Student recounts unconventional rally

By Jonah Seifer
Published: November 2010

Approaching the sea of restless strangers, no one knew what to expect. An air of mystery engulfed the crowd, which waited with bated breath to see what would come next.
Droves of costumed people – some dressed as pigs, others as Jesus, and one as Green-Spandex-Man – paraded around the streets, stopping only to pose for the occasional snapshot.
Thousands of people thrust signs into the air, demanding marijuana legalization and arguing for hundreds of varying yet similarly trivial causes.
“I still like Bret Farve! one proclaimed.
“God hates hommos (hummus). It’s too garlicky, another read, poking fun at gay bashers.
These people, attendees of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, perched on tree limbs, news vans, and traffic signals at the National Mall in Washington D.C. on October 30.
The rally, organized by Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, was one of the most heavily attended political rallies in recent history with attendance estimates ranging from 100,000 to 300,000 people.
For many like me, however, the rally was not about what happened onstage, but what was unfolding in the crowd.
Since the turnout was larger than Comedy Central had anticipated, most of the hundreds of thousands of people at the rally could barely see or hear anything from the main stage.
Attendees represented all age groups, races, and religions. College students stood side by side with the elderly who stood next to mothers rocking babies.
Younger people pressed together, embracing the crowd despite the suffocating effects of their body heat.
Older people expressed fear of the close quarters, however, sometimes panicking and requiring assistance in their journey to the first aid tent in search of treatment for their newly found claustrophobia.
New parents with strollers were especially challenged. Navigation through the crowd was difficult with a slim figure, and nearly impossible with a stroller and a screaming child.
A crowd of frivolous costumes might seem unusual and in no way geared towards a political rally, but the message lies within.
While Green-Spandex-Man and the oversized pig wrestled playfully atop a van, Jesus preached marijuana reform from a tree above.
Two complete strangers had a sword fight with the wooden handles of their homemade signs, and a young couple dressed convincingly as Victorian aristocrats discussed modern string theory.
It was hot. It was confusing. It was insanity and a perfect example of why Stewart and Colbert assembled 300,000 followers at the mall that day.
Some of Stewart’s closing words described the scene most accurately, “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.
As it was, the thousands of voices, sounds, and antics represented this universal amplification, and because of them, nobody could hear what was happening onstage, let alone around them.
Stewart was not referring to the boisterous crowd when he said this, though. He was generalizing about America’s hectic and polarized political system.
Americans watch as the left and the right shove their views and opinions into their ears, Stewart said, but the overload and exaggeration is incomprehensible.
As one sign cleverly pointed out, “Maybe one of us is correct. Or neither of us.
We may never know, Stewart claimed, but if we do not stop superimposing our beliefs on each other, our problems will continue to accumulate.
“So here we are, he began in his closing speech, “we live now in hard times – not end times – and we can have animus and not be enemies.
Stewart railed against the media’s distortion of facts and said 24-hour news programs engage in counterproductive hyperbole, making it impossible for people to listen to opposing viewpoints and have a meaningful dialogue about things that are important.
He emphasized the need to work together, to stop irrational fear, and cease the media’s endless political exaggeration. Americans must work together, he implied, to reach a common goal, regardless of whether it is the end-all solution to our problems or not.
“Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land, Stewart finished. “Sometimes it’s just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together.

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