The Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear As It Might Have Looked If It Had Been Held at Dusk on Venus

November 9th, 2010

Although I live in Washington, DC, and have easy access to a steady stream of marches and rallies, I rarely attend marches or rallies, especially those for causes I support, because these events usually have the opposite of their intended effect on me. Hearing my viewpoints expressed in testy tones, in slogan form, in chants repeated by thousands of people, or accompanied by information that seems to have been painstakingly slanted for maximum reinforcement leaves me feeling less enthusiastic about my viewpoints when I leave a rally than when I arrived. I am occasionally slightly tempted to take a peek at rallies whose causes are strange or distasteful to me, because I have a kind of perverse fascination with such things. I might have gone to the Glenn Beck Restoring Honor rally if it hadn’t started at 10:00 a.m., which would have necessitated my getting up far too early and hurrying far too fast on a Saturday morning for something I was only slightly tempted to do. These attitudes have kept my average rally attendance rate at well below one per year.

However, when Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced that they would be holding rival events, The Rally To Restore Sanity and The March To Keep Fear Alive, respectively, on October 30, my attendance at at least one of these events was assured by my expectation that they would bear little resemblance to a traditional rally and march, by the probability that my experience at them would be interesting, entertaining, and maybe even uplifting, and by Rechelle’s strong suggestion that I cover them for the blog.

When the two events were combined into The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, I and countless other undecided attendees-to-be heaved a heavy sigh of relief at no longer having to agonize over which event to attend, and I followed that up by heaving another heavy sigh of relief on my own when I saw a flyer announcing that the rally would be starting at noon, which I considered a thoroughly reasonable hour. In fact, I resolved to arrive at the rally an hour early, figuring that should be early enough for me to get a spot reasonably close to the stage where the show would be taking place on the National Mall.

To enhance my coverage, Rechelle sent me her spare camera and told me that the secret to taking magnificent pictures with it was to set the little wheel on top of the camera to “P,” so I spent the couple of weeks leading up to the rally getting used to the camera’s presence in my apartment, getting to know its ways, and occasionally taking dazzling photos of my immediate surroundings with the magical “P” setting.

The morning of the rally, I crawled out of bed, enjoyed a leisurely bowl of Raisin Bran, grabbed the camera (making sure it was set on “P”), and hopped on a very crowded bus that was headed for the National Mall. I was surprised when about half the people on the bus got off near the White House, and I gathered from the conversation of some of the remaining passengers that most of the people who got off were en route to the rally but wanted to see the White House first and then walk on from there, apparently unaware (as was I) that each minute spent dawdling at that point would place them a few feet farther away from the action at the rally. Most of the rest of us got off at the end of the line, just north of the Natural History Museum (#3 in the aerial photo below).

The National Mall is the green strip in the middle of the aerial photo. The stage was situated near the east end of the Mall. I cut through the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden (#4 in the aerial photo) to get to the main entrance to the rally area. Although multitudes were streaming in along with me, it had not yet dawned on me that I should be jockeying for a good position, and I casually meandered in the direction of the stage, pausing to snap a couple of photos of people with signs along the way.

You’ll probably have noticed that these photos are neither magnificent nor dazzling and that the light in them is reminiscent of an unearthly twilight, although they were, in fact, taken on earth and in broad daylight. I noticed that too when I first saw the pictures on my computer, at which point I looked at the camera and noticed that the little wheel had moved and that I had apparently taken all of my photos at a setting represented by a little green image of a camera right next to “P.” I am at a loss to fathom why anyone would include such a setting on a camera, especially right next to a fine setting like “P,” but there it was, and I’m afraid we can expect it to cast an eerie shadow over the rest of the post.

Anyway, next, let’s take a look at a row of porta-potties with people amassing on the steps of the west building of the National Gallery of Art (#5 in the aerial photo of the Mall) in the background.

Once I had lazily snapped this essential photo, I set upon meandering again and almost immediately found that I had reached a point where no further forward movement was possible.

Here was my view of the stage:

There were giant television screens set up at intervals along the Mall. Here was my view of the nearest giant screen:

It was about 11:00. This was where I would be standing for the next 4 hours. For the first hour, the screens showed Daily Show and Colbert Report clips documenting the buildup to the rally, interspersed with clips of musical acts that apparently appeared on the shows. At 11:35, a long, loud cheer arose from a section of the crowd somewhere behind my section of the crowd. Nobody in my section of the crowd could figure out why.

At noon, the “preshow” began. It consisted of a couple of musical numbers from The Roots (who would be the house band for the entire rally), followed by a few more numbers from The Roots and John Legend, followed by an appearance by Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman of the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters, who made the crowd do “the wave” in various ways and then make various sounds (crying, different types of laughing, cheek popping) in unison and then jump all at the same time.

Then it was time for the rally to begin. If you watched it on TV (or watch clips of it now at and, you saw (or will see parts of) exactly what I saw if you put a pole with speakers in front of your screen.

Highlights of the main show included the contest between Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Ozzy Osbourne, and the O’Jays for the rally’s signature “train” song, Wyatt Cenac and Jason Jones’s attempts to put positive and negative spins, respectively, on the rally, P. K. Winsome’s hilarious delivery of his taped bit, a “Moments of Unreasonableness” segment featuring Steven Slater (the flight attendant who quit in a huff on a bad day) and Teresa Guidice (who threw a tantrum on The Real Housewives of New Jersey), the presentation of fear medals and medals for acts of reasonableness, a musical number by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert that apparently didn’t come off on stage like it did in rehearsal, Stephen Colbert’s media montages, and John Oliver (as Peter Pan) leading the crowd in chanting “Will This Help?”

And then Stephen Colbert disappeared and Jon Stewart got semiserious and made an attempt to give the event meaning, arguing that the media makes it harder to solve our problems by amplifying the uncivil aspects of both sides in arguments about how to solve those problems and by presenting a distorted image of Americans, and that folks on both sides of these arguments are really quite nice and reasonable people, and that maybe we’ve been too quick to label people terrorists, racists, Stalinists, and theocrats, and that Tea Partiers aren’t “real” racists, and that there’s no reason our often-demonstrated ability to compromise in situations that call for observance of established and agreed-upon protocols and etiquette can’t spill over into our dialogues with those whose views we find repugnant or alarming about issues we consider important. At least that’s what I think he said.

Here’s an interesting take on what Bill Maher thought he said: link if the video fails)

Whatever he said, it seemed to resonate with the crowd to some degree, because everyone seemed calm, reasonable, and civil as we were leaving, even after we had spent several minutes working our way toward what looked like an exit but turned out to be a dead end. (As you can see, the steps of the west building of the National Gallery of Art were now packed to capacity.)

The civility continued and nary a discouraging word was heard as people jumped the fences to gain access to a portion of the Mall that seemed to be clearing out.

I thought it might be nice to get a shot of the stage close up, so, still blissfully unaware that the camera was not set on “P,” I made my way in the direction of the stage.

This is as close as I was able to get 45 minutes after the event had ended.

I then began to wend my way home. I decided to walk, because I knew the public transportation would be crowded.

The steps of the west building of the National Gallery of Art were still packed almost an hour after the event had ended.

This is an intersection near the main entrance to the rally site about an hour after the event had ended.

And here are scenes from a few blocks away.

Here’s a traffic jam at an intersection just outside the area where the streets were closed off.

And here are some people who had the good sense to wait until after the rally to stroll by the White House, in a photo bringing to mind the two chief lessons I learned from the day: never dawdle on the way to a rally, and always check the setting on the camera before taking a picture.


  • Shelley:

    Thank you, Dear Charles, for the commentary & photos! I watched it on CSPAN from the comfort of my living room in Santa Barbara, California, but wished I could’ve been there. I attend even fewer rallies than you! But only b/c us Californians are too laid back to actually get it together for something like that :)

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  • Mac:

    I love Jon Stewart but I was disappointed with his rally, I agree more along the lines of Bill Maher

  • Mo:

    Dear Charles,

    So nice of you to cover this event for Rechelle’s blog, thank you. I’m also in DC, I work at the USDA Whitten Building directly to the left of #15 on the photo of the Mall, although I live deep deep in the bowels of Maryland (“Chawls Canny”). (I poke fune but with love.) Hate to say there has never been a rally interesting or important enough for me to be willing to fight the crowds, especially on a weekend. Maybe if they were showcasing flying elephants and bike-riding donkeys … maybe.

    • Charles:

      Well, if you’re going to live deep in the bowels of something, it might as well be Maryland. I hope your daily commute isn’t too horrible.

      – Chawls

  • Mo:

    Fune = fun. I don’t proofread much on weekends either.

  • Mo:

    Also, weekend = Friday off after a Thursday holiday.