WASHINGTON—Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, like many before them, called on Americans to gather in D.C. for an afternoon of calling for sanity, fear and reason.
And come they did. The crowd, estimated to be more than 200,000 strong, stretched from in front of the Capitol building to the Washington Monument, spilled onto side streets, and clogged the highways and Metro system.
They carried signs showing off their sense of humor (“This is my sign. There are many like it, but this one is mine.") as well as more serious sentiments ("Ask. Tell."). Ralliers dressed as cartoon characters, founding fathers, fruit, witches and anything else their imaginations could conjure. (This reporter personally spotted Waldo eight times on the Metro and several more times in the crowd.)
They came to represent their political views, to express their anger, to poke fun at the political atmosphere or just to have a good time. And they came from everywhere.
Richard and Durema Kestner of High Rolls, N.M., proudly waved the state Zia flag and dubbed themselves Bill Richardson's "unauthorized, unofficial" rally reps. "We're here because of all the fear and misinformation that's being spread through the media,” Richard said. “It's great to see so many people who want sanity."
The duel was settled when the The O'Jays took to the stage and performed "Love Train."
Mike and Becky Travis, dressed as Captain America and Lady Liberty, traveled from Indiana to "restore sanity" and because "Jon Stewart is awesome," Mike said. Their message? "People need to chill out; most people aren't extremists."
Students Danny Bathgate and Zach Brass made the trek from Boston. Bathgate told the Alibi, “It sounded like fun. And besides, there really is too much insanity in our country today." Brass came because he's been a longtime fan of both shows, adding, "It's a good cause to rally for; you know, combatting stupid shit."
Tory O'Conner and Jan Stanley hoisted a sign reading "Alaskans For Sanity." They said it was important for them to travel all the way from the Land of the Midnight Sun to represent the reasonable majority of Alaskans. "We didn't want everyone to think we're all about Palin," O’Conner said.
For at least 10,000 attendees, traveling to the events meant lining up in New York City before sunrise to hop on one of 200 buses provided by the Huffington Post at no cost to the travelers. Bettinna, a bus-rider who didn't want to give her last name, described the six-hour commute as exhausting but worth the trouble. "I've had enough of the hostile political atmosphere in this country," she said.
It's unclear whether the rally accomplished anything more than decrying the absurdity of political media while putting on a good show for the thousands packed on the Mall. The crowd was treated to several surprises, including a musical battle between Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) and Ozzy Osbourne—they sang "Peace Train" and "Crazy Train," respectively. The duel was settled when the The O'Jays took to the stage and performed "Love Train."
Tony Bennett also made an appearance with a smooth rendition of "America the Beautiful." Rally-goers raised their voices to sing alongside the musical legend, and they chanted "USA, USA" in lieu of applause. The overall message was often muddled and seemed to walk a fine line between straight entertainment and all-out media bashing. But moments of clarity, between performances by John Legend, The Roots and Kid Rock, did present themselves.
The closing came in the form of a 12-minute speech by Stewart and was particularly poignant. Stewart called on attendees to look at each other without the distorted camera lens of the "country’s 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator." Instead, he encouraged them to use their own eyes to see America for what it really is: a country populated by people who want the punditocratic volume turned down long enough to hear one another.
While never straying too far from the comedy arena, his message was a call to insert reason into the country's minds and media outlets. He summed up the afternoon in feel-good fashion. "Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together,” he told the crowd. “And the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t the promised land. Sometimes it’s just New Jersey."