Image Credit: Michael Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty IThe party started in the Metro. Legions of 20-somethings far too chipper for the time of day – 9 a.m. – piled into the already overcrowded train in Washington D.C., surprisingly eager to stand back-to-back (or front-to-back, however they could fit) with perfect strangers. They wore t-shirts that chose sides (Team Stewart vs. Team Colbert), dressed in Halloween costumes (Where’s Waldo? I saw him on the Orange line), and held signs that showed their semi-enthusiasm for our government (“I don’t mind paying taxes, because I went to public school.”). For a group of people headed to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, things were pretty insane. But insane in that kind of this-party-is-off-the-hook kind of way, not insane in the let’s-grab-our-guns-and-draw-Hitler-mustaches-on-things kind of way.
No, the scene on the train was completely controlled insanity – people politely squeezing into the crowd while saying, “Excuse me,” and shrugging their shoulders when the Metro train shut down due to overcrowding, forcing the mob to walk the last few miles to the Mall – together. Indeed, the rally seemed a group effort. Even on the way, one girl, fearing she was lost, broke down crying, leading half a dozen fellow rally-goers nearby to take her under their wing. But her frustration was understandable – what with an estimated 250,000 rally-goers in attendance – according to Comedy Central – it was easy to feel overwhelmed by the scene. (Especially since the city did not seem prepared for the high volume of foot and train traffic. See: aforementioned broken-down Metro.) And if I thought the train theatrics were a sight to behold, the Mall itself was even more of a circus: Even more outlandish costumes (Spider-Man, Green Man, and a human version of the Microsoft paper clip). Even more creative, appropriately enthusiastic signs (“My balls itch no matter who’s in office,” “I’m moderately excited for this,” and, my favorite, “Toy Story 2 was okay”). And even more frustration with our government — not only did rally-goers carry plenty of serious-minded poster boards (about voting, conservatives, and, yes, legalizing pot), but it was easy to imagine those wearing American flag T-shirts were doing so ironically.
Regardless, one thing was genuine: All 250,000 rally-goers were there to have a good time. (This, of course, became especially clear when I saw the first not-so-hidden flask and got my first smell of marijuana smoke wafting from the corners of the Mall.) Not to say the crowd wasn’t politically minded. Though I would be hesitant to claim there was a McCain voter in the bunch, I’d also be hard-pressed to find anyone who would say, “Say, how ’bout that Christine O’Donnell?” in a positive way. (Also spotted at the rally: Plenty of witches who made sure to claim they were “just like you.”) And even though the demographic of the crowd was all over the place — I unfairly assumed that older folk were just tourists who chose the wrong day to see the nation’s capital until they turned around and were found to be covered with “Restore Sanity” buttons — the political leanings definitely tilted leftward. In fact, while speaking separately to a group of 20-something college students and two 70-something retired teachers, I realized they echoed the exact same sentiment: a desire to see power kept far, far away from the Christian Right-leaning Republican party.
Perhaps that’s why many of them appeared to be restless during the less political moments of the rally. Though MythBusters Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman got the entire group to jump at the same time — a pretty cool feat — many who had just spent an hour listening to The Roots and John Legend were eager to hear Stewart and Colbert, music to their ears. As much as people might have enjoyed Tim Meadows in Mean Girls and on Saturday Night Live, his P.K. Winsome bit ended up losing some (see what I did there?) attention from the crowd. And though Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock might be easy Saturday afternoon listening, most rally-goers in my area were far too distracted by the mere presence of Arianna Huffington in the press area to turn their cameras towards the stage. (And that’s the perfect example of the type of people who attended the rally — those who would treat Huffington like Lindsay Lohan.) That being said, Yusuf Islam (a.k.a. Cat Stevens), Ozzy Osbourne, and the O’Jays were a hit with the crowd — the latter even inspired a group standing nearby me to break into an impromptu Electric Slide. (Apparently, this dance transcends all generations. Sadly, an Arsenio Hall joke, made by Stewart and a Peter Pan-dressed John Oliver during the rally, did not.)
But after two hours and 45 minutes of relatively frivolous — but no less inspired — entertainment (rally-goers most seemed to latch onto Colbert and Stewart’s patriotic duet, saving their most spirited clapping for when the duo sang about “straight men who like Glee“), the crowd was undoubtedly stoked to hear Stewart deliver his keynote speech. In fact, the Daily Show host didn’t even need to say anything poignant before the crowd began whistling in anticipation — his “So … here we are” sent a roar throughout the entire Mall. And though Stewart’s subsequent bashing of the media made things slightly uncomfortable in the press area — that is, when some TV reporters managed to hang up their cell phones and actually listen to the event — rally-goers latched onto his message: “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.” And though Stewart did note that “there will always be darkness,” every person in the crowd seemed to leave the Mall on a positive note, gathering their signs, blankets, and lawn chairs while bopping their heads to a group performance of “I’ll Take You There” by all of the stars in attendance (Sheryl Crow, Kid Rock, Mavis Staples, Jeff Tweedy, Ozzy Osbourne, Yusuf Islam, Sam Waterston, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the O’Jays, The Roots, John Legend, the MythBusters, the 4Troops, Father Guido Sarducci, and, yes, R2-D2. Read Ken Tucker’s review of the rally for the full highlights). Considering the massive turnout, the Mall cleared out relatively quickly once sanity had been sufficiently restored … after all, many attendees had to get home to pay their babysitters.