My wife and I were watching The Daily Show when John Stewart announced his Rally to Restore Sanity to be held at the National Mall in Washington, DC. Though I guess we qualify as fans of the show, we have deemed precious little that is on television as “must see”, and we don’t go out of our way for anything, much less that which I can catch online the next day if it cracks the popular imagination in any meaningful kind of way. But the boy goes down around 10PM, and by the time 11PM rolls around, the house is straightened, the emails sent, and the eyelids too heavy to read, which means the television is finally on, and unless there’s a game or a good concert on Palladia, we usually land on Comedy Central.
On this particular night, Stewart used the first segment to make his announcement: He was going to hold a rally. It was going to be for that population of American that is, as he put it, “too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs)—not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority”. The bit was funny. The part about how they chose the time because he had to get home to pay the ‘sitter, particularly so. I laughed. My wife, however, pulled her computer from the table to her lap and began clacking away.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Reserving a car,” she said. “We’re going to this rally.”
“Do you think we should invite Heather and Morgan?” I asked. Heather and Morgan are dear friends. They have a daughter, Avery, who is six weeks older than Jonah.
“I’ll email them,” she said. She provided a link, which was already up, and asked if they wanted to go.
Within minutes, she had her response. It was from Morgan, and it said, in part—and I’m paraphrasing here—“FUCK YYYEEEAAAAHHHHH!”
This is how the six of us—four in our 30s, two in our twos—ended up crossing the George Washington Bridge on the last Saturday of October in a minivan that was bound for DC.
I wouldn’t consider myself an overtly political person. I’ve voted in every presidential election since I turned 18, but you can count on one hand the number of times I’ve voted in a midterm. I’ve voted for the Democratic presidential candidate each time, though in 2000 I briefly flirted with Ralph Nader before ultimately deciding that a vote for Nader was a vote for Bush. I still hold Nader, and not the Supreme Court, responsible for Gore’s loss. Gore also could have won his home state. That’s culprit number two, as far as I’m concerned. The Supreme Court is a distant third. I’m planning to vote during these midterms. I’m tempted by that guy from the Rent Is Too Damn High Party, the one with the gloves and the funky mustache, but I’ll probably just cast my ballot for Cuomo. I remember liking his dad.
I grew up in Joplin, Missouri, which was hardly a hotbed of activism, though I did participate in an Earth Day event my senior year of high school, and I wrote an article for the school paper about a local environmentalist. I attended a Vote for Change concert in support of John Kerry in 2004, but that was as much about not having seen Springsteen before as it was about siding with a guy for whom, try though I did, I just could not muster the enthusiasm.
After we moved to New York, Leu and I marched in a protest that opposed the Iraq War. Well, “marched” is a little misleading. We gathered in Midtown. The route was supposed to take us up near Central Park and then over to the United Nations. But it took a really long time for things to get moving. The announced start time came and went. A few people had megaphones, but I couldn’t tell if they were official. The police were nice. They were there to direct traffic as much as anything else. Eventually we got tired of waiting so we left before the actual march got underway. It was February. It was really, really cold.
What I admired most about many of the hundreds of people who turned out that afternoon was not their ability to withstand the city’s bitterly cold winter winds, though that was impressive; rather, it was their willingness to stake themselves to a cause. I don’t remember the exact signs that day, but they were along the lines of “Bush Is a War Criminal”, “Impeach President Cheney”, and “Heil Halliburton”. That kind of thing.
They were precisely the kinds of signs that the Rally to Restore Sanity urges us to oppose, come to think of it. But I would never hold one of those signs anyway, even if I did believe the slogans. I’m just not that kind of person. I just don’t feel it. I believe what I think I believe, and I test these beliefs everyday through my actions, but I feel no need to announce them. And I feel even less a need to name them. I haven’t eaten meat for the better part of two years, yet I refuse to call myself a vegetarian.
“But you don’t eat meat”.
“So that makes you a vegetarian.”
“I eat fish.”
“Then you’re a pescatarian.”
“I don’t know. I’m just someone who doesn’t eat meat except for sometimes fish.”
“Yeah, a pescatarian.”
Like the title of that Arctic Monkeys album: Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not. I didn’t say it was one of my more endearing traits.
Comedian Stephen Colbert performs at the Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall on October 30, 2010 in Washington, DC. Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held the rally, which tens of thousands of people attended. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)