Weeks of anticipation came to an end as Comedy Central’s pseudo-anchormen Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held their “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, Oct. 30.
To ignore the fact that Stewart and Colbert held the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” when just two months earlier Glenn Beck held his “Rally to Restore Honor” would be difficult.
Stewart and Colbert are, after all, in the business of satire and there was speculation over whether the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” did not have a serious message of bipartisanship at all and was just supposed to be a satirical shot at Beck and his rally.
The rally promoted itself as aiming to help people of all different political backgrounds work together. However, people still had strong opinions that they were not hiding.
Attendees had many different reasons for coming to the rally. Kristen Ingembrenson of Durham, N.C. brought her four young children to the rally with her. “I think they need to see more things like this in their lives,” she said. “We don’t do rallies anymore like we used to. It used to be a big thing and it isn’t anymore. They just need to experience it.”
Vinnie Renda of Long Island, N.Y. said that he felt it was “important to come out and show his support” and that the trek from Long Island to Washington D.C. was “totally worth it.”
As an after note Renda said, “I’d like to see Glenn Beck fired.”
The majority of the rally signs people held fell in line with the rally’s theme of moderation and cooperation. The signs said things like “take it off caps lock, please,” “use your inside voice,” and “if all your beliefs fit on a sign you need to think harder.”
But it wasn’t all about the sanity. Many people had signs that were promoting Colbert’s goal of keeping fear alive. Colbert’s face was featured prominently on some signs and his quote “we have everything to fear but fear itself,” was incredibly popular as well.
Bears, which Colbert often talks about on his show as being both scary and inherently evil were also featured heavily at the rally with many people in full or partial bear costumes or signs that somehow dealt with bears.
Other signs were much more political. Christine O’Donnell, Sarah Palin, Beck, Fox News and the Tea Party were all popular targets for protestors at the rally. There were many young women dressed up as witches holding signs that read “Ms. O’Donnell I’m proud to inform you that I’m not a witch either, now can we please move on,” or “I am a witch, what do you have to say about that?”
The treatment of O’Donnell may seem harsh but it paled in comparison to the treatment of her Tea Party. There were people dressed up as the mad hatter from Lewis Carrol’s classic novel “Alice in Wonderland” with signs demanding their Tea Party back.
Other comments and signs ranged from “I like tea and you’re kind of ruining it,” to “stop tea bagging on me.”
Pop culture figures like Matt Damon and Justin Beiber were popular subjects of the more random signs.
The much-promoted rally was broadcast live on Comedy Central and C-SPAN but was covered by all the major news networks, local stations and papers, although each news outlet took their own angle on the story.
CNN ran an hour-long special about the rally that night. Most commentators talked about the huge turnout, some speculated whether or not the political message was slanted towards the left while others tried to decipher how the rally might affect the Nov. 2 elections.
Stewart gave a poignant speech to close the rally that drove home the rally’s central message of working together. On the screen behind him was a busy highway that was merging into fewer lanes. He gave radically different back stories to the people in the cars but emphasized how all the cars worked together peacefully.
Stewart continued to talk about how people of all different political ideologies, religious beliefs and cultural backgrounds work together everyday in school, office and community settings. He then questioned why this cooperation stops when it comes to politics.
“We work together to get things done every damn day,” Stewart said. “The only place we don’t is here or on cable TV,” Stewart said gesturing at the Capitol Building behind him.
He ended by thanking everyone who came out to the rally that day.
“Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder,” Stewart said. “To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine.” Then, the crowd cheered with enthusiasm.
The cheers, however, were not the wild kind filled with fiery passion which so often marks rallies. Instead, these were cheers that were pleading for bipartisan cooperation, cheers that asked politicians and lawmakers to stop pointing fingers at each other and start solving some of the worst problems in American history, these were cheers of sanity.
As “The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” was compared to Beck’s “Rally to Restore Honor,” attendance numbers were no exception. Both rallies had very high attendance rates and no one will ever be able to project an exact number for either event.
The National Parks service said that over 200,000 people attended the rally. CBS News released an estimate of about 215,000 people at the Stewart/Colbert rally as opposed to their estimate of around 87,000 people for Beck’s rally in August.
The city of Washington D.C. was alive with excitement and overflowing with people everywhere. The National Mall itself and the space around it filled up quickly and those close to stage had arrived the night before and early that morning.