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
Wish I could have been there. Glad you were, Ruth.
Since I couldn’t be there, you’ve given me the next best thing: a sense of hope for our fractious, wildly frustrating but still great country. This post reminds me how dangerously easy it is to forget that we’re more alike than we are different.
You are so right! I couldn’t believe that in the unbelievable throngs underground on the Metro, in the gridlocked traffic above, the endless line at the hot dog stand (and the McDonald’s many blocks away), the streams of people of all kinds gathering and then dispersing back to wherever they came from…there was joy, curiosity, respect and a good attitude. I only saw one crying baby! AND we were so far back we listened to the whole thing on my cell phone broadcast from Austin! Everyone around us became our friends since we had a “speaker.” God(dess) bless America.
That just gave me chills. I’m so glad you got to go!
Wish I could have been there. I looked at the crowd, on TV, and thought, Ruth is one of those tiny specks, she’s there, representing me. Thanks for making the effort.
I wish I coulda been there but I couldn’t. I could–and did–join the 5,000+ on the Capitol steps in Austin. And that felt pretty damn good, too.
I am so jealous. I would have loved to go. It’s so nice to hear your insights.
This had to be one of those once-in-a-lifetime events. Civility…how refreshing. It was interesting to read your take on it, since it’s so true that watching it from a distance could not have come close to conveying the true essence of the day.
While I thought this was The Best Idea Ever, the timing was not good in my opinion. Three days before the election, several thousand potential campaign workers were in Washington instead of back home Getting Out The Vote.
I’ll be a Democrat until I die, but damn it, we are the worst freakin’ planners. As Will Rogers once said, “I don’t belong to any organized party– I’m a Democrat.”
I’ve been wanting to hear a firsthand report–thanks Ruth. This is great. Did you hear Stewart interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR? There’s two versions both will have you laughing out loud. He talked about planning the event.
I’m so glad you went! I adore Jon Stewart (and Colbert too) and loved the concept of this.
Oh, I wish I had been! I am glad you were.
I wish wish wish wish I could have been there too! Thank you for this — it sounds like an amazingly successful event. I heart Jon Stewart.
I was with you in spirit as my family watched the whole thing on television. It was incredible.
I would have given my eye teeth to be there. I’m so glad it was as good as it looked on tv. (Pity about the elections, though …)
Another friend of mine attended and had an amazing time! So great to know I have another friend who had the honor, too.
I think it’s true that it would help if we could talk about left-right stuff civilly. But those people on the right are just wrong, you know? (The second line was a joke).
Ha! Poor lone airhorn hawker. He sure misjudged that audience.
After reading your account I’m sorry I wasn’t in the crowd but glad you got to capture it for those of us who couldn’t attend. Fascinating.
I SO wish I’d been there! I love the fact that this was a good natured bunch, and not an angry one. Misguided anger and hatred (especially hatred) has no place in politics.
It sounds amazing. Thanks for painting it so vividly.