With an estimated 215,000 attendees on Saturday, the National Mall became the place for music, comedy and of course a bit of politics.
While the rally officially began at noon, with The Roots on hand to play for the ever-growing crowds, it was about an hour before either of the Comedy Central “news anchors” made an appearance onstage.
Some early-bird fans appeared irate at the wait, but we can assure you that the block-long lines outside Metro stations from Virginia to Maryland indicated that many people had to wait hours to get to the Mall, and were probably a bit late as a result.
”I’ve never seen it like that before, just wall-to-wall people everywhere,” said Virginian David Ropalski, who came from the Vienna Metro station. For a several-block radius around the Mall, hordes of fans descended, following the music and filling the open space from the stage, by 3rd Street, all the way back to the Washington Monument, past 15th Street.
Many climbed trees, stood on benches or scaled the rows of portable toilets to get a better view.
One young man even made it to the top of a stoplight pole as his neighbors cheered him on.
“You wanna know the worst thing?” he yelled from his summit. “I still can’t see anything!”
It was a common complaint — despite several JumboTrons and huge speakers, the sheer amount of people at the rally forced many to find other ways to see the performance.
One woman on the east watched it on CSPAN via her smart phone; another tuned into the performance via a pocket radio.
At 12:40, MythBusters Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman took the stage and led perhaps the largest impromptu wave in U.S. — or at least D.C. — history. Though most people couldn’t see the wave coming through the crowd, most enthusiastically pitched it when it reached them.
“That was very powerful,” said Maryanne Meier, who came with her daughter, Kayla.
By the time Jon Stewart appeared onstage around 1 p.m., the audience members were sufficiently amped up. Fashion-wise, Stephen Colbert upstaged the sedately-dressed Stewart, in a Evel Knievel-esque white jumpsuit trimmed with blue and red, complete with stars, stripes and a cape.
When Stewart brought Yusuf Islam - formerly known as Cat Stevens - onstage to perform “Peace Train,” Colbert retaliated with Ozzy Osbourne and “Crazy Train.” In an apparent compromise, the O’Jays finished that set with their classic, “Love Train.”
Other music acts included John Legend, Jeff Tweedy, Mavis Staples, Kid Rock dueting with Sheryl Crow, and Tony Bennett performing “America the Beautiful.”
Keep fear alive!
While many people attended as fans or political activists, others had different motivations. JoAnn Abbott, of Virginia, set up a small booth that read “Psychiatric Help 5¢” and “The Doctor is In,” a la Peanuts’ Lucy Van Pelt.
“Hold it in your heart. Keep fear alive!” she encouraged those who stopped to look at her extensive list of politically-themed phobias.
Favorites included epistemophobia (fear of knowledge), dikephobia (fear of justice) and politicophobia (fear or abnormal dislike of politicians).
Abbott, who holds a Bachelor’s in Psychology and plans to pursue her Master’s, confided in us, pulling a “Tea Party Leader” button from the inside of her sweater. “I’m here in disguise,” she said, then added that she helped organize the 2009 Tax Day Tea Party last April in D.C.
“Redditors” - users of aggregate site Reddit - were also out in force from as far away as Seattle, swapping personal user names and codes for points. Stephen Colbert, a known fan of the site, had asked the Reddit community to help local classrooms by donating to the website donorschoose.org, a charity organization where teachers across America appeal to the Internet community to fund classroom projects in their community.
Along with individual donors, the Reddit community was able to raise more than $500,000 for the “Restoring Truthiness” campaign, helping their local schools and getting an interview with Colbert himself through Reddit.
“I came here for Reddit before I came for Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert,” said David Ropalski, who came with fellow Redditor and friend Calvin Hutchinson and armed with a giant sign of the traditional Reddit Alien symbol.
Getting a fellow Redditor’s user name and code could get you Karma points and a trophy for attending the event wearing clothes featuring icons from the aggregator. “Using this sign, I’ve ran into at least 100 Redditors. I think there’s got to be at least 1,000 more here,” Hutchinson said.
Hard times not end times
In the end, though, Stewart himself perhaps described the event best.
“This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.
“If you want to know why I’m here and want I want from you, I can only assure you this: you have already given it to me. Your presence was what I wanted. Sanity will always be and has always been in the eye of the beholder. To see you here today and the kind of people that you are has restored mine.”
Stewart attributed much of modern American insanity to the 24-hour news media. As usual, he sandwiched important, reasonable points in comedy. “The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected dangerous flaming ant epidemic,” he said, adding. “If we amplify everything we hear nothing.”
“Librarians are Hiding Something”
“Gay People Have Fewer Abortions”
“Muslims… and Gays… and Bears… Oh, My!”
What do we want? Sanity! When do we want it? Sometime soon!”
“Be excellent to each other”
“Stop yelling at me. That’s why I moved out of my parents’ house”
“The founding fathers fathered anchor babies”
“Retired CIA Analyst for sensible drug policy”
“Ditch Fear Choose Puppies”
“I Fought Nazis and they don’t look like Obama”
“Gay without any real agenda… Okay drinking is the only thing on my agenda”
“If your anger or your erection last more than 4 hours, seek medical attention”
“Only the jesters dare speak the truth”
“Historians Against the Misuse of History”
“Aballish the Departmint of Edukayshun”
“You either support false dichotomies or you're against us”