Jon Stewart joked that his Rally for Sanity was just like Woodstock but without the nudity and drugs. He was right, mostly (I guess there were drugs around, but I didn't see any, and I certainly didn't see any nudity although there was probably some of that around, too.) The point of similarity, though, is that the point isn't the event as such. It's the event as cultural signifier. If you ask actual people who went to actual Woodstock and if they tell you the truth, they'll tell you it was terrible. It was raining fer gawd's sake.
Well, lemme tell ya about the Rally for Sanity. It was terrible. Unless you were up near the stage, where it was impossible to get to an hour before the rally started, or within a few yards of the secondary speakers, where the crowds were also impossible, you couldn't really hear anything except when the performers were shouting or singing, and the singing sounded terrible. You were so far away you couldn't see the visual jokes, and the sound system was so bad you couldn't hear the verbal jokes.
But none of that matters. For us there, the fun was being there. It wasn't the energy from the stage that animated us, it was the energy from us.
In a strange but most important way, being on the Mall for Jon Stewart rally struck the exact same emotional register as the crowd at the Glen Beck Restoring Honor rally. It was important to both crowds to know that we weren't alone in drowning in bleakness. We were together drowning in bleakness. There was an earnestness in both crowds beyond the fundamental ideological conflict we are prosecuting against each other. When we say, and they say, that "It isn't about politics" (even though in both cases it plainly had political resonances.)
And there was an underlying anxiety in both crowds. The Boomer-and-younger crowd at the Rally for Sanity tried to be funny while the Boomer-and-older crowd at the Beck Rally tried to be solemn, but they were both afraid underneath. And the coming together was consoling and uplifting--a signature of encouragement in a civil culture that hasn't been very encouraging of late.
My 14-year-old nephew brought me along to the rally. Once we figured out that we weren't going to be able to stand in one place for three hours and the moment we left our spot our ability to follow the action on stage would be sporadic at best, we just surrendered to the flow the people, laughing at signs, getting our sign laughed at, chatting, taking pictures, talking politics. That was a total blast, but thing of it was, we walked a lot. Five or six hard miles drifting up and through and down and through the crowd. At the end, lawd were my dawgs barking.
So when we got back to the Holiday Inn, we just crumpled up and watched the wrap-up coverage of the Rally and part of the re-run on C-Span, including Jon Stewart's now-famous speech, which, frankly, plays a lot better on Youtube than it did live. Moreover, I had no idea how great Sheryl Crow was until I heard her on C-Span; until now, I always kinda wondered what people saw in her as a performer.
So when I got up Sunday morning and suggested we go find a Senator to harass, David thought the idea was good, but he was quite skeptical of the feasiibility, considering how tired and achy we were But I laid out my plan and it was just feasible enough to drag him out of bed of a Sunday morning.
I knew ABC's This Week was taped at the Newseum on a closed set, and I hoped at least one of the primary guests would be in studio. So we walked around to the back entrance of the Newseum, which is pretty much deserted, but just as we got there it wasn't deserted anymore: Senator John Cornyn of Texas, Chair of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, strutted out onto the sidewalk.
"Senator Cornyn," I fawned, "Thank for your public service," and shook his hand. He thanked me, then I asked, "May I take a picture of you with my nephew?" to which he cordially assented. I snapped the photo, then flicked the the camera over to video, then I stopped fawning. Of course, I hadn't actually seen his appearance on This Week, but I had little trouble imagining the smarmy, smirky, arrogant overconfidence with which he carried himself, since that's the way he always carries himself. So I figured I better remind him of another time when the Republicans were overconfident about the number of Senate seats they thought they'd pick up:
So that's how our Rally to Restore Sanity weekend in D.C. ended. Now that I'm home, I should watch a recording so I know what happened while I was gone.