Politics

At the Rally to Restore Sanity, We Were 'It'

Comedian Jon Stewart performs at the Rally To Restore Sanity and/or Fear. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/MCT)

PopMatters' Kirby Fields travels to Washington -- with two-year-olds wearing matching Colonial Boy and Colonial Girl outfits in tow -- to find sanity amidst the massive event that was 'The Rally to Restore Sanity'.

Why All the Fuss About the Patriot Act?

The Rally to Restore Sanity unofficially started about 100 miles outside of DC when some road construction forced a kind of impromptu meet-n-greet where I-95 crosses into Delaware. I envied George Washington being slowed only by the fog on his famous Delaware crossing. From my vantage point there was nothing but red break lights blinking as the drivers slowed down and then slowed down even more, as if we were all communicating with one another through some kind of a code. A message for the initiated didn’t seem like such a farfetched idea.

I looked from car to car to try to identify who was going to the rally and who was not. The car with the “Visualize World Peace” bumper sticker, they were going. The BMW in front of me with the vanity plates that said “GO PRAY”, probably not. Likewise the SUV with the Semper Fi flag in the window. But the ralliers on the road, as it appeared, far outnumbered the non-, even this far away from our destination. You couldn’t tell so much when we were all speeding along, but slow us down and put us in one place and it became obvious.

Costco-sized containers of pretzels, peanuts, and licorice warmed in back windows. Posters sat in backseats, yet to be unfurled. One placard took up the entire back window. All that I could make out was “I’m afraid”. Busses from New York were parked at the rest stop to our left. I filled in a blank and surmised they were from the fleet that Arianna Huffington had provided for free. I had a few friends on those busses. How different their experience must have been from mine. Even with two toddlers, ours had a been a pretty sedate trip, the morning spent enjoying the rising sun and marveling at Jersey’s extraordinary display of fall leaves. Had the early start time subdued them similarly? Or were they a livelier bunch, singing Woody Guthrie songs and playing Pin the Witch Hat on Christine O’Donnell, the more serious-minded of them in a back corner poring over a district-by-district map and determining the makeup of Congress come Wednesday morning.

One thing was for sure: They weren’t the only ones traveling en masse. Everywhere I looked there were cars packed with people. You don’t realize how rare it is to see more than one person in a car on the highway until you look around and see car after car packed with three, four, five passengers. We crawled under a sign that said, “Report Suspicious Activity”. A phone number was listed. I thought about calling.

“Hello, what would you like to report?”

“There are people carpooling in America.”

“Excuse me?”

A friend texted: “Bring our troops home from Vietnam. [smiley face] Hope you guys have a great time. Those hippy chicks practice free love you know?”

The text was more prescient than he knew. Bereft of an MP3 adapter or satellite radio, we had turned to the non-satellite variety, the kind that doesn’t rely on outer space for its transmission. After cycling through our limited options, we settled on a station that was featuring a time capsule of 1965. “Help!” and “Get Off of My Cloud” and “Rescue Me” cut through the static. A version of “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right” that I’ve never heard before and wasn’t sure that I liked. Between songs the DJ would recount current events from that year. Names of places in Vietnam that sounded as foreign as they actually were to me. Numbers of casualties, of dead, that were just that: numbers.

I thought about a comparable program from 2055. Would the Rally make the cut? “On this day in 2010”. The connection felt forced, like something I was supposed to think. The pop songs during that future program wouldn’t be nearly as good. That much I could say with confidence.

The cell-phone towers along the side of the road were disguised to look like trees, but they didn’t look like trees. They looked like cell-phone towers. Another sign said tickets are enforced by radar. The GPS said that the construction had added 16-minutes to our estimated time of arrival. A woman’s voice said, “Recalculating...”

Why all the fuss about the Patriot Act, I thought, when we surrender ourselves so willingly?

Musician Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) and Ozzy Osbourne (right) take a bow after performing 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)

*****

We were supposed to continue being conscientious citizens after we arrived in DC. The idea was to park outside of the city and then take the train the rest of the way. This was a plan both altruistically and selfishly hatched. On the one hand, we had all pledged our allegiance to public transportation when we had moved to New York, so it’s not as if we were train averse. Our belief in public transportation was one we tested daily, and it passed every time. The kids excepted, we all had unlimited metro cards in our pockets.

On the other hand, the traffic into DC was supposed to be brutal. I had heard horror stories about the infamous Beltway that made the traffic fleeing the Holland Tunnel ahead of a three-day weekend sound like a joy ride by comparison, which meant that this was an easy decision, a rare instance in which doing the right thing also meant doing the right thing for us, a choice that was much clearer than, say, the decision to use cloth diapers or to start a compost pile under the sink in your apartment.

The problem is that we were running late as it was. We had stopped at the hotel on the way in and changed the kids into their costumes. You see, the kids were dressing up. When you have kids the question of what they’re going to be for Halloween begins in earnest with the first official day of fall, some five weeks before the actual date. The rally was on 30 October, which gave us something to work with.

“Wouldn’t it be cool if we dressed the kids up all patriotic-like for Halloween,” I idly suggested one evening. “Then they could be all dressed up at the rally.”

Everyone loved the idea. There was a costume shop across from where Morgan works. He picked up matching Colonial Boy and Colonial Girl outfits. They were perfect. Exactly what we were looking for. Only they were for four-year-olds.

“Don’t worry about it,” said Leu. “I’ll adjust them.” She had taken up sewing not so long ago, and she was anxious to practice her new skills.

She had spent the better part of the week sewing. Taking things off, shortening, reattaching. She had stayed up until 1:00AM the night before we left making final adjustments, but the adjustments weren’t final enough to prevent her from tinkering the whole way down. By the time we arrived, they looked great. Every stitch back in place. The kids were going to stand on the street corner and be the hit of the rally. People would take pictures. They would be on the evening news if the evening news were more relevant. Hell, they would be on the evening news and make the evening news more relevant.

Morgan had made signs for them, stapled pieces of paper taped to No. 2 pencils. One read, “‘Liberty cannot be preserved without general knowledge among the people’ – John Adams.” The other, “‘Great necessities call forth great leaders’ – Abigail Adams.” They would stand with their signs and represent the future. They would be fucking adorable.

Musicians Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow perform 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)

The consequence of their adorableness was that we were running late.

“It looks like the Green Belt takes about 20-minutes to get to the city,” Morgan said. “It runs every 10-minutes.”

“Great,” I said.

“We may have to transfer.”

“Shit”.

It was almost noon. America’s house band, the Roots, would take the stage soon. The rally proper started at 1:00. I had given up on the Roots. I was OK with this. But I wanted to be there for the start of the rally. If everything broke our way, we would still make it.

When we pulled up to the train station we realized that everything was not going to break our way.

“I’ll drop you guys off and go and find a parking spot,” I said.

Then we saw the line. It was as long as a line at Disneyworld if the line at Disneyworld accounted for every line from every ride on a Saturday in July, which is to say that it was long. Really, really long.

“Oh, my god,” we took turns saying as we finally found the tail. “We’ll never make it on time.”

“Never mind ‘on time’. We won’t make it at all.”

We took a vote and decided to drive. The GPS had us arriving at shortly after 1PM. Allegedly, it accounted for traffic. We could find a spot and get there for most of the rally. If we waited for the train we’d be dead.

So we drove. The traffic going in had a festival feel to it. People hollering out their windows. Guys relieving themselves in McDonald’s cups and then tossing the evidence out the window like chamber pots. When we found ourselves nearing the National Mall around 1:10 we congratulated ourselves on making the right decision. We were jazzed, energized by the city, by our crack decision-making, ready to go lend our voices to the choir of the sane.

This is when Jonah puked. He had been quiet for some time, and I heard Leu say, “Jonah, sweetie, are you OK?” I looked in the rearview mirror just in time to see the mouth beneath his tri-corner hat open and, for the first time in his young life, a great mass of vomit come out. This was no infant spittle. This was big boy throw-up. Solid. Still in the shape of his esophagus. The closest comparable was the alien popping through the guy’s chest in Alien, only it was coming out of his mouth.

My first thought was, “His costume!” Sure enough, it was ruined. The car gave a collective “oh!” Leu unfastened her seat belt and climbed to the back of the minivan. The dashboard dinged. “Please fasten your seat belt. Please faster your seat belt.” Jonah was crying. Avery was asking if Jonah was OK. Morgan and Heather were soothing Avery and inquiring about Jonah. I couldn’t pull over because we were right next to the Mall. There were people everywhere, barriers everywhere, cops indiscriminately moving everyone along. “But we have a sick kid”. He just blew his whistle and motioned with his arm. This way. Keep moving. Eventually I found a parking garage.

“It’s $18 a day,” I said.

“Just do it,” Morgan said.

We circled the labyrinthine parking lot for another ten minutes before finding a spot. Heather said, “They wouldn’t let us in if they didn’t have a spot”. By this time Jonah was in Leu’s lap. He was still crying, but we were convinced that it was a one-off thing, carsickness but nothing more serious, which was a relief. The lot was full of ralliers. A woman carried a sign that said “I’m a Muslim and I Don’t Hate You”. Her daughter’s said “My Mom Told Me to Carry This Sign”.

This was the point at which I thought, This is hard. This is a commitment. You can’t just wake up one morning and say to yourself, “I think I’m going to go to a rally today”. It takes planning, not only on behalf of the organizers but also on behalf of the attendees. You need time—lots of time—and travel expenses, and things have to go right. An unreliable car, a sick kid. These are far more likely to derail a prospective ideologue than any kind of reconsideration or change of heart.

I have long heard stories about professional protesters. People who take their causes on the road, like an act. They make much more sense to me now. I don’t know how you can do it unless you’re devoted in a professional kind of way. Where does a weekend activist keep the fetus in a jar, the chum that will eventually land at the pregnant woman’s feet? Do anarchists practice wrapping their faces in those masks in front of a mirror to make sure that they have done the job right, to make sure that their identify is impenetrable?

And what does the person who throws a Molotov cocktail at a G-8 conference do on Monday morning? “So, how was your weekend?” Do they make the cocktails with the same casualness of coloring Easter eggs? Most importantly, is there nothing else in these people’s lives to absorb this energy? Do they not have lives? Or is the cause their lives? And, if so, is this noble or sad?

I was reminded of a passage from Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom, a book that gets better and better the longer you are away from it. The passage reads, “People came to this country for either money or freedom. If you don’t have money, you cling to your freedoms all the more angrily. Even if smoking kills you, even if you can’t afford to feed your kids, even if your kids are getting shot down by maniacs with assault rifles. You may be poor, but the one thing nobody can take away from you is the freedom to fuck up your life whatever way you want to”.

Jonah had changed from his Colonial Boy outfit to jeans and a St. Louis Rams jacket. Avery was still in her dress, bonnet and all. At long last, we were ready to rally. It was 1:40PM.

The police were on hand 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)

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