The first thing I learned at the rally is that sunscreen doesn’t work if you leave it behind.
Other than that, it was good fun. I’d say the organizers made it as perfect as it could have been, given that who the hell knows what it was.
What was most cool is that there were at least 200,000 people there. Jamie and Adam Mythbuster said 150K, but that was their off-the-cuff from the stage. Online after it was over, various “official” estimates were between 200 and 250K. Look at the non-inclusive picture: I’m saying it was more still. None of them there to scream at imagined enemies, none to get all hyperbolic.
Talking to various assemblees, I’d propose that the reason most showed up was just to be with a bunch of other people who weren’t nuts. People who eschew the “he voted present” or the “he’s a closet terrorist” mode of political thought. People who enjoy being people, Americans, members of a diverse and untidy society and who see that as positive. Of the many signs I liked (I didn’t carry one) was “I don’t want my country back. I want it forward.” Or "I disagree with you but I probably won't step on your head." Mainly, it was people wanting to have a good time; nice to know it's still possible.
And a good time it was. No point, I guess, in recounting it since I assume it can be watched somehow, somewhere. Among the highlights of the warmup was the benediction by Don Novello who, as Guido Sarducci, asked God to give a sign to let us know what was the best religion. As he reeled them off, he looked up, and around, and asked if anyone noticed anything that might be a message. Nothing? Well, he said when he mentioned Buddhism, “nothing” might be the sign. Muslims don't eat pork, Jews don't eat pork, he pointed out. "Let's build on that."
Having the Mythbusters there was a brilliant stroke. They organized a front-to back wave, timed it, did it again with just women, then men, then simultaneous from each direction. It took over a minute to cover the crowd: if that doesn’t confirm a huge crowd, I don’t know what does. Other than, you know, counting. Map extrapolations. Glenn Beck took 87,000 and turned it into 500K. Tellingly.
Kareem was there. Yousef Cat Stephens Islam, as gentle and soulful as ever. Ozzy fricking Osborne. The Roots, really good. Mavis Staples, Tony Bennett, The O’Jays. Sam Waterston read a poem by Colbert.
The National Anthem, sung by 4Troops, was among the best renditions I've ever heard. (A poor quality recording, along with extraneous preamble, here.)
Riding in, the Metro was packed. Totally packed. People from all over the country, waiting for the next train, and the next. Got good advice not to transfer downtown. We left Silver Spring at what we considered an early time and when we got there, there was no chance of being near the stage, so we plotzed in front of one of the screens, saving room (with some difficulty) for some friends who were there but couldn’t get through the crowds to be with us. Cell towers being overwhelmed, it was a long time before our texts, and then we, connected. Hundreds of thousands of people leaving the mall made for a seething mass of signs, people letting people pass, a slow torrent into which a moment’s distraction saw people disappear, to be re-sighted with difficulty. Nearly lost a couple.
I think they hit the right notes in the show: fun, satirical, a little serious. No doubt many will declare Jon Stewart’s speech at the end was too self-important, crossed some sort of line, whatever. But gimme a break. Was he wrong in anything he said? It’s the whole point, I’d say. And one of mine, too: the media are letting us all down. By what a couple of them do, and by what the rest of them fail to do. In more or less equal measure they're responsible for giving so much voice to so much crazy.
Am I, with this blog, among the bad guys, the screamers, the polemicists, the dichotomists? Maybe. But what I rant about is the ranting itself, and the piss-poor (to take it down a notch) journalism that has all but completely replaced the idea of an inquisitive and skeptical press whose job it is to question and to educate. And I reject the phony nationalism that fails to understand, at best, and hates, at worst, the real implications of democracy. On the rare occasions when I receive thoughtful disagreement (strange, isn't it, how devoid of usefulness are most of the comments from the disagreeable?), I respond in kind. And, like Jon Stewart (no equivalence implied) I’ve taken on both sides when they go over the top. And I document what I claim, believing, as I still do, that facts and reality are reasonable bases for opinion.
“These are hard times, not end times,” he said. The problem is that in hard times, it seems liberals are willing to offer help to their fellow man, and conservatives (well, not real conservatives, but the ones that play them on TV and wrong-wing radio) turn upon everyone else as enemies. Make up conspiracy theories. Abandon friends. When the going gets tough, the right wing goes selfish.
What we need, in tough times, is to restore sanity. They should hold a rally for that.
And what I need is some sleep.