Of course I was there on the Mall for the big Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Keep Fear Alive in Washington DC on October 30. Where else would I be? And my family was with me, along with my daughter’s best friend and her family. Instead of catching the Huffington Post bus from New York, or flying on Ophrah Express, we drove down together in a van from New Jersey and stayed two nights on the metro line for easy access to the city.
Although there was a long line at the metro station to board a train, we managed to squeeze in and get to the Mall in time to stake out a spot to stand for the three hour Rally and live comedy show with over 200,000 other members of the Great Silent Majority there for the Million Moderate March calling on all Americans to “bring it down a notch” in favor of civility and the common good. The divisive rhetoric in the country was just too much to bear alone, so we came together to laugh and sing.
There was lots of moderate signs and banners, like: “Don’t Be Mean” and “I really disagree with you but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.”
Two of the signs we made said: “All We are Saying is…
The Rally began with Jon Stewart on stage and Stephen Corbert hiding deep under the stage in a ‘fear bunker.’ He was bare-chested with a minor’s hat, and looking really really scared. Stewart asked him what he was afraid of. “I’m afraid no one will come to our rally.” Stewart promised him that there were tens of thousands outside, so come on up. Finally, Corbert emerged from his fear bunker in a capsule that hoisted him on stage to the shouts and acclamations of the crowd reminiscent of the 2010 Chilean miners’ rescue . Stephen led cheering: ‘Chi le’ Chi le.’
The Rally began with an Invocation (Stewart called it a benediction) led by Father Guido Sarducci (of Saturday Night Life fame). It was both hillarious but also strangely inspiring, at least to me. After thanking God for coming, he told God that he was going to list all the religions represented at the Rally, and when he said the name of the one true religion, he wanted a sign from above that would confirm it. He started with Methodists. No sign from heaven but I applauded. He mentioned most of the Christian denominations, and paused a long time after saying “Roman Catholic” in the hope that God would favor that one in a public way. “Do you need a little more time, God” he asked. No sign from above for the Christian traditions. So he spoke the names of the non-Christian religions: Jewish, Muslim, Buddhists, Hindus, etc. No divine sign was given for any of these. Nor for atheism. Fr. Sarducci continued talking to God like a friend and ended his invocation by simply being grateful and thanking God for the nice weather and great people gathered, and for life and health, etc…. I’m telling you, it was over the top touching. But you had to be there.
Next came the singing of the National Anthem. As emcee, Stewart played it pretty straight, and the singers sang it well with gusto. I felt a little tear drop from my eye. I had not felt this patriotic in years. It was authentic patriotism outside the Capital, though with a little edge to it as we hoped for a change.
After being strangely moved by the Star Spangle Banner, I nearly lost it when Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) appeared on stage and started singing “Peace Train.” I wasn’t the only one with my arms in the air, swaying back and forth, singing together with brothers and sisters the familiar lines:
Oh I’ve been smiling lately,
dreaming about the world as one
And I believe it could be,
some day it’s going to come
Cause out on the edge of darkness,
there rides a peace train
Oh peace train take this country,
come take me home again
Oh peace train sounding louder
Glide on the peace train
Come on now peace train
Yes, peace train holy roller
Everyone jump upon the peace train Come on now peace train
Then, suddenly, Yusuf was interrupted by Colbert who said it wasn’t a time for peace, but a time for fear… Ozzy Osbourne suddenly appeared on stage singing “Crazy Train” about a train wreck. Two minutes later, Jon Stewart interrupted Ozzy and brought Cat Stevens back on to finish singing Peace Train. The train battle continued for awhile until a compromise was reached by the O’Jays who came up on stage in their red and white outfits and started singing “Love Train“. We all got on board–Jon and Stephan, Cat and Ozzy–holding hands together singing about love, peace and brotherhood…. Again, you had to be there to appreciate the humor mixed with hope and moderation.
There was so much more that was presented to our senses at the Love Fest on the Mall. Most memorable and hopeful to me, I guess, was the two Muslim girls who brought with them a jump rope and a sign that read: “Jump Rope with a Muslim.” And people took them up on their offer to jump rope on the Mall with Muslims.
Jon Stewart’s key note address at the end of the Rally was rich with wit and wisdom. Here’s how Wikipedia preserved the text of this wonderful, presidential speech:
And now I thought we might have a moment, however brief, for some sincerity, if that’s OK.
… This was not a rally to ridicule people offaith, or people ofactivism, or look down our noses at theheartland, or passionate argument, or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are, and we do.
But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus, and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke. The country’s 24-hour politico–pundit‘ perpetual panic “conflictinator” did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder. The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems, bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen. Or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire, and then perhaps host a week of shows on the “dangerous, unexpected flaming-ants epidemic!” If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.
There are terrorists, and racists, and Stalinists, and theocrats, but those are titles that must be earned! You must have the résumé! Not being able to distinguish between real racists and Tea Party-ers, or real bigots and Juan Williams or Rick Sanchez is an insult – not only to those people, but to the racists themselves, who have put in the exhausting effort it takes to hate. Just as the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe, not more.
…We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is — on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame that we can’t work together to get things done. But the truth is we do. We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t [Gestures across the Mall and toward the Capitol.] is here or on cable TV. But Americans don’t live here or on cable TV. Where we live, our values and principles form the foundation that sustains us while we get things done – not the barriers that prevent us from getting things done. Most Americans don’t live their lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals or conservatives. Americans live their lives more as people that are just a little bit late for something they have to do. Often something they do not want to do. But they do it. Impossible things, every day, that are only made possible through the little, reasonable compromises we all make.
… 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. 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..
— Jon Stewart