Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Big Ruly Mob

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held a rally in DC yesterday. They prepared for an attendance of 60,000. They got over 200,000. Have you ever thrown a party where you expected twelve people to come to your house and instead got more than forty? That's one packed living room.

The rally was due to start at noon. Around 10am, I left my friend's place in Vienna, Virginia, to get on to the second to last stop on the orange subway line to DC. I found a line of people for the subway ticket machine that stretched roughly fifty yards out the subway station entrance, doubled back around a corner and then went another sixty or so yards the other direction, going halfway across a highway overpass. I waited half an hour, moved about ten feet, called my host and asked if I could pay him to use his pass for the day. He drove over, and I bypassed the line.

Next came the subway. Luckily there had only been one stop ahead of us. The subway cars were only moderately full. When we got in, it started looking like a Seattle bus at rush hour. Two stops later it looked like a New York subway at rush hour. By the next stop, the only cities I'd been to that I could still compare it to were Bombay and Beijing. One woman behind me asked for help because her feet weren't touching the ground anymore. By the way, we were still in the suburbs at this point, and had at least six more stops to go before we'd reach walking distance of the rally.

But we did get there, right on time, at noon. And we got to see what might have been my favorite part of the rally: the signs. If anyone had ever watched a rally of some sort and thought of a funny thing to put on a sign, this was their first opportunity to actually do it. This includes signs saying things like "Ideas I disagree with may still be constitutional," "My arms are tired," "I don't know what this sign says but daddy said there would be ice cream," "FYI, Hitler's been dead since 1945" "My ideas are too complicated to fit on a si," and perhaps my favorite and the most simple of all: "Meh."

The crowd was somewhat large and dense in the way the the pope is somewhat religious. There were speakers and Diamondvision screens set up, roughly enough to deal with the 60,000 they had predicted in their permit. I didn't know that yet, but I did know they they clearly didn't have enough. I spent half and hour squeezing my way forward, hoping to get a view of the stage, while The Roots and John Legend performed as openers. By the time the guys from Mythbusters came on, I had almost reached the front, but was way off to the sides, and I couldn't hear or see a thing. So I joined the oozing throng going the other direction, backwards, in time to hear a huge chant at the back: "Lou-DER! Lou-DER! Lou-DER!" A somewhat self-defeating chant because, by it's very nature, it had to stop completely every few seconds to see if it had had any effect.

So I changed tactics and instead of going for a good view, I tried my hardest to get in front of some speakers. I succeeded just in time for Jon Stewart to start talking (he asked everybody to leave the place cleaner than we found it, possibly, if there were any landscapers in attendance, with a few extra topiaries that had not been there before). I could see one screen in front of me, 3/4 of which was obscured by tree branches, another screen to my left at an angle which made viewing anything on it impractical, and the stage in the distance if I annoyed the small family behind me and stood up on my toes. Two people to my immediate left, who had each come separately and did not know each other, turned out to be from Seattle.

The rally stayed safe, a bit aimless for the most part, but mildly amusing. Just not quite as biting as the show of either person. There were a lot of unexpected musical guests which were fun to see, like Cat Stevens and Ozzy Osbourne. At the same time. Seriously, they were trying to play over each other, were interrupted several times, and then left in feigned disgust. Honestly, it's funnier to write about than it was to watch.

Then came a series of funny awards for sanity and fear mongering including an award for fear awarded to Facebook, though Mark Zuckerberg himself was not there to accept it because, as Colbert put it, he values his privacy a lot more than he values yours.

Then a debate: Stewart (accompanied by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, R2D2, and a hotel TV remote) vs Colbert (accompanied by a gigantic paper-mache Colbert torso and waving arms, video montages from major news networks, and a mysterious voiceover dude named "Chuck"). Somehow the debate ended with John Oliver showing up in a Peter Pan outfit. Don't ask me, I don't understand either.

The final ten minutes of the rally left the actual rally part, when Jon asked for a little sincerity. My friend Ryan later summed up the next few minutes as "a set of cliches." But I thought there was more to it than that. It was a good speech (transcript available on several news websites, including the bottom of this one) The main point was that people may disagree with each other politically, but we still get stuff done every day. Best take-away quote, in my opinion? "If we amplify everything, we hear nothing."

The crowd milled around and the then slowly dispersed. It takes a long time for a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people to do that.

Stewart at one point very early on in the rally said that the only thing that really mattered about the rally, really, was what people said about it afterwards. After having read a few of the news reports online, I have one piece of advice for the folks who didn't get to see it up close: find reports written by people who were obviously there. The hour-by-hour summaries and live blogs and "my day at the rally" articles I've seen appear to be much more accurate than the regular news reports. The New York Times report in particular reads like it was written by someone who had not been there at all, and had possibly written it about a day before the rally actually happened, filling in a few choice blanks after the fact. You can do better than that.

So, was it a good time? Yes, it certainly was. And, in my opinion, that was the real point. And now I'm off to a slightly different kind of good time: the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade.

1 comment:

  1. We watched most of it on line and were very impressed with Jon's speech. Did not think it was cliche. I liked the line you mentioned and also liked a number of others including that equating all Muslims with terrorists makes us less safe, not more. His description of the function of the news media and what has become of it was right on. I suggest folks you-tube his speech. It's on from CNN. Suspect you are right about the NYT report. I found their online articles very dissapointing. We understood that NYT was one of the news organizations along with ABC, NBC and NPR that asked their people to NOT attend the rally for fear of someone getting the wrong idea about their organization. That seemed rather chilling. Not covering a news event in person for that reason. Fox News was there, and had a very weird distorted little article about it on line. Not sure what they put on TV. The rally was covered by Comedy Central, Fox and CNN in person.

    We were surprised at the number of musicians more from our era than yours. Happy to see Father Guido Sarducci again.

    Sounds like you did very well given only having two hours to get there in those conditions.

    Lv, M