Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

So Alex and Jamie and I went to the Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear) on Saturday! This was the rally held by Jon Stewart of The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report. It was really fun! I have mixed feelings about the politics and morals of it all - some of it was really good, some of it was weak and privileged and maybe even detrimental to the actual message - but all in all, it was a really good time, and it felt good to be there, and we were really glad we went.

We didn't register in time to get on one of the free buses the Huffington Post was offering, so we had to pay to take a private rally bus, which, you know, too bad, but ok. The bus had way more comfortable seats than the Greyhound Alex and I took to and from monmouth (excuse the lower-case "m"s, please; I'm copy-pasting every m still, and I don't want to deal with switching back and forth from capital to lower-case!), and was generally a pleasant ride. We also had a reporter from a major Australian news station on our bus, and he interviewed me for quite some time! I think I was articulate and intelligent - or anyway, I hope I was! - and hopefully I was on Australian TV on Sunday or monday! I wonder how I could find out... wait, actually, Alex has the email of the reporter! We can email him and ask! Alex is curious about seeing an Australian show that doesn't air in the US anyway. Anyway, also he filmed Alex and Jamie and me just talking about politics and our families and stuff for a while, which was also neat.

The buses left at 5 am and arrived in D.C. around 9:30; we made our way to the mall, where the rally was being held near the steps of the Capitol. We squeezed through the tens of thousands of people (multiple estimates suggest that there were 250,000 people there, although of course rally size estimates are always highly guess-y) to a place relatively in the middle, where we could have seen the stage if we were seven feet tall and where we could kind of mostly see a couple of the big screens. We amused ourselves until the rally started at noon by reading the many fascinating and hilarious signs we saw around us, and chatting with the nutty people next to us, and snacking (we packed basically all the food in the house, and it was still gone by the end of the rally, and we had to buy dinner, and all of the restaurants had a two hour wait because of the 250,000 people flooding downtown, so we ate at mcdonalds and it was disgusting but fine).

When the rally started, there was music, and also the guys from mythbusters, none of which was that entertaining because I couldn't really see anything. But! when Stewart and Colbert came on, they were so entertaining and fun, as were their musical guests - Cat Stevens, Ozzy (!), Love Train, John Legend, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, Tony Bennet - that it didn't matter that it was a mostly auditory experience. I had so much fun! There was for sure enough funny and enough talent and even enough message to fill the remaining 2 hours of the rally.

At the end, Jon came back onstage for 20 minutes and gave the sincere speech that was really the heart of the rally. The speech was basically a plea to be civil with each other; to remember that we are not each other's enemies; to recall that unlike what the media says is possible or impossible, we work together every day no matter what our politics are; to condemn hatred and hyperbole on the parts of both sides of the political spectrum; and to point out that while the media didn't necessarily create the problems in this country, it aggravates them by giving us 24/7 messages of fear and gridlock and doom and depression.

The speech was moving, no doubt; it was often right on, to be sure; and it may have been what the country needed to hear around now. Certainly the media pits people against each other and exaggerates problems and fearmongers; certainly the discourse in this country has degenerated to a morass of superficial bullshit and hatred; certainly calling someone Hitler is always uncalled for; certainly the left wing is not exempt from hypocrisy or shallow analysis.


that said, I think his speech was also somewhat disingenuous, in a problematic way. It is flat out wrong, for one thing, to suggest that the hate speak and the hyperbole and the shallow, inflammatory rhetoric on the left is anywhere in the same universe as the same flaws on the right. Anti-war activists, some of whom occasionally exaggerate or leap to conclusions, but who are virtually all entirely grassroots, are not in the same ballpark as astro-turf tea partiers, many of whom are explicitly racist and who repeat lies on a regular basis and are egged on and told what to say by Fox News and the massive funding behind it. Keith Olbermann and Rachel maddow are not the same as Glenn Beck. They just aren't. There is just no parallel. Left-wing pundits tend to be center-left; right wing pundits move farther to the right every day.

Furthermore, calling someone racist - or at least calling out their actions and words as racist - is completely appropriate, and neither hateful nor hyperbolic - if their actions and words are in fact racist, if they do in fact demonstrate hatred or prejudice. If we can't call out racism, how can we end it? Calling someone racist or misogynist or otherwise bigoted is not the same as calling someone Hitler, or as inaccurately calling someone a socialist. The former is a way of speaking out against oppression and for progress and - dare I say it - for civility!

The way Stewart equated these things falls into the hands of the right wing and disguises much of the genuine problems in our political discourse. The neoconservative movement has spent the last forty years pressuring the media into presenting opposing opinions in search of balance, rather than looking for and presenting facts and making sensible analysis. They have pushed the idea that there are two equivalent sides to every story, and that even if the right-wing position is extreme and not representative of most Americans, it deserves to be aired as if it is equally legitimate with a left or center-left position. Acting and speaking as if current left-wing and right-wing discourse are equivalent is doing the same thing: It is presenting the two sides as if they are equivalent, and thereby swinging the discussion towards the right by failing to recognize and condemn the current right-wing for what it is (i.e. singularly and incomparably filled with extremists, hate-mongerers, and lies).

I understand that Stewart is trying to be bipartisan and fair, and that that is especially important for him so that he can escape being labeled as incorrect due to his liberal bias (which he certainly has and has never hidden). But in his efforts to be bipartisan he has erased something vital, and has made his message less relevant and less radical (by radical I don't mean extreme, but fundamental, back to the roots, vital). Plus, it is his privilege as a straight, white, wealthy man that allows him to do so without pangs of conscience. Activists on the left - even those seen (and condemned by Stewart) as extreme - are so moved to activism and rhetoric because right-wing policies hurt them directly. Stewart can condemn people who condemn and passionately fight against the right wing for its anti-choice, anti-woman, anti-gay, anti-minority, anti-muslim, anti-poor policies, because he's not the one being paid less because of his gender, or being told he shouldn't practice his religion, or being fired because of his gender presentation, or dying from botched abortions or hate crimes or hunger. Yes, he is a liberal, and yes, he is mostly on the side of human and civil rights for everyone, but by acting as if angry speech from both sides of the political spectrum are equivalent, he is silencing and discrediting a lot of people with less privilege than he has, when he maybe should in fact be giving them a voice. In this way, he's not progressive, he's regressive. He's undermining his own beliefs - which, again, he can afford to do, because he is never going to be hurt by it.

Well, ok, that's my rant about that. Had to get it off my chest :). And it's not to say that he didn't say some things that need to be said, or that the core of his message (that the media is fanning the fire, and that hyperbole and hate and inaccuracy are hurting a country in which we have the capability of working together) isn't valid. And I still like Jon Stewart and I'll still watch the Daily Show, and I had a good time at the rally. But I couldn't let the flaws and the problems and the privileges of it all go unremarked on.

You can look here and here for reactions similar to mine (I highly recommend watching the Olbermann video, at least the beginning of it before the interview part, which is kind of boring).

And you can look here for a really excellent musicalized version of his speech, by a group who has also created such gems as this (from the original), this (from the original), and this (possibly my favorite!).


  1. "calling someone Hitler is always uncalled for"
    Unless, of course, he is Hitler.

  2. Also, excellent post. You say exactly what I was thinking about his speech but didn't know the words. Which is because you are a writer and I am not.

  3. I would like to be able to post a link to this post on my facebook but don't know how. Can you help?

  4. I am so flattered! If you are on the post - rather than just on the general blog - you can copy-paste the url to your status on facebook. It should display a link box, and then you can delete the url if you want without that box going away. You can write stuff in the status bar to go with it. Anyway, that's what I do!

  5. I linked from Debbie sharing it on Facebook. Yeah for you! As a pretty middle of the road person, I completely agree about the right moving further and further to the right.