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Sanity, fear and politics in America

NJ Voices, Nov 7, 2010

Its been some week since the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear took place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. According to Wikipedia, some 215,000 people showed up at the call of Comedy Centrals Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

I couldn’t make it, I’m sorry to say, but a colleague did go and provided me with an amusing account, excerpts from which appear here. So, this is the rally as seen (and photographed by Kenneth Carlson, friend and fellow Morristown resident, and former member of the faculty of the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University–an education maven still!

Coming up to street level along Constitution Avenue near the National Archives, one was immediately engulfed in a mass of shuffling humanity. Most were twosomes and foursomes who seemed 20 30 years old. Everyone was in high spirits but no one was seen getting high herbally. (It was only noon, after all.) There was the occasional couple that looked as though they had been at Woodstock or the civil rights March on Washington or the anti-war March on the Pentagon, and maybe all three those many years ago. There was also the occasional group of folks promoting democracy and encouraging folks to vote wielding such sweetly reasonable, civic-minded signs as: Listen, Think, Speak, and Vote! and Truth is Not Determined by How Loudly It is Shouted.

Most of the signs carried by young people were acerbic, albeit frequently witty, such as Trickle Down Economics is a Golden Shower. A tall, distinguished older gentleman was wearing a white sweatshirt with a picture of George Bush, who was saying I screwed you all but thanks for blaming the black guy. It turned out this gentleman lives in Montclair and does consulting work for Goldman Sachs! He was accompanied by his daughter, a social worker in lower Manhattan, near dad’s office.

A startling sight was that of Tea Partyers. One woman had a string of tea bags around her neck and was carrying a photo of Sarah Palin. Stephen Colbert had told people they should come as that which they most feared, so the woman might just have been playing along with his exhortation. Not so the grim-faced older man who was carrying a sign that said Dependency is a Disease. Don’t let the government burden your children with its Ponzi schemes [Ken says he couldnt get a photo because the guy kept turning away from the camera].

Someone else could not see the camera because his sign was on his back, and read Restoring Honor: Nobama.

The Ahmadiyya Muslims were out, too, with a group of four young men and a group of four young women some distance apart, both announcing their commitment to non-violence and distributing a brochure entitled Muslims for Peace.

In addition to the vast liberal majority and the rare faux or genuine Tea Partyer, there was a third group that, appropriately enough, were Third Partyers. Their concern was war, and they saw both the Republican and Democrat leadership as war-mongers. They want Americans to have a choice that is not pro-war. One of these Third Party groups, The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, handed out a 4-page newssheet with a lot of text in small print. The only contact information on the newssheet was the organization’s web site:

The organization that had the most ingenious way of communicating its message was Young Invincibles. This group’s mission is to defend health care reform, and its members were positioned at the Metro stations to pass out postcard size Metro maps (handy enough) with a list of the four favorite bars of the Young Invincibles (a bonus).

The general tone among the crowd seemed to be one of irreverent mockery of the Tea Party movement and its avatars. One sign said If Thou Dost Readeth This Thou Art a Witch. Another said Every time Sarah Palin tweets God kills a kitten. Two older couples were wearing identical blue t-shirts that said Don’t Drink The Tea. Unlike the Glenn Beck rally of a few weeks before, no one seemed angry or hostile. Everyone was good-humored (except some who must have wondered how they ever let themselves get caught up in such milling throngs). The good humor may have had its wellspring in a smug self-righteousness that intensified in the midst of kindred spirits.

The great majority of those at the rally never got within viewing or listening distance of the stage. Three young guys tried to get a view by climbing into trees. Many people went off and sat in circles on grassy spots and gabbed contentedly or played games. Others sat on the steps of public buildings. No one seemed to mind knowing less about the main event than the folks at home watching on C-Span or Comedy Central. The weather was ideal for the occasion: clear skies, temperature in the low 60’s, a breeze that was chilling but also bracing. And a ton of camaraderie.

And, then, came Tuesday, the mid-term elections, and the rally was easily yesterdays news. Arriving, now, in full swing, is a strident campaign that tests all the good intentions of the rally, Stewarts emphasis anyway, since sanity doesnt seem to be much in evidence. On the other hand, Colberts day may be coming: we do have a lot to fear.

The election results may be telling us a lot more than the pundits have yet suggested, myths aside. Both parties are out of touch, the way I see it. And, from what Im hearing from the extremes on both sides, I hope they are marooned somewhere, marginalized, way right or left of center. Let the voices of sanity–and common purpose–save the day.