Restoring sanity, with a chuckle

They were the nicest 200,000 people I had ever met.

If you weren’t in Washington at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on Saturday, you probably saw pictures of the funny signs and the interviews with the random people. And you definitely could see and hear better than a lot of us. And maybe you took Jon Stewart’s message of “taking it down a notch” to heart and were able to walk away from your computer or television smiling because you didn’t have to spend your whole weekend traveling to be there in person. But as for me, I’m really glad I was a part of the masses.

I can’t express how thrilled I was to see all these everyday Americans surrounding me — from the group of senior citizens across the aisle from me on the flight to the packed Metro car that willingly squeezed together — all headed to the rally. As we got closer to the National Mall, I kept thinking, “This is it. This is exactly what we needed.” Even in the mob of the rally itself, people weren’t pushing to get a better view; everyone was light-hearted, kind, and accommodating.

Nobody knew what to expect from the rally. Most people suspected there would be some comedy and music, and the musicians they pulled together were certainly impressive. I had some hope that Stephen Colbert would actually break character and use the gathering to be sincere, but I’ll admit that was a bit lofty. Not too many of us expected to lose cell phone service for three hours when the local towers suddenly had a few hundred thousand extra phones to worry about. That threw a wrench in my plans to meet up with the myriad of friends who had come, but c’est la vie.

The audio wasn’t working well at the beginning, so when the Mythbusters were on stage chatting, we couldn’t hear a thing. Chants of “Louder! Louder!” swept the audience and, even though I knew my voice wouldn’t be heard by the sound guys, as long as it advanced up the line, I felt had done my part. They had it fixed up shortly after Stewart took the stage.

Personally, I thought the jokes and music went on for too long. I enjoy laughing as much as the next man, but I didn’t fly down for a comedy show, or for a concert. An hour into things I began to wonder if the rally was going to have a central point. Jon Stewart did finally get to his message, which turned out to be a cross between bashing the media and Congress and a plea for actual cooperation. But even he admitted that the gathering was not about what he said, but about how everyone showing up made a statement that the American people are tired of the insanity and how we all want to bring a little more rationality into the country. I wish he had gotten to it sooner, and that there had been a bit more to it, but as a satirist he was already a bit out of his element when it came to the serious parts. I was amazed to hear later that critics said he went too far.

I worry that the message won’t last. On the plane ride home, I saw that CNN had focused in on two aspects of the rally: the comedy and the message about the media. One of their guests argued that it was a march of moderates, calling it a political rally unrepresentative of everyone’s views. He completely missed how this rally of moderates was not in terms of left and right, but in terms of moderation versus extremism.

Still, I was impressed by the MIT representation. It was great to see the guy with the MIT jacket outside the Metro holding a sign that said “I hope today isn’t too windy so my sign doesn’t blow away.” My friends and I also met a group of TDC alumni that saw our apparel and started chatting about life at the ‘Tute. I suppose I should have expected it, especially considering the rally’s reddit origins; although I’m just a lurker on the website, I couldn’t stop myself from yelling “upvote!” whenever I saw the logo. College students were disproportionately represented, but we were by no means the only age group there.

In the end it was the number and the personalities of the people that made it a worthwhile venture. If you were able to be there, thanks! And if you couldn’t be there, take ten minutes and watch Jon Stewart’s closing remarks. Talk to your friends about the experience. I hope that it makes a lasting change, but, even if it doesn’t, I’m glad I was able to hang out with my fellow Americans in the nation’s capital and attend a rally for something worthwhile.