Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sanity and/or Fear Rally

I'll preface this thing: I don't care if the Republicans take the House tomorrow. It's of little consequence to me. Pinky swear. I'll be disappointed, but I've long thought it might work in Obama's best interest to sacrifice the House for two years because it'll put the Republican obstructionist strategy front-and-center, and demonstrate how a consistent "Just Say No" strategy never works (how's that drug war going, eh?). While I may be shocked and appalled in 2012, I refuse to believe that a majority of Americans want to stop moving forward, prefer to reach back in time to recapture the 'values' of earlier American generations which preserved segregation, allowed workers to be exploited, shrugged off violence. And while liberals have thrown the baby out with the bathwater this election cycle, hopefully they'll come to see that there's a distant goal, rather than petulantly demanding that goal be moved forward to save them the effort of marching towards it. That said, here's my entry about Saturday. I stole the picture from another source. I wish I had my own pictures to accompany this entry, but Greg and I spent our time negotiating the crowd. And 'negotiating' is a good word, right?

Two things: I don’t get out of bed at 3AM on a Saturday for just anyone, and I certainly don’t take five hour bus rides for the hell of it. So imagine my surprise, this past Saturday, to find myself--bleary-eyed, bed-haired--on the A train at 3:30AM, heading towards a transfer to the 7 train which would take me to Citi Field in Flushing, Queens (I should also add that I don’t go to baseball stadiums or Queens for just anyone, either).

My civil-unionized compatriot was with me. Greg. In the ten years we’ve been together, I don’t think he’s ever known me to be getting out of bed at 3AM, only into bed.

Across from us, on the A, was another couple huddled together, chatting quietly to one another. The woman was soft-featured and slight, the man more gregarious and a bit older, wearing a periwinkle suit, crisp white shirt, and a yellow bow-tie. The man read Greg’s shirt aloud (“Sanity, Not Hannity!”) and asked if we were going to the rally in D.C.

“Why else would we be up at this ungodly hour?” I responded. “I didn’t realize they still made 3AM Saturday morning--I thought it’d been discontinued during the Enlightenment.”

We shouted a conversation at one another for a while, our voices fighting with the clacking train. They were going as well. And at each stop, more people got on who were clearly going to the rally--people fighting with homemade signs and placards, dressed in shirts blazoned with ironically appropriate slogans, each person sleepy but energized.

All of us were taking advantage of Arianna Huffington’s very kind (and very brave, really) decision to foot the bill for transportation to D.C. for The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. None of us knew how many others were converging on Citi Field, couldn’t guess the number. None knew what to expect. I, for one, was wholly unprepared for the number of people already on site when we arrived, and the number of people who continued to disgorge from the 7 train and stream down the station steps to the line.

Over 10,000 people arrived at Citi Field that day. If you’ve ever seen 10,000 people, you know what it looks like, and if you’ve never seen 10,000 people, imagine Times Square on a typical summer's day.

I should say here that I am extremely grateful to Arianna and her staff for their efforts, even if the whole ordeal came off as a giant clusterfuck and we never did receive our promised refreshments (beggers, choosers, etc.). It took nearly two hours for Greg and me to make it to a bus, standing in freezing wind while watching the sun (“rosy finger dawn!” some hipster from Williamsburg kept shouting behind us) rise over the train station across the street. And then nearly five hours for the bus to make it to D.C. And then another hour to make it from RFK Stadium, where the HuffPo buses parked, to the National Mall, where the rally was being held.

If 10,000 New Yorkers crammed into a relatively small area at Citi Field seemed gloriously enormous, imagine what 200,000+ people look like. Imagine if every person in Huntsville, AL (population: 177,000), decided to go to the mall at once, and some of those people brought a few friends, and they all tried to cram into Hot Topic simultaneously.

Because our bus didn’t arrive in D.C. til late, Greg and I got nowhere near the stage. We didn’t even get near a spot where the stage was visible. And it took nearly two hours for us to work our way around to a spot where the speakers near said stage were even audible. If you’re hoping for a run-down of the things going on on the stage, you can stop reading--I have no clue. Jesus himself could’ve been singing “Peace Train,” and I would not have known it (imagine my surprise later when I learned who had sang it!).

What I can supply is a run-down of was the crowd itself.

Let’s do this. Last April, Greg and I attended a Tea Party rally in downtown Manhattan, which seemed to me at the time a ridiculous thing to do. Here’s what I said about it: “unfocused, undisciplined and confused.” Absolutely true. The Tea Party rally lacked cohesion because everyone there had their own pet peeve. This remains true of the Tea Party; they don’t have a platform--they have a chest of drawers, and each drawer contains something different, and none of those contents mix (they have a sock/birther drawer, they have an underwear/anti-tax drawer, they have a jeans/Christian drawer, and so on). Platforms are planks working together to provide a foundation. Chest of drawers are compartments used to keep things separate.


The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear crowd was made up of like-minded individuals intent on both having fun and mocking the system. I am not implying there was a lack of earnestness at the rally, but the earnestness was the subtext. There were signs and costumes and all the things we’ve come to expect from a good rally, but these things lacked the strident, screedy absurdity of a typical rally.

My shirt, by the way, was this: A picture of the FOX News logo, with the words, “Keep Smear Alive!” written above it.

There were no angry chants condemning anyone as Hitler or a war-monger. Everyone said “please” and “thank you.” No one ranted about anything. The crowd--all 200,000+ of it--was genial, agreeable, co-opertive, understanding, patient, and completely unconcerned with the events on the stage.

As one woman told me later, on the bus heading back to Citi Field, “I didn’t go to see Jon or Stephen. I went to be counted. I wanted my body to be one of the little specks in the pictures of the crowd. And I would do it again.”

Right. So. In short, when I woke up at 3AM on a Saturday and took a five hour bus ride, I did it for America, to prove that it’s okay to be sane, reasonable. To prove that anger can only get you so far. The trick is to stay on message, and continue being sane and reasonable despite the temptation to scream back at aggressive, cognitive-disassociating loud-mouths who’d rather rail against government than discuss how to improve it.

As a final note, I’ll say this about Arianna Huffington’s free busing: certainly it was ill-planned and poorly executed, but her buses got a lot of like-minded strangers to sit together, and talk, and share an experience. We made several friends, exchanged contact information (even shared cabs home together). I don’t know if it was her intention, but Arianna managed to create a loose network of enthusiastic, determined, reasonable progressives, and we are just as ready to shape government to our liking as any other group. We just talk a bit more softly.

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