It is about 11:15am as I walk down Washington DC’s 7th Street to The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. The Rally, organized by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, is meant to draw attention to the fact that media entities sensationalize the issues, creating a lot of the political divide and conflict that the media feeds us. As I approach the National Mall, all I can think is holy shit.
I live everyday in the urban congestion of New York City. I have been to festivals and large public events before. Despite this, I have never seen so many people in such a small area in my life. The feeling one gets from being around so many others is awing, like nothing that can be read about or seen on TV. As far as my eyes could see in any direction there was an endless sea of people.
The crowd was very difficult to navigate through but I managed to get to about 5th street just behind the first of several sets of large monitors. The stage was set at about 3rd street and the crowd extended back to the Washington Monument or 14th street.
At exactly noon, the rally starts with a lackluster performance by The Roots. At a “high point” in their set, Roots frontman Black Thought takes a brake from yelling so John Legend can take the stage and perform his best impression of Sting in the late 1980’s. About six songs in (12:30pm) people start to get restless. I wonder how much of this three hour long rally will The Roots take up? By 12:45pm their set is over. Out comes some man who tries to make the crowd do the wave but no one could tell who he was and no one could hear him because the PA system was set too quiet. People started yelling “LOUDER!” in unison. The crowd’s morale was dropping fast.
At 1pm John Stewart comes out. He is funny and charming as ever. This crowd loves him and the insult that was the previous hour is forgiven quickly. It helps that the PA problem is fixed after John’s first few lines.
Stephen Colbert makes his entrance from the pits of hell enclosed in a Chilean Miners’s capsule dressed as Captain America. The audience enjoys Sam Waterston (DA from Law and Order) reading a fear ridden poem by Stephen Colbert. Cat Stephens takes the stage and starts the song Peace Train. The crowd cheers, sings along and claps in time. Stephen Colbert cuts him off saying he refuses to get on the peace train. Out comes Ozzy Osborne to the stage singing Crazy Train. He is backed by The Roots. The two musical stars go back and forth with their songs for a bit then leave. Stephen and John settle the argument with a song they could both get behind, Love Train, performed by The OJ’s.
A little after 2pm people start looking tired from two plus hours of standing. Many start to leave as Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow perform. Chatter goes up and no one pays much attention to the stage.
By 2:30pm John and Stephen have a Sanity/Fear debate. It is quite funny to watch and the audience is once again won over. It is even more enjoyable to watch these two comedian’s back and forth pacing live. Punchlines sent the crowd to a high laughter. After ups and downs on both sides John “wins” the debate.
It was interesting and rather unexpected when John turned to a serious note at the end of the rally. His speech comes off as sincere. He tells the crowd,”If we amplify everything we hear nothing” and “The inability to distinguish Muslims from terrorists makes us less secure.” He ends his speech talking about how the everyday common people see past their differences and work together. He hints that this is not the case in the media and government. John uses a metaphor of hundreds of people, from very diverse backgrounds, all trying to drive into a tunnel. He tells us that though not all of them agree about everything, they still work together and let each car go in one by one. He sees the few cars that cut the line as the exception not the rule. John ends his speech with a joke saying, “Sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promise land. It’s just New Jersey.” Also check out: NPR’s report w/pics and Politics USA’s analysis