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A Cure for the Two-Party Hangover

Washington rally offers political street rally

By Abe Louise Young, Fri., Nov. 5, 2010

The Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C., provided an opportunity for staff photographer John Anderson to return to his hometown last weekend for a family reunion and to witness a massive display of political gaiety before Tuesday’s election.
The Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C., provided an opportunity for staff photographer John Anderson to return to his hometown last weekend for a family reunion and to witness a massive display of political gaiety before Tuesday’s election.
Photo by John Anderson

Last Saturday's Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. – Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's twin exercise in engaged entertainment – was laughter therapy for the left. In a massive display of political street comedy, reportedly more than 200,000 people ("or 6 billion") gathered to call for moderation, etiquette, and humor in political discourse, or – as the various signs declared – to "take it off CAPS LOCK," "Stop giving airtime to conservative America's most histrionic factions," or, most simply, "Play nice."

The rally featured a walking encyclopedia of creatively handmade signs. A gaggle of adults dressed as a full set of tea cups danced with a boom box, saying: "We think the tea party is too focused on tea. We're putting the party back in tea party!" A cadre of little girls dressed as fairy princesses declared that tea parties actually belong to them. Two sock monkeys in bridal gowns pleaded for "Marriage for Sock Monkeys!" – and held a kiss-in next to a group of "Witches for Reasonableness and Big Words." God himself attended in many bearded outfits, only occasionally acting pugnacious – e.g., "God Hates Flags" – but mostly urging moderation: "My God Has Tea Parties With Your God."

Dialogue reigned as the unifying theme. Nods to cordiality and polite disagreement appeared everywhere: "What do I want? Reasonable discourse! When do I want it? Now would be nice, but I'm interested in your opinion as well." Another said, "I disagree with you – want to have coffee and share our views?" A tall Abraham Lincoln carried a placard with Lincoln's iconic quote: "I don't like that man. I must get to know him better."

Although the crowd was overwhelmingly white, the opening performance by the Roots gathered at least some African-American presence. A few signs acknowledged the inevitable racial subtext. A World War II veteran displayed a sign reading, "I fought Nazis, and they don't look like Obama." Many Latinos wore T-shirts that read "Would you like to see my I.D.?" Religious diversity was also a hit, with Mus­lims in religious dress declaring, "This is what a moderate Muslim looks like," and "I scare Juan Williams in airports." A grinning Sikh's sign asked, "Am I acting suspicious?"

The several thousand rallygoers at the Texas Capitol, aided by a big-screen TV, may have actually seen more of Stewart's and Colbert's onstage shenanigans than the huge crowd in D.C., but Austinites who traveled to the national rally seemed unfazed. "I don't care – I'll watch it on YouTube later," said one touring Texan.

That evening at D.C.'s Busboys and Poets cafe, Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! and Van Jones of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights held an afterrally. They urged people to remember the death counts of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to work for economic and racial justice in their own communities. Jones reminded the crowd not to depend on government or President Obama: "We said, 'Yes, We Can,' not 'Yes, He Can'!"

The Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear wasn't about any particular platform. Instead, it brought people together across a broad spectrum and energized the American left and middle with an enormous group hug. The "Sane Clown Posse" parading in rainbow-colored Afro wigs summed up the spirit with hand-painted signs reading simply, "I like you!"

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