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Thoughts on the Rally to Restore Sanity and or Fear

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The Rally to Restore Sanity and or Fear

I was one of the lucky ones that went to Washington DC and attended the "Rally to Restore Sanity and or Fear." Since people have been asking how it was, here's a blog post. I'm going to start with my impressions of what the rally was about and was trying to achieve and then I will talk about the experience of being at the rally itself towards the end.

Was the rally political? Yes, insofar that politics is understood to be "a process by which groups of people make collective decisions." This was a rally designed to influence people's opinions and behaviors to improve how we work together as a society. Specifically, it was trying to get us as a nation to realize that the way the media chooses to report news and the way that politicians and pundits choose to relate to their constituents runs counter to the way we run our lives and is doing us a disservice. I'd say the rally was more about chastising the media than chastising politicians, because the media is supposed to serve as a buffer between politicians and the people. In short, the media is not doing their job by ratcheting the energy and fear up while neglecting to use editorial discretion to filter out the crazy.

Was the rally partisan? Not in the traditional sense of being for one political party over another. This seems to be where there are a lot of misconceptions in the media. Without rehashing the same discussions about the Daily Show in general, what I can give are my impressions from the rally. I was inspired to make a difference and to ratchet my own sometimes confrontational attitude back a little bit. I did not feel energized to go out there and vote Democrat or for any other party. The feeling I had, though fun and positive, was a marked contrast to how I felt being in Grant Park for Obama's election night rally. (pictures here) This rally made me realize that I miss having honest conversations about politics and society with honest, rational people who might not agree with me. At the election night rally, there was a sense of anticipation, victory and joy. At the rally to restore sanity, it was refreshing to see so many people looking for a more reasonable dialogue and a fun time. There wasn't the euphoria from the Obama rally, but there was a happy release hearing Jon Stewart say so clearly what I was feeling, that the political and media structures were getting out of hand, and working counter to the needs of the people.

This isn't to say that the rally didn't slant a bit to the left. How much you feel it slanted depends more on what you perceive to be progressive than on the content of the rally. I would describe it being mostly moderate, with much of the slant to the left from the rally attendees more than the rally presentation itself. In the interest of full disclosure, I also believe that in the last 20 years, if the facts of an issue would be examined without spin or hype, then the facts themselves would appear to lean towards the left using current standards. While what was said at the rally applies to both political parties and the media, I believe that the conservative end of the political sphere is more guilty of slanting issues and distorting data. But that's another discussion altogether.

The rally also reinforced for me the power of satire and of the jester. While Jon Stewart's speech at the end of the rally succinctly stated what his vision was and his hopes for how it would affect society, it was really the rally as a whole that drove the point home. It often gets overlooked that people's responses to politics and issues are not solely rational, but influenced by a variety of factors. While it can be said over and over that the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists, that doesn't penetrate into the mind in the same way of the back and forth of Colbert and Stewart, attempting to defuse Colbert's increasingly irrational fears. By bringing out Kareem Abdul Jabbar, a household name for decades, as an example of how normal and accepted Muslims have been in our American culture, it brings it home in a different and more meaningful way. By using comedy, in enables us to examine our own fears and perhaps laugh at ourselves a bit more.

In a personal example, talking about the rally with my father earlier this week, the comedy made a deeper impression on him than any article I could have quoted to him. A self described independent and tea partier and a regular Fox News watcher, he was biased against the rally. By focusing on the humorous aspects of the rally, it enabled him to hear more, as he found it funny. Later in our conversation, as he'd say something unintelligent about Muslims in America, I would drop Kareem's name as a reminder. It seems to have worked. That, and giving him the facts about the proposed Muslim community center in New York City, versus the "victory mosque" on Ground Zero, but again, that's another discussion.

I don't mean to make the rally out to be a pure beacon of reasonableness and sanity in a chaos of pundits and politics. Except for the competing trains bit (peace train vs. crazy train vs. love train), most musical acts had a new album coming out, and except for the Roots, weren't that impressive. The myth busters bit, while fun (if you could hear them) was a bit of pandering to the geeky crowd. Some of the logistical critiques of the rally (poor soundsystem, lack of coordination, inadequate facilities and an overwhelmed transit system) were legitimate, though the unpolished flow was a nice change from the well choreographed political events and seemed to add a bit of legitimacy.

The thing that pleasantly surprised me the most was the diverse ages of the rally attendees. I thought it'd primarily be 20 somethings but there was a large showing of middle aged and elderly people. Also seeing a rally with a larger percentage of people of different races was nice, though it was still largely white. As I'm sure many of you have already seen, the signs were fun and inventive, (here's my pictures). Though there were a few that ripped on the tea party, Sarah Palin, Christine O'Donnell and George W. Bush, for the most part they were reasonable and as asked, brought down a notch. I did get the sense from some people that this was the closest they were going to get to a major rally for the left, and treated it as such, but mostly it was a place for moderation and sanity.

As always, it was great to see so many similarly minded people gathered in one place. Though things weren't as polite at the Obama election night rally, people were still pretty cool despite the crowds. It was amazing to see the metro trains so packed for hours before and after the rally. I wonder how many people actually came to DC to attend the rally, not just how many people actually made it to the rally.

Do I think this was a turning point? I hope so. But, if it is, it won't be a crashing wave of sanity and reasonableness, as that kind of energy seems to run counter to the whole point of the movement of calming things down. I was heartening to hear Keith Olbermann is shelving the "Worst Persons In the World" bit, and amusing for Glenn Beck to both try and minimize the rally and link it to his rally as well. With the election coming so close to the rally, it overshadowed many immediate responses, so it will be interesting to see how things settle out over time.

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