Sign says I like protesting

Rallying for sanity or fear or something

Protest sign reads I LIKE PROTESTING

My sign at the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear. Photo from the National Post.

I’ve been to some pretty big rallies and marches in DC, and I don’t know numbers for all of them, but yesterday’s Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear could easily be the biggest one I’ve attended. It was huge, 215,000 people compared to Glenn Beck’s 87,000, and that’s with a ton of people leaving the mall early to watch the rally in bars and restaurants instead.

And this is for a rally that was kind of a joke. The event seemed to mean different things to different people: a joke, a way to mock the Tea Party and demonstrate that they don’t represent everybody in the U.S., a critique of mainstream media, or an actual political rally. The day felt like a hybrid of all these things.

Some people I’ve talked to are bothered so many people would turn out to a (semi)fake rally. Quite frankly, and this is coming from an organizer who thinks engagement in the political system is vital, I thought the rally and huge turnout were great. I think big marches in DC are a dead tactic right now. They don’t really demonstrate the size and power of a base – there are better ways to do that. I don’t think they have much of a political influence. They’re a fun energizing event for a base, but I think there are more strategic uses of our time and energy than holding signs that compare whoever we disagree with to Hitler (and I’ve seen these for every issue and constituency I’ve seen march in DC).

I enjoyed this humorous, semi-political respite from the usual polarized political arguments on the mall. Maybe it’s because I live in DC, but the rally to me was a big screw you to the rallies that mess up our weekends on a regular basis.

And no, it wasn’t some great feminist or social justice event. There were not nearly enough women on the stage, something feminists have called these same comedians out for before. But it was a lot of fun, and a nice break from sensationalist media coverage of politics that I don’t think is particularly useful either.

Were you at the rally this weekend, did you watch it on TV, or deliberately stay away? What’s your take on a huge rally organized by political satirists on the national mall a few days before the election?

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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  • nazza

    Having lived here in DC now for two years, I, like you question the effectiveness of big rallies. All too often they showcase our vanities, not our solidarity. Protest culture is often a bunch of self-importance masquerading as a unified front.

    Regarding last weekend’s rally, I watched most of it on television. I really dislike large crowds and how they tax the Metro system. I’m glad people took part in it and made it about fun rather than some kind of “statement” that bordered on self-parody.

  • Christine

    I was at the rally, and though I didn’t expect it to be very political, I do wish it had been a little more. I wish there had been of a call to action. Not necessarily asking everyone to become activists, but at least to vote and be informed. The rally seemed to promote the idea that “being there” was enough or “just caring” is enough. And I just don’t think that’s true. If they wanted to stay out of the business of telling people who to vote for, or promoting any certain party, at the very least, Stewart could have encouraged people to learn about the candidates and vote.

  • Heather

    I was there as well, and I thoroughly enjoyed Stewart & Colbert’s choice to stay out of making overtly political statements. I agree that the rally ultimately turned out to mean different things for different people, but I personally felt like it was really very effectively a nonpartisian effort and I think it was definitely needed just in terms of a release from a lot of the tension and strain produced by the viscious vitriol being spouted by a lot of outlets (esp. tv pundits.)

    Comments I heard while I was there, especially on the metro on the way down were things like, “this is my first rally” and “I’ve never done anything political before” from a lot of young people, including a lot that were from out of town, and I think that really speaks to something. Everybody says that the youth don’t care, but maybe it’s just we/they are so turned off by all the shark-baiting-like behavior that they can’t get interested, but when presented with an opportunity to do so, they will most certainly express themselves. Fully clothed in irony, but completely patriotic.

  • Betsy

    I wouldn’t underestimate the political impact of the Rally. My husband hasn’t voted in the last few elections and hasn’t bothered to register either. He’s extremely disillusioned. He went to the Rally and came home wishing he had registered… and out of 215k + people, I doubt he’s the only one.

    If nothing else, the Rally gave 215k people hope that the US isn’t full of crazy people, that compromise is possible, and we need to keep the dialogue going and continue to make an effort. It isn’t all a waste.

  • carolynkl

    I flew in to see the rally from Mississippi. I was unfortunate enough to be stuck behind a crowd of a few thousand and was unable to see or hear any of the rally until I got home. I was pretty upset over it, but after a few days to calm down, I am glad to say I went. I was able to meet several awesome people there (even someone in a very convincing Lady Gaga costume). I just really wish I could have gotten closer.

  • sunset

    Nice idea, but I wish they had avoided the word “sanity.” Are those of us who aren’t “sane” (i.e. have a mental illness) welcome?

    • Betsy

      Sunset, I have a mental illness and I didn’t find the use of the word “sanity” offensive. I certainly have my moments of irrationality related to my disease, but I don’t think it defines me or my politics. It never occurred to me to be offended until i read your post. I’m sorry you feel slighted.

      • sunset

        It defines me as much as being female, or white, or pansexual defines me. It’s just part of me. It’s something I’ve seen used in very ugly ways to say, in effect, your opinion doesn’t count.

        • Cat

          I’m sorry that this use of the word has offended you, and I totally understand that it must be frustrating to say the least that it’s so often used like this.
          I don’t know if it’s helpful, but ‘insanity’ meaning mental illness is an archaic term – it’s no longer used in science, sadly still used in law but there it has no specific definition and there has been a long campaign to eliminate its use. In effect it doesn’t (or certainly shouldn’t) have anything to do with mental illness anymore, and its modern definition is simply ‘foolishness’, which I hope is what the rally was going for.

  • Bar

    I also wish the rally was a tad more political, lots more political. But it was a satire, a critique, and I think Jon’s point of the rally was to make a point, which he did. Jon and Stephen may be comedic pundits, but they both have well articulated opinions and Jon’s final 10 minute speech showcased that wonderfully. And of course, I don’t see how Stephen couldn’t make a point with his own twist on an ultra-conservative (moron). So yes, I wish they made more points like they did with the ‘terrifying news clips’, but overall it was fun to watch (which I did on the TV) and it’s been fun to follow for the past few weeks on their shows. So bravo from me.

  • Matt

    I watched the rally on TV, and while it could have been a little tighter in its execution, it stayed reasonably faithful to its message (notwithstanding the weak tone of the Rock/Crow lyrics). I don’t think the message necessarily had to promote voting — I think the main idea is that we should be respectful human beings that work together, and despite what news media suggests, we generally are those kinds of people (even though most of us “break character” in a few or some situations — and that’s where we should improve ourselves). While we often will not agree, we don’t have to live with the kind of fear or distrust that blinds people to having sane discourse. I am willing to trade away the “go vote” directive if it means that “Muslims and people of any other demographic are generally hopeful human beings like everyone else” stays fresher in everyone’s minds. It is an idea that cuts to the heart of the conflict-driven news media, but it is also the sort of concept that can shape our every interaction.

  • Amber Viescas

    I was there. Woke up at 6:30 am, about when I usually go to bed, and managed to get a good look at the screens (some of my friends weren’t so lucky)

    I think we needed something like this. It seems like political expression has become so narrow-minded; trapped in echo spaces and failing to reach people. There are lots of people, I think, that care about the issues but don’t like the options the current crop of politicians and activists give them. Then they get labeled as “unmotivated” or “lazy.” But Stewart and Colbert speak their language… and they respond. That’s the idea I’ve gotten at least.

    I really hope something grows out of this.

  • Red Comet

    I had a great time at the rally and was impressed at how non-partisan they managed to keep it. Stewart and Colbert couldn’t control how the audience acted entirely, but they seemed very sincere in their goals. Most of the audience was polite, friendly, and in good humor despite the unfortunate lack of jumbotrons and speakers.

    One of the better moments for me personally was when a group of 20-something guys started yelling at a woman who was standing on a van and blocking some people’s view of a jumbo tron. Other people were chanting “Get off the van.” These guys decided it would be hilarious to channel the internet and shout “Tits or get the fuck off!”. Immediately, everyone in their surrounding area turned to them and made it clear that kind of language wasn’t cool.

  • Cathleen

    I drove down from NYC to be there. Having grown up in the DC area, I have been to plenty of rallies in my life and I agree that this was the largest one I have ever attended. I think we have to be open to the shifting paradigm of politics. Because of the 24 hour news cycle and the partisan stalemate, trusting the process seems antiquated, like Ovalteen or slips. What made this rally so successful, in my opinion, was that it was the largest and most effective piece of political theater I have ever seen. Stewbert are performers and their first professional obligation is to entertain. Most commercial performers stop there. But they made a choice to take their satire to another level. Comedy is one of the greatest forces of change we have in our arsenal.

  • Bill

    i’m not a fan of large rallies either, and I think your point that, “big marches in DC are a dead tactic right now” is, well, dead-on. However I can’t agree with your optimism over this corporate sponsored live-broadcast as a whole. Stewart–an otherwise smart and funny man–positions himself as the objective non-center among a polarized society and loses me every time he says a line like this, “‘Why would you work with Marxists actively subverting our Constitution or racists and homophobes who see no one’s humanity but their own?’ Stewart asked,” or uses Medea Benjamin and Code Pink as the butt of a joke. Activist on the left is not the same as what’s happening on the right, and so many of the things Stewart obviously celebrates (…end of child labor? five day work week? eight hour day?) were started or won by ‘Marxists’ or radicals. This post is the best analysis I’ve seen of Stewart’s sanity yet. Not because he’s not funny, but because by not choosing a side to side with, he frequently sides with theirs by accident.

  • Suzanne MacNeil

    I have my critiques of Stewart and Colbert, but I also feel like the left needs some new, creative forms of organizing and this could be one of them. The rally definitely wasn’t fake, there’s plenty in US political culture that needs to change to make way for some real, honest political discussions, and poking at tea party alarmism is a good place to start.

  • Cathleen

    Well, I have to say… When I woke up this morning I thought, “Oh well, guess the Rally didn’t make much of a difference in the election.”