And the Winner Is…Sanity? Stewart Rally Brings Together Fans Looking for Reasonable Middle

Rachel Curtis

By Rachel Curtis It was a great party. The estimated 215,000 attendees at the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on Saturday clinched a solid victory over Glenn Beck’s Rally to Restore Honor in August, which drew approximately 87,000 people. Reason won. And Reason abounded. Signs representing liberal agenda items like gay rights and non-violence were prevalent, but the umbrella theme of tolerance dominated the atmosphere. Signs and stickers like “I don’t agree with you but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler,” and “Be Red. Be Blue. Be heard,” attested to a growing frustration with radical rhetoric. “It’s against extremists on both sides,” says D.C. resident Nora Meek. “The discussion has become too hot-blooded. This is to show we can meet in the middle.” Specific policy objectives were sparse, and conspicuously absent was any drive to get out the democratic vote for the midterm elections on Tuesday. Although it was widely assumed the rally was deliberately scheduled just before Election Day, Stewart didn’t even mention voting in his keynote speech. Gray Coldwell, of Oklahoma City, doubted the high turnout would translate into anything concrete at the polls. “The people who watch these shows are going to vote anyway,” he says. “These aren’t activists. They’re just fans.” Isaiah Everin, who hopped one of the Huffington Post’s free shuttles to the event from New York City, was likewise skeptical that the fervor for moderation would have an impact on national politics. “It wasn’t really advocating anything,” he says. “A lot of the signs were just jokes.” Yet neither Stewart nor Colbert claimed the rally would provide anything beyond a forum for expression. By setting attendance and civility as their only goals, the popular hosts virtually guaranteed their own success. Thousands of participants who were too far from screens or speakers to witness the show seemed perfectly content to simply be present and be counted. Connie Simon, of Wilmington, Del., felt demonstrating an alternative to the Tea Party was more than enough reason to make the trip. “It’s about raising the level of enthusiasm – closing the gap,” she says. Whether the feel-good affair matters largely depends on who is asked. Those convinced that the volume and attention the Tea Partiers have garnered since the 2008 election has skewed the national debate and impacted legislation argue that to be responsible, liberals must counter the Tea Party's claim to represent America. Like the Tea Partiers, the Stewart/Colbert crowd pushed no coherent agenda. But they agreed that sometimes to make a difference in a democracy, one needs to stand up and make some noise.

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Rachel Curtis is an In These Times intern, earned her master’s degree in international journalism from Cardiff University, Wales.
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