I attended the rally with my husband, John, and his daughter, Ann, who lives right outside DC. We started planning this trip over a month before the rally was announced, to support Ann who is running in her first marathon on Sunday. Talk about a question of sanity–running 26.2 miles. Uh, no, not sane. But I digress. Once the rally was announced, we knew we had to be there. It was so considerate of John Stewart and Stephen Colbert to provide us with free entertainment on Saturday.
So, back to the sanity issue. Ann chimed in, “No, it was not sane for that many people (a quarter-million maybe, who knows–we can safely say “a lot of people”) to gather in one place. Especially for that many people to gather to see a couple of entertainers.” If that’s all it was, she’s probably right.
On the other hand how many chances can you have in your life to see Stewart and Colbert on the same stage with The Roots, John Legend, Mavis Staple, Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens), Ozzy Osborne, the O’Jays, and Tony Bennett?
But most of us, I imagine, did not know who was on the bill. Nor did we care.
Sane–I don’t know about that. I found myself trapped in crowds for 20-30 minutes completely unable to move on more than one occasion (good thing I’m not claustrophobic) and the people kept pressing in. There were people dressed like George Washington, someone from engineering from Star Trek (red uniform, for those of you who do not remember), two gorillas who discovered each other in passing (one balck, one pink), and a whole group of green monsters. Oh, and Wonder Woman (who might have been a transvestite, I’m not sure).
The signs were creative (gallery here) and ranged from the predictable to the hysterical. There were equations, quotes, at least one sign with footnotes, and lots of pithy sayings about tolerance and civility.
But one of the stated goals of the rally’s call for sanity was to stop the yelling and calm the partisanship. Sure the Colbert and Stewart montages targeted both ends of the spectrum. But the leftward tilt was evident, especially in the scrum (and it was a really big scrum). It was an attempt at “civility.” But how civil was it? It was certainly polite–I lost count of the number of times I apologized to people for stepping on toes, squeezing past the stationary (I compared myself to a salmon swmming upstream on more than one occasion), and smacking into people with a backpack that doubled my width. I don’t think “polite” and “civil” are the same thing.
We weren’t challenged by the opposition. We had no way to test our devotion to “civility.” What if the Tea Party had showed up? I expected some Tea Pertiers to do that, but I did not see any. How would we have reacted if they had tried to provoke us or stomp some more heads.
In the bigger picture, I don’t think we showed up just to be entertained or just to feel part of something reminiscent of the 60s (although there was that element to it). I think we were looking for a message and maybe for some validation. For those of us who wanted to feel as if we are not the lone voices of reason in the wilderness, I think we saw that there are others–not everybody, but a lot of people.
As for the message, John Stewart did talk at the end about how we work together “everywhere but Congress and cable television” on a daily basis. I loved the footage of traffic merging from six lanes down to one, without a traffic cop directing the action–we just do it. Granted, if someone cuts me off, especially in a big truck or SUV, I may jump to some conclusions about his political affiliations, but that’s just me, and I have enough self-control to not let road-rage get the best of me.
He’s right–in the most mundane of circumstances, we do treat each other with civility. In lines, at funerals, in the grocery store. That’s why it’s called “common” courtesy. Can we ratchet that up a bit? It’ll take practice. But I was reminded today that there are a lot of like-minded people who realize that the choices are civility or more head-stomping. And I really don’t like the latter choice.