It wasn't even ten yet, but Marine One was off on the campaign trail. We didn't need Obama anyway. The rally was in charge of the city today! The crowd had crossed the street and made it to the third row of televisions, and they were STILL COMING.
After the jump, you'll see more, and find out what made me change my mind about the whole thing… again and again.
If I may editorialize here, I personally can't STAND Arianna Huffington. However, it was awfully nice of her to spend her own money on the buses from New York. I knew they were coming, so I assumed the sudden burst of people were from those buses, even though I still can't be sure. But there were a heck of a lot of people, and the open space began to disappear. On the monitors, clips from The Daily Show were cycling past. I figured it was a good time for a break, so I took a knee and watched for a bit. This turned out to be a really, really, really bad decision.
That was my view for the duration of the rally. The path? Full. The street? Full. The stairs of the building next door? Full. I had been planning to track down James from Hack-A-Day for a little cross-blog interviewing fun, but there were about 250,000 people out there, and AT&T just kinda pulled the iPlug on everybody, so I had no one to talk to and nothing but heads to photograph. Thank goodness there was a show starting...
If you missed seeing it live, videos are available on the official website. I assumed they would be, so I didn't bother to take many photos of the giant TV. Plenty of other blogs covered the rally if you want a minute-by-minute breakdown of who said what went. I'll only say that it was fun to have Mythbusters guide us through fluid dynamics (a.k.a. "the wave") and seeing Yusef (the former Cat Stevens) playing with Ozzy (the former Prince of Darkness) wasn't something I ever could have anticipated. Father Guido Sarducci was also a treat.
Of course there were technical mistakes and some ad-libbing, but that only made it even more fun! And yet, by the time Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow came out, I felt like wandering. I had to get to the back of the Mall and see just how far this rally stretched. It wasn't easy, but with some work, I made it to the street.
The crowd was everywhere, even spreading into the streets on both sides of the mall. D.C.'s traffic cops were professionally stern, but also professionally friendly, and for the most part, everyone got along. All the disagreements were minor, and the only one I witnessed (between and old lady and a guy with a bicycle) ended with just a few swear words as both parties walked away. There was something about the mood that made it hard to think of all these strangers as enemies. In this crowd, everyone seemed like a friend.
I was very surprised to see the end of the rally reaching all the way to the Smithsonian Castle. From that distance, you could barely hear what was happening on stage. You couldn't watch it either, because… well, look.
But wouldn't you know it? People were holding their crazy signs and weird outfits and kept right on enjoying themselves just as hard as the people at the front. Clearly, I'd been wrong about this being just a parody. Back here, people were creating their own event, an event that almost no one would ever see.
Right about now Seth passed me wearing one of our shirts.
Seth had been at the front early in the morning, before he decided to move back to the back, so he was able to fill me in on what had been happeing. It had been calm here, he said, very diverse and lots of fun. I asked if anyone seemed disappointed and he said no, that even this far away, everyone was in a good mood and enjoying themselves. It surprised me, because weren't these people here to see a comedy show?
On my way back to the front, I passed a nearby statue garden, where a security guard was asking a woman not to touch the art. I couldn't help but think that a few weeks ago, this could have been an invitation for some joke about "uncouth Tea Party types" who "didn't understand culture". Of course the reality is that we're all jerkfaces sometimes, no matter who we support or vote for. And we all do stupid stuff now and then. Somewhere back inside the fences, the familiar voice of Tony Bennett was singing, but I was too far away to hear it clearly. And even still, I was surrounded by happy people making their own fun.
When the rally was over, we all started walking. Most of us were meeting friends at bars. The subway's full? Keep walking. This bar's too crowded? Keep walking. At top of the hill, I noticed people were grinning and taking photos of what was behind me. And so I turned around too. And then, I was grinning and taking a photo as well..
The great thing about this nation is that we're in it. Every one of us. Together. We might all have a wide variety of opinions, but when we all get up and take a walk together, we simply are impossible to ignore. And seeing this, a street full of people with no common cause beyond the right to assemble peacefully… well, maybe it's a bit corny, but that really made me happy. I have to say, the show was fantastic, but this was really the moment I liked most of all.
Waiting outside the bar, I met John and Dana from Frequency555.com. They were very nice people, and were heavily into spreading awareness about sustainable lifestyles. They had some questions for me, I had some for them, and so we traded interviews. John said that he believed Stewart and Colbert were deliberately bringing awareness to the problems we have in Congress now, and that this rally was designed to draw attention to that. At the time, this statement was one I honestly disagreed with, because there wasn't actually a single problem openly discussed in between the jokes. But thinking about it later, I had to admit that I'd never been to a comedy show where people would happily sit out of hearing range, and we all know that a three hour lecture on tariff issues wouldn't have filled up a rented porta-a-potty. So maybe John was right, and there was something else happening right in front of me.
So what do I think happened? What's my final assessment of the rally?
Based on a Sunday morning interview, Arianna Huffington apparently thinks this was some bold forward motion for the left. From that same interview, Dick Armey apparently thinks it was just two really talented comedians having fun. After thinking about what I saw, and everyone I talked to, I personally think that the rally was the best kind of performance art: the kind that holds a mirror to your face and shows you what you're already thinking. People like John and Mike and Arianna Huffington walked away feeling reaffirmed politically, while people like Seth and Matt and Dick Armey (and me) left feeling like it was just a really great day of comedy. I don't think that anyone would argue that the world has changed because of the rally, but if nothing else, it certainly made the media a little unnerved. Really, how would you explain a sign like this in a ten second sound bite?
All that having been said, on my way home Sunday afternoon, I sat beside a young woman talking to her mother about the rally. "It was great!" she said. "So political!" And then she moved on to how the guy next to her was wearing a pirate costume with all sort of authentic pirate details he'd added himself. As far as I can see, that's going to be the aftermath of Saturday's event. A bunch of happy people who feel like they did something just by showing up and having a little fun, and then going home with smiles on their faces. They'll be happy just remembering a day when everyone was a friend no matter what they believed.
And honestly? In this climate, where we've all been yelling at each other about nothing for far, far too long? Where millionaires we've never met are fighting over what to take away from us next? Maybe just taking a stranger's hand in friendship could actually be a political statement. We're cheerful as hell, and we're not going to take it any more!