When Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart announced their plans to hold rallies on the National Mall last month, tens of thousands eagerly pledged their attendance. On Saturday, an estimated 215,000 supporters descended on the nation’s capital to witness the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, an event centered on the role of satire and reason in the media.
Georgetown students joined the throngs that came to the Mall from across the country.
On Saturday morning, the Georgetown University College Democrats led a group of interested students, including visiting students from Cornell University’s College Democrats, to the rally.
Beth Goldberg (SFS’12) attended the rally with three friends from Chicago who had come to D.C. via buses organized by students from Illinois universities.
“It definitely met my expectations on the funny and absurd factor,” she said. “There were lots of stand-up [acts], lots of classic Colbert/Stewart theatrics, and lots of entertaining unexpected guests.”
Even with today’s midterm elections, Saturday’s rally did not advertise itself as a political gathering. Instead, the two satirists amused the crowd with nonpartisan jokes and irony and the distribution of the Medal of Reasonableness and the Medal of Sanity. Many felt that the message was one of conciliation.
“Everyone just wanted peace, compromise, and a more united and sane America,” Goldberg said. “That shared goal was refreshing to see, expressed both on signs and in everyone’s interactions.”
By the conclusion of the rally, however, the event took on a more serious tone when Stewart criticized the lack of political compromise and the pervasiveness of the nation’s 24-hour news cycle.
“If we amplify everything, we hear nothing,” Stewart said. The comedian emphasized that in today’s culture, the media depicts Americans falsely and negatively through continuous amplification of images and events.
Prior to the event, Comedy Central estimated that around 60,000 would attend the afternoon event. According to estimates by AirPhotosLive.com, commissioned by CBS News to take aerial pictures of the rally in order to calculate crowd size, about 215,000 people were in attendance. Whether it was in the spirit of Halloween or the afternoon’s festivities, many dressed in costume, including Colbert.”The Colbert Report” host emerged from a “fear bunker” beneath the stage, donning a red, white and blue jumpsuit.
During the three-hour event, multiple musicians entertained the crowd, including the Roots, John Legend, Sheryl Crow and Ozzy Osbourne. As those in the audience listened to the music, many were holding signs that ranged from the witty to the ridiculous.
“I’m an Ice Cream Socialist,” read one sign. Another proclaimed, “I want my country back. Or a pony. One of the two.” Vail Kohnert-Young’s (SFS ’13) said that her favorite sign, “I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler,” accurately captured the spirit of the event.
“I was beyond excited for the rally and fully supported its mission of bringing levity and most importantly sanity to increasingly absurd political discourse,” Kohnert-Young said.
Yet even with the music and lively atmosphere, some felt the rally failed to live up to its hype.
“I thought it was pretty good, but not sure if it lived up to my expectations,” Jack Appelbaum (COL ’14) said after the event. “A lot of the humor seemed very forced and too staged, and the rally didn’t know whether it wanted to be serious or funny.”