Scenes From The Mall

Ken AshfordPopular CultureLeave a Comment

Well, a good time was had by all.  Even those (like me) who were quite a way back from the stage and saw it mostly on monitors.

I haven't read a whole lot about the rally, but let me clear up a few misconceptions and share a few thoughts:

1)  It wasn't as "lefty" as most people might think.  Sure, particularly along the fringes of the rally site, you had a lot of different left-wing organizations championing their cause.  And there were a lot of signs poking fun at Fox News and teabaggers.  But an awful lot of it was about either civility and irreverence, both of which are non-partisan things.

You saw this in a lot of signs, some of which I still remember:

  • The end is actually far far away
  • This is a sign
  • Not a fan of airplane middle seats
  • Meh
  • The issues are complex
  • I like holding signs but sometimes by arms get tired
  • Dear Dad, just because you saw it on the Internet doesn't make it true
  • I really don't mind pressing "1" for English
  • I was told there would be cake
  • The founding fathers had a complex and often ambiguous agenda

…. And quite a few "I don't mind paying more taxes" kind of signs


But I think the general tone was best summed up by Stewart's closing speech:


To the extent that Stewart and Colbert targeted anyone, it was the news media — who seem to favor screeching heads over actual analysis.  And they must have hit their mark, since it even rankled Keith Olbermann.

This, for my money, explains the rally better than I can.

Or maybe this, from The Rude Pundit, who went to the mall in DC, was turned back by the large crowds, so he viewed the rally (as many thousands ended up doing) in a bar near the mall:

Look, these are cynical, awful times right now. The shrieking noise of this nasty campaign season has us all thinking that being trapped in a mine in Chile for a while might not be a bad deal. The rally didn't exist to solve any problems. That wasn't promised and that wasn't what was delivered. It wasn't there to direct people to do anything specific. You can't fault an event for delivering exactly what Stewart said it was going to be: a nice day on the National Mall. Instead, it achieved something else. The Rude Pundit had more actual face-to-face conservations with people from all over the United States about politics than he's had in a long, long time. He met people from Texas, Kansas, Illinois, and elsewhere, all of whom seemed genuinely interested, and even surprised, at how one could communicate, face-to-face, with each other, as if public, civic discourse, unmediated and un-interneted, was a rare commodity nowadays.

The Rude Pundit's not some naive rube. He doesn't think that a couple of hours of facetious Kumbaya changes anything for tomorrow, when we see just how fucked we're gonna be for the next couple of years. But what the rally demonstrated to him was that there is a very large demographic that is not being served by the media, that there is a void in the coverage of politics. It's not about moderation or even lack of action. It's about honesty and fairness (genuine fairness, not Fox "news"-mitigated fairness). What Stewart and The Daily Show do is demonstrate just how fucking easy it is to state facts, no matter which side those facts are good or bad for. A news network that can do that will be rewarded with as loyal a following. In some ways, it's a pipe dream, but is there anything wrong with wanting Walter Cronkite back? (A new Walter Cronkite, not the zombie of the old one, although it'd be great to see him eat Bill Hemmer's face.)

You can ask, and truly, you should, "Really? That's it? That's why everyone went to hipster Woodstock this weekend?" And the answer is, "No, but yeah." It's a sign of how degraded our mainstream discourse has become that to merely ask for the news to stop being polarizing is something that's kind of radical. And if the message seems leftist (even if the montages Stewart presents criticize Ed Schultz and others), well, fuck, maybe that's because it's the right that started this fire by attacking and undermining the press after Watergate. It's the right that attempts to manipulate or discredit things like, well, science. It also seems leftist because to be vaguely moderate in this reactionary age is seen as capitulating to Stalin's phantom while Hitler strangles Lady Liberty.

2.  Not that it matters…. but an independent scientific aerial photography company which estimates crowd sizes put the Sanity/Fear rally at 215,000.  The same company put the Beck rally at 87,000.

3.  My personal opinion:  Didn't care for a lot of the music except for Yusuf Islam (fka Cat Stevens), and wouldn't have minded him closing out the event. Unfortunately, some people are rankled by his appearance there at all.  Sadly, those that are rankled are those who like to resort to words like "Hitler" and "Islamofascist" without regard to the facts.

I thought the Stewart comedy was more thoughtful — the Colbert comedy was fine but he kind of jumped the shark (for me) about a year ago.

But on the whole I thought it was a well-done and fun entertainment rally, and a refreshing take on a political rally.  Yes, it was political, albeit one which focuses on how to think about politics, rather than about a particular political agenda.  Great day for it, too.