My husband and I were two of the hundreds of thousands who showed up for the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington, D.C. Saturday. It was one of those perfect autumn days, warm and sunny. The Mall, which is flanked by the Washington Monument and the Capitol, teemed with middleaged people like us — and lots of people not like us (younger, hipper, sign-carriers, outrageously costumed, you name it, you saw it).
I don’t know how many people were there. I can’t tell you anything new about the music acts or the jokes, since you could see that on TV. What I can tell you is how uplifting this gathering was. You couldn’t have seen or felt that from the TV coverage, you couldn’t have figured that out from the wire and Internet coverage.
In the end, it wasn’t about the signs, however good they were. Or the jokes and entertainment. It was really about a throng of good-natured people who didn’t shove one another or buy airhorns from the lone hawker of those obnoxious devices. It was about people like us who came for reasons they couldn’t quite articulate (maybe because, we were convinced, it would be a happening and we’d already missed Woodstock a zillion years ago) — people who showed up for no particular reason, except they were tired and out of patience and discouraged. I don’t know what we or anybody else wanted. An escape, maybe. An adventure. A distraction.
We sang patriotic songs, and if you think that sounds ironic, then you definitely weren’t there. We looked down that long Mall, and it was impossible not to be stirred by the peaceful gathering of so many people. Looked down that Mall and thought of the history of this country, the country we’re now so distressed about, since it’s deeply divided and its politics are poisonous. Looked down the Mall, looked at the people crowding around you, who were unfailingly polite and patient and sweet-natured. Watched the bright blue skies and occasional clouds, peered into the nearby Jumbotron.
Ask anybody there about politics, and I’m sure we were all left of center. It was a rally considered too political for employees of news organizations to come to. But, amazingly enough, the rally wasn’t political. It didn’t blame the usual right-wing villains. Sure, it carped about the media, but it was about the media of all stripes, from MSNBC to Fox to CNN to NPR. It was about the endless screaming, the accusations that are robbing us of a civil discourse.
It was about the radical idea that the guy bloviating about his Tea Party values might, just possibly, love this country and want what’s best for it. About the revolutionary thought we might all drop the sanctimony and the kneejerk name-calling. Funny thing is, when you stop blaming the usual victims and suspects, we all become responsible for what’s going on — the poison, the volume, the loss of basic consideration.
I know, I know. You’ll tell me they did it first, they’re the ones who ruined our country — the Republicans, the right-wingers, the conservatives — and the rest of us are just fighting back. It’s not our fault. It’s theirs. They started it.
But that was the odd thing about being out on that Mall on a beautiful autumn day, that was what you couldn’t see on TV. Here we were, in our indeterminate numbers, listening to one of the great comedians of our day speak about love of country and optimism. Here we were, wondering about our own responsibility in this continuing fray and what we could possibly do to make it better.
Funny ideas from a very funny man. I can’t tell you how serious it was. I’m not kidding: You should have been there.
(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)
Read one of my favorite posts about revolutionary ideas at a family reunion