A raucous cheer rose from the crowd. Thousands of people stood on tiptoes, eager to see what was happening on the stage, but it was empty. Confused, people searched the crowd for the source of commotion until they saw it: A man was struggling to climb a tree to get a better view of the rally. "Yes you can!" the crowd began chanting. Nearby rally-goers rolled up their sweater sleeves and tried to hoist him themselves. The chanting and cheering grew louder until finally the man grasped a high branch and pulled himself up. The cheer was deafening.
This general atmosphere of hope and support prevailed throughout the three-hour Rally to Restore Sanity and/ or Fear in Washington, D.C. Though crowds were estimated to be around 250,000, people were calm, cool and collected, or in other words, sane. They allowed their signs to do the yelling, since they understood that being louder isn't necessarily more effective, and they recognized that the country is at the precipice of change. They came in droves, and they came peacefully.
"The Republicans keep trying to push their rights on people, and we're moving to more of a Big Brother society. That's my fear, which is why I'm here to take back our sanity," said Leigh Sizemore, a Raleigh resident who traveled to D.C. for the rally.
Her travel companion Chelsey Dyer agreed. "We all want the same thing—what's best for our country—and today is a common ground that will remind us what we're all about. People are frustrated with listening to the extremist views and not having their own views heard, but today that will change."
Nicholas Lombardi, a student from Toronto, traveled 15 hours to make his voice heard. "As a nation, the United States is the most important. Even though I can't vote here, I know that what happens in America makes an enormous impact on others, and I want to make sure that sanity is used when making decisions."
The rally was filled with a mix of music from The Roots, John Legend, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), Ozzy Osbourne, The O'Jays, Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock, T.I. and Tony Bennett. The choice of songs often lent their messages to the rally's purpose, such as the absurdist battle of the bands between Islam's "Peace Train" (endorsing Jon Stewart's quest for reason) and Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" (for Stephen Colbert's satirical desire for fear). The battle between reason and fear resulted in a compromise: a performance of "Love Train" by The O'Jays.
Various notables also offered their celebrity to the cause. Sam Waterston of Law and Order read a poem about fear written by Colbert, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar showed up to demonstrate that Muslims should not be all categorized as terrorists. The message of the rally, though, was carried out in a partnership between Stewart and Colbert. Stewart stressed the value of reason, pointing out how we must be cautious of believing the fearmongers in the media. "We live in hard times, but not end times. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing," he said.
Colbert served as satirical opposition to Stewart's voice of reason, endorsing the spread of fear. His counterarguments allowed Stewart to argue his points more forcefully, and by the end Colbert was vanquished by The Daily Show's John Oliver in a Peter Pan outfit. Stewart's last remarks compared America to the merging traffic going into the Lincoln Tunnel between New York and New Jersey.
"Because we know instinctively as a people that if we are to get through the darkness and back into the light, we have to work together, and the truth is, there will always be darkness. And sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn't the promised land. Sometimes it's just New Jersey. But we do it anyway, together," he said.
Many asked what the true purpose of the event was, since it wasn't clear exactly what it was opposing. It seems as though Stewart simply meant to inspire others to use reason, to think critically when the media tells us what to fear next, and to treat others without hatred.
"If you want to know why I'm here and what I want from you, I can only assure you this: You have already given it to me. Your presence was what I wanted," he said. "Sanity will always be, and has always been, in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today, and the kind of people that you are, has restored mine. Thank you."
Lauren Shute is an intern at the Independent Weekly.