Jon Stewart announced about two months ago, after Glenn Beck’s “Rally to Restore Honor,” that he was going to hold his own rally on the National Mall, the Rally to Restore Sanity. Rival satiric pundit Stephen Colbert simultaneously announced his own “March to Keep Fear Alive,” to compete against Stewart’s event.
I decided that I was going to go.
This week, as the schedule of events for the Rally (which combined both the Sanity rally and the Fear march) became clear, I started to figure out my itinerary. I knew that Comedy Central had applied for a permit for a gathering of 60,000 people. I also knew that over a quarter million people had RSVPed to the event on Facebook. This suggested to me 1) a packed National Mall, 2) a crowded Capitol core, and 3) tough transportation.
Since the “pre-show” was going to begin around 10 o’clock, I thought that I would try and be there by 10 o’clock, even though the Rally proper didn’t begin until noon. And, to be honest, I was more concerned with parking at the Metro stop in Greenbelt than I was with anything else about getting to the Mall. I left the house a little bit before eight o’clock, with a page from Thursday’s issue of b and my camera (it shoots real film, as strange as that sounds in this technocratic age) in hand.
I got to Greenbelt at about a quarter to nine. As I pulled off the Beltway and onto the ramp into the subway station, I saw that the parking lot was still quite empty. There were a lot of cars there, however, and I saw a large crowd making its way from the parking lot toward the station. Young, old. Some carrying chairs. Some carrying signs. At the station entrance, there were two long lines of people to get in. I got in one of the lines and waited. Within ten minutes I was inside the station. Inside, it was even more crowded, as there were lines fifteen or twenty people deep at each of the fare machines. When I finally reached a machine, I took a guess at the fare I would need, selected nine dollars, bought the ticket, and went. The time? Nine-thirty. All things considered, this wasn’t bad.
I skipped the escalator up to the platform — that was crowded — and instead took the stairs. When I reached the platform I turned, looked into the first car, and saw a standing room only car, packed to the gills. I turned, walked far down the platform, and found a generally empty car about two-thirds of the way to the end. I decided the first car was probably filled with New Yorkers, who wouldn’t know a subway car if it isn’t standing room only. 😉
At each stop inbound, people crowded into the trains. The next stop, College Park, easily doubled the number of people in my car. By the time the train was underground, this car was easily as sardine-packed as the leading car of the train was all the way back at Greenbelt. I genuinely wondered if I would be able to exit the train at the Naval Museum stop.
There were a lot of people going to the Rally, and some out-of-towners were asking people about the best way to go. One conversation near me involved a couple from New Jersey, who wanted to get off at Metro Center, hop the Red Line, and take that somewhere else. Despite insistence from a local that that was insane — Naval Archives exited about three blocks from the Rally — the couple insisted on leaving there. Fortunately, so many people left the train at Naval Archives that getting off the train wasn’t difficult. Getting out of the station, however, was. The platform was already packed from trains that had discharged people. There was only a single escalator off the platform (and some creative people were running up the down escalator, until someone at the top had the wise idea of hitting the emergency stop), and as the crowd moved slowly toward the escalators two more trains arrived, one from the south, one from the north, and both discharged more people onto an already overloaded platform. Eventually, I reached the escalator, made it to the exits, and made it outside. There were people directing foot traffic toward the Rally site, people handing out signs, people milling about trying to find the groups they had traveled with. It was now about quarter-past-ten.
There’s a Starbucks near the Naval Museum Metro stop, and I thought about getting some coffee, but then I saw the line out the door and down the street and thought better of it. Since it was already after ten, I decided the best thing to do would be to go to the Mall, and a part of a human tidal wave I headed that way. One thing about DC — they take jaywalking seriously there — and there were police on the corners trying vainly to keep people from walking out into traffic, but even their efforts were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. I thought about buying a bootleg t-shirt from a street vendor (it was a really nice shirt, but it was also pricey), reached the Mall, and made for one of the portapotties. Then I milled about.
There were giant ten jumbotrons set up in the Rally area, and I tried walking forward toward the stage because I wanted to get a better view. I made it as far forward as the third set of jumbotrons back from the stage and gave up; the crowd at this point was massive. So I turned around, walked back, was handed a commemorative tea-towel provided by Reese’s, and found a good spot, roughly in the middle, where I had a decent shot downhill at the stage (though I couldn’t at any point actually see anyone on the stage), and hung out.
This is a picture of the crowd at the Rally, taken from atop the Washington Monument in mid-afternoon. (For anyone who was there, it was taken during the filmed clip with Tim Meadows, as the jumbotrons have Antz on them.) Halfway down the photo, there’s a line straight across of media trucks along 7th Street, pavilions (First Aid and Family Reunification), and the Park Police tower. I was standing a little to the right of where the top of the Park Police tower appears to be.
The Rally started at twelve, first with a musical act by John Legend and the Roots. This was then followed by twenty minutes of the MythBusters team, and, to be frank, this was completely boring. The stuff with timing the wave was fun. The first time. (And I don’t know if they actually called for the side waves, or if that was just something from the crowd.) Jumping in the air and trying to start a seismic tremor? Meh. Making funny sounds? Not just dumb, but fucking dumb. I can’t speak for others, but the sense I had of the crowd around me, at that point, was that the MythBusters team completely lost the crowd.
I should also note that, at that point, the crowd chant of “Louder” began. I realize that there weren’t any loudspeakers or jumbotrons past where I stood, but the audio really did seem to give out during the MythBusters‘ act.
Really, you could say that things began at one, when Jon Stewart took the stage while his nemesis, Stephen Colbert, cowered naked in the Bunker of Fear, two thousand feet below the National Mall. My impressions of the next two hours of the Rally for Sanity And/Or Fear is this: It was basically a live version of The Daily Show/The Colbert Report, done on a really beautiful day in the heart of DC, with a live studio audience that numbered well in excess of 200,000. I wasn’t sure that the Daily Show reporters’ reports from the crowd really worked, but the song for the rally was a lot of fun (though I think the part where Stewart and Colbert were trying to name places all across the United States went on for about two minutes too long).
I stood next to a group of six Georgetown students who were somewhat obnoxious. (One of them had a giant American flag and enjoyed waving it above the crowd. Another, by the way, was from Brooklyn, and he could have passed as Marc Klein’s twin brother.) They had no idea who Father Guido Sarducci was. And while I was excited by Yusuf Islam (better known to many as Cat Stevens) singing “Peace Train,” they found it distinctly ho-hum, and they weren’t any more excited by The O’Jays’ “Love Train.” And while I was all “Really? Kid Rock? What the fuck? :???:” with Kid Rock’s appearance, they were really enthused by that. They were also amused by a balloon tethered to the top of the Air and Space Museum; they thought it was someone parachuting into the Rally.
People started leaving my area around 2:30, about the time that Jon Stewart began his final speech on the importance of getting along. “These are hard times, not end times,” he said. It was a good speech, and I’m glad I got to witness it.
Once the rally ended with all the guests, from little seven-year-old Hailey (the recipient of NPR’s Fear Award, since they were too cowardly to come out to the Rally themselves) to R2-D2 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, people tried to leave. And that’s when things became very difficult.
Essentially, the rally area on the Mall was walled off. The portapotties ran down the sides of the Mall like a wall, there were metal fences set up blocking off certain areas, and there were media vans along 7th Street providing another wall. I walked the crowd, trying to head in the direction of the Naval Museum, eventually gave up, and walked back in the direction I’d come from, eventually just standing along the gravel path on the Air and Space Museum side of the Mall, and watched people pass by with their signs. Things thinned out, and I wanted to get a closer look at the stage, so I started forward. I met someone from the Coffee Party I got a sticker from them, then kept moving forward. Somewhere near the third set of jumbotrons I saw a break in the wall of portapotties and metal barriers off near the Air and Space Museum, so I abandoned my plan of seeing the stage since escape was in sight. I did get some nice pictures of the stage and the thinning crowd from a copse of trees there, though.
Getting to a subway station proved very difficult. I was on the opposite side of the Mall from the Naval Archives stop, with a massive crowd of over a hundred thousand people between me and it. I was also achey (standing five hours in a single place is not nice on the feet or joints or lower back) and hungry (I hadn’t eaten since breakfast). So I made a leisurely walk toward the Metro (and yes, I could have gone to the much-closer L’Enfant Plaza), looked at people, and finally found a place to sit down, on the railing of a bridge overpass. I sat there for a while. I saw someone that I’ve seen before, though don’t really know, someone attached to the Farpoint Convention held in Baltimore each February.
I knew there were friends of mine from as far away as New York and North Carolina at the Rally, but in a sea of two hundred thousand people the chances of two random people running into one another are infinitesimal at best.
I waited another half hour on that overpass, for which my joints thanked me, listening to a combination steel drum/New Orleans jazz band playing on the Mall. Then I made my way to the Naval Museum station. (By the way, the Naval Museum is a really cool museum. If you have any interest at all in the American navy, you really need to visit it when you’re in DC.) The roads were closed off, the crowd there was immense, the line to get into the station was truly long. I thought about waiting longer. Then I saw a street vendor selling ice cream, and knowing my stomach needed something, I bought a Strawberry Shortcake Good Humour bar. Five dollars, true, and worth every dollar.
I decided then to walk back across the Mall to the L’Enfant Plaza subway stop. First, it would kill time, giving Metro time to move more people and thin the crowds trying to get out of DC. Second, since the L’Enfant Plaza stop was south (and I needed a northbound train), I would be boarding an emptier train than I would be if I boarded at Naval Archives, as others escaping the Rally would also be boarding the train at L’Enfant Plaza, thus a train arriving at Naval Archives would already be full.
At L’Enfant Plaza, the line to get into the Metro Station ran over a block long. I waited a while, walked around a little, then waited some more, then the line cleared, and I was in the Metro station.
For a Rally to Restore Sanity, the subway trip out of DC was anything but sane. The Green Line train arrived at L’Enfant Plaza, not heavily loaded at all, as I had surmised. And there, it became a standing-room-only train. And somehow, at the next three stops, it became even more crowded. At each stop, the conductor said that people needed to back away on the platform; she couldn’t pull in if they didn’t. I eventually became wedged against the emergency exit door at the back of my subway car. A group of four, on their way to dinner and a show at the 9:30 Club had a terrible time getting out at the U Street stop. The train stayed over-full until College Park, where most of the riders discharged.
(Also, on a completely different note, I vastly prefer the DC Metro to the Baltimore Subway. Nicer cars, smoother ride, more aesthetically pleasing stations.)
I got home around seven, after a stop at Taco Bell; I was starving and I was thirsty, and yes, there was healthier food at home, but I needed Taco Bell like a junkie needs their fix.
I came away from the Rally for Sanity with the excitement of being surrounded by two hundred thousand reasonable people, the frustrations of a Washington Metro strained beyond the breaking point (Comedy Central neglected to arrange for additional subway coverage for the Rally), a roll of film (or as Bishop Brennan says it in Father Ted‘s “The Passion of St. Tibulus,” “feel-um”) of lots of people and some really cool signs, a commemorative tea-towel, and a truly wicked sunburn.
Oh, I didn’t mention the sunburn, did I? 😉
I stood in the sun all day, through prime sunburn hours (that’s eleven to three). Because I was facing east, the right side of my face was facing south — the sun’s direction. Thus, the entire right side of my face is scorched red. It starts with a line at my temple where my baseball rested. Then there’s a line extending from my ear where my sunglasses’ earframe crossed the face. The sunburn then runs down the cheek, the ear, and the back of the neck to my neckline. And it runs around the front, to the bridge of the nose. So, half of my face is fine. The other half looks like I was in the New Mexico desert watching a nuclear test detonation.
It truly didn’t occur to me that I’d need sunscreen on the last Saturday of October. And I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only one scorched like that. 😆
And to think, I thought there was something wrong with my Beetle’s air conditioner on the drive home; I couldn’t understand why my face was so hot.
A day later, my feet aren’t achey, the joints aren’t killing me, I’ve had food and drink, and I’ve slept the sleep of the just. My face looks worse in the mirror than it did last night.
There is a great reasonable middle in American politics. Jon Stewart made the point that the 24/7 news cycle’s habit of amplifying anything drowns out everything, and I think the attendees at the Rally really responded to that. Some may have wanted a more partisan rally than Stewart and Colbert provided, some attendees definitely brought more partisan signs, but I thought the really creative signs were the non-partisan ones — “What Would Spock Do?” “Mostly Harmless.” “Don’t Panic.” “Marxist/Lennonist.” (Though I admit that the “Wankers For O’Donnell” sign I saw, though political, was kinda cute.)
And while Stewart didn’t close out his Rally with a message to go out and vote on Tuesday, I’m going to encourage everyone to vote. Really, we’re all in this boat together, and voting is how we as a society decide how we’re going to steer the boat.
I had a great time. I’d do it again, in a heartbeat. :h2g2: