Monday, November 1, 2010

Notes From a Rally to Restore Sanity

This past weekend, my boyfriend and I went down to Washington D.C. to be a part of Jon Stewart's Rally to Restore Sanity. We left early in the morning, got delayed due to traffic, arrived after the rally had started, and then proceeded to mill around the outer edges, searching for things like a spot where we could hear the PA system clearly, he could see the jumbo screen, and also some port-a-potties. Only one of those goals was a clear victory, and I'll leave that a mystery. We ended the day at a TGI Fridays with perhaps the best food of all the TGI Fridays in the world. Or I could have just been really hungry. The world may never know.

We also left pretty happy with our rally experience.

And then I came home, and listened to Best of the Left, a podcast consisting of the best clips from left-leaning media shows. And the host of BotL and the hosts of Citizen Radio took a bit of an opposing view to the the rally, and what it was supposed to engender among its participants. They came away from what Jon Stewart had said and from the written mission statement feeling as though the rally was anti-activist. I, well, did not have that reaction.

Let me start out by saying that the messages I get from media? Sometimes are not the messages media is trying to give me. FernGully is a prime example of this. The movie's message is ostensibly about conservation efforts and protecting nature. What I took away from the film at age 6ish was: never trust a man. And I tell you, I stand by that reading of the film because every guy except Batty was a jerk to Crysta and a liar besides. But that answer did surprise my mother, who was really anticipating that first, clearer, idea.

So, I'm going to break this down into three sections: what I thought the rally was about before I got there; the impressions I had of the rally while it was happening; and what I took from it later when I watched Jon Stewart's closing remarks on the computer machine.

When I first heard about Stewart's rally, I wanted to go for the simple fact that I wanted to combat the numbers that other television show host got for his rally. This rally could have been about how good cheese is, and I would have been there. However, what it was about seemed pretty cool on its face.

What it seemed to be about was two ideas: (1) anti-sound bite. Signs loaded onto the Rally to Restore Sanity site supported this first hypothesis, by saying things like, "If you only recite talking points, how can we have a conversation?(#14)" and "Signs are an impractical medium for discourse (#18)". (2) anti-demonization. This one can pretty much be summed up by the supposition that "the only time it is appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person actually is Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles".

I personally don't think either one of those positions is anti-activist. It may take more to make activist work flamboyant. But I don't even think that is true. It may make activist work less media-friendly, but maybe we can work to change the media. So, before the rally? Very little to suggest anti-activist tendencies.

During the rally, I couldn't hear much nor see anything that was happening on the stage. But what I did see were the people around me. And those people were polite, funny, and seemed to be having a good time. The signs they had created supported both of my original hypotheses, except for one that said on one side, "An Open Mind is the Devil's Playground" and on the other, "Fix the Metro System". That sign seemed to be a product of muddled messaging. On the other hand, the sign, "War is the Answer* (*As Long as the Question is Who Sang "Low Rider)" was witty and to the point. Also, what I saw was a whole bunch of groups handing out stickers and fliers for their causes. So, that didn't seem anti-activist.

Afterward, when I watched Stewart's closing address, I was left with those same two thoughts on the day.

It isn't that we shouldn't hold strong values and opinions. It is that those values and opinions ought to be based in fact and reported to others with civility. It isn't that we should compromise those values and opinions. It is that we have to live in a world where actual compromise is necessary to survive. It is that we have hair dressers and family members and friends and coworkers who are going to disagree with us, sometimes vehemently and sometimes on a lot of different topics, and we have to recognize that they are human and probably not evil. We have to recognize that just like we don't want to hurt the country, they probably don't want to either.

One of the things that resonated with me was the idea that this was a rally for people who normally don't go to rallies, because they don't have a hell of a lot of time to devote to any cause let alone a multitude of causes.

I have the time to devote to a cause. But I don't have the opportunity to shape my life so I only talk to people I agree with or so that I live my life fully in line with my ideological beliefs. I work with people I have fundamental political and social disagreements with. And I, for the most part, like them. They push me farther to my ideological extreme, but I can disagree with them and still not think of them as Hitler.

That is what I took away from the rally. That having a principled stance is good, but that as Americans we must recognize that those on the other side are also just people. That they are trying to make the world "better", even though their idea of better is diametrically opposed to our own.