear is being held. Their music is themed around hard times, and songs addressing the concept of hope are planned for their set.

A stage crew prepares the stage for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall.

The music about the Vietnam War and life in the ghetto gives way to an unexpected duo at a rally on the mall: Mythbusters Adam Savage Jamie Hyneman take over on the stage. They attempt a few rally-inspired experiments, like measuring the size of the crowd by measuring the seismic effects of 215,000 people all jumping at once. The crowd generated enough force to be “a hundred times more powerful than a minor car crash”, said Savage.

After the experiments, Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show with Jon Stewart takes the stage and introduces the US military veteran music group “4troops” to sing the national anthem. With the 3-hour rally only an hour through, it is obvious that music will be a common medium through which the event’s messages will be conveyed.

Stewart’s ‘Rally for Sanity’ is soon interrupted by Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report’s, for his own ‘Rally to Restore Fear’. After a dramatic entrance from underneath the stage in the same capsule which saved the 35 Chilean miners after being stranded underneath the earth, Colbert tries to inspire fear in the crowd by commanding those behind the scenes to “Release the bees!” The mall is filled with the booming pre-recorded sound of bees buzzing, and Colbert commands that the crowd panic.

Two costumed strangers find a moment to celebrate being green.

This is a type of satire which has dominated Colbert’s 4-times-weekly show for a while now. In fact, satire was one of the overlying themes of the entire rally. Drawing on the style of humor which has attracted viewers to the Daily Show and Colbert report for years, the commentary made by the speakers focused on the current state of these United States.

Actor Sam Waterson is called to the stage by Colbert, to read “the greatest poem ever written: Are You Sure?” Penned by Colbert “the night before”, the poem addresses the types of fears which the public has, but for no particular reason. “A mad man could set loose a virus/ for which there isn’t a cure/ and while these things may be unlikely/ ask yourself … are you sure?” reads Waterson. Later, Stewart calls out the 24/7 news media for being the reason that irrational fears of things like Mexicans, muslims and mass destruction have been instilled in the American psyche.

Stewart calls on the public to ignore those things which we have no reason to fear. He calls out Yusuf (formerly Cat Stevens) to sing ‘Peace Train’, which presents a narrative for the crowd to all get along. Colbert interrupts yet again, this time in the middle of the song, to bring out Ozzy Ozbourne. He goes straight into ‘Crazy Train’, inspiring chaos and insanity.

In the end, after neither Stewart or Colbert can stand the other’s choice in music, Stewart offers a compromise: the ‘Love Train’, preformed by the O Jays. Both sides unite, and make a comment on how much better things are when everyone can agree to get aboard the same train.

The message of the rally was clear: while everyone will continue to have their own opinions, the only way the nation will get anywhere is if we all listen to, and respect, each others views. The lack of a major partisan tone was a surprising one, and inspired a sense of national coherence as opposed to an “us vs. them” mentality.

Ralliers signs take to the DC subway after the rally.

In an attempt to bring the nation together as a single, sane unit, the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear sends a strong message to a nation only days away from a midterm election. At the very most, it will be an event which people will look back on and hold other rallies to as a standard. At the least, it will be remembered as one hell of a show.

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