Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thoughts on the Rally to Restore Sanity

I know this is an unabashed detour from the typical content on this blog, but I felt like I needed to write about my experience at the Rally to Restore Sanity yesterday. I've written several drafts for this post, but I can't seem to put something together that I'm proud of, or that does the event justice. I've become frustrated at myself for not being able to put this event into context, because I feel like it might be something that I've been waiting for my whole life.

I've been watching Jon Stewart since I was 11 and I've followed the stand-up comedians of my era in the same way that I idolize the rock stars of the 60s. I've continually compared myself and, by extension, my generation, to the generation 40 years before me. I am always searching for my generation's Woodstock, a cultural convergence that symbolizes a generation while also propels it forward at the same time. I anxiously analyze my history as it is being created around me instead of living it, always in the shadow of the people that have come before. Every major event I witness I think to myself--is this it?  When I went to rebuild in New Orleans after Katrina--maybe this is it. Obama’s election--maybe this is it. And the Rally yesterday--maybe this is it.

I've poured over comedy in the same way I poured over the lives and words of the musicians of the 60s. I memorize lyrics, I memorize punch lines. I try to get in the head of Jon Stewart, I try to get into the head of Bob Dylan. I try to tease out what each of their actions--and the actions of the people around them--mean for the broader trajectory of a generation's development. When Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced their rally over a month ago, my thoughts on what it could mean built on top of each other with each new episode.

Needless to say, when I went to the Rally (and it will always be simply known as "the Rally") on Saturday, I was nervous. It had already been labeled my generation's Woodstock, but I wasn't sure. I wanted it so badly to be, I wanted so badly to have the privilege years from now to say "I was there, and I remember that" to those that wish they could have been there, in the same way that I wish I was at Woodstock or the '68 Chicago protests when people tell me they were there. So today after I shook off the sleep that followed a Saturday night of instant reminiscence; (Where were you standing? Could you hear the whole thing? How many people do you think were there? How pissed were you when Ozzy Ozbourne cut off Cat Stevens? But it was pretty sweet...), I sat down ready to write about my generation's moment, how it was better than Woodstock, and how comedians deliver better messages than rock stars ever could.

It didn't come out. I ended up with scattered paragraphs and half-thoughts in full sentences. I forced myself to keep writing: This is what I've been waiting my whole life for. I was part of a crowd of over 200,000 people, who took to the streets of my nation's capital with a common goal of understanding and civility, and a shared dream of a better tomorrow. I watched as one of my heroes stood in the shadows of the Capitol building saying that our presence here alone was enough for him, that when everything is amplified we hear nothing, that the only place where we can't work together is in DC and on cable TV. And I did it with some of my best friends with me scattered throughout the crowd. I should be able to say something about this.

But I couldn't find the right words to give a deeper meaning to all of these moments. I tried to compare this possibly-historic event to Woodstock. I tried to talk about how comedians were the rock stars of our generation. I tried to talk about how comedians were the only ones who could keep us sane in these complicated times and the messages of the 60s were too simple now. But nothing seemed to fit together.

I was reminded of a quote from, either fittingly or ironically, the Dylan biopic, "I'm Not There." One character tells a young Dylan, who at that point in the movie will only play songs from the Great Depression and not about what he is experiencing; "Live your own time, child, sing about your own time."

I can't say what the Rally means, because I don't know if it means anything yet. I lived through it, but I'm not sure if my three hours on the Mall will mean anything more than a fun afternoon, some good stories and the chance to be apart of something that I thought was pretty cool. And I guess it isn't really for me to say what it meant for my generation--that will be determined by historians smarter than myself--but I know it meant a lot to me. I've always admired the way that the Daily Show and the Colbert Report (and all of my favorite comedians) can point out the flaws in our society by making humorous connections no one else can see. I think they put on a great Rally.

The message that they delivered was exactly what I think our country needs right now. The Rally wasn't an anti-Tea Party message, or an anti-establishment message, or against really anything at all. It was more about stating the obvious for those in power--media or government--that might have forgotten it: These are hard times, but they are not end times. We will continue to work together and do the things we need to do, as we have always done.

I hope this message makes a difference in the near future, and the long-term future, but I don't know if it will. I hope I can, at some point, look back on this day--this period in history that I was lucky enough to live through--and say something more substantial that I have said with this post. But until then, I will be glad I was there to share it with everyone else who was there, or who watched it, or who shares the sentiments. That is good enough for me, for now.

Disclaimer: The postings on this site are my own and do not represent the positions, strategies or opinions of Venture Philanthropy Partners


  1. I agree, having also enjoyed being at the Rally but not sure it was more than a fun afternoon. Hard to say what will come of it, if anything. Unfortunately, the cynic in my assumes that the main targets (such as they were) of the Rally - being the extreme views presented in the media and from politicians - will probably ignore the Rally and the middle it represents, as they have continued to do so.

    One element we found most interesting was that as much as the Rally was framed as an event for youth and perhaps the Woodstock of a new generation, as you said, our hunch based on the crowd we saw was that the attendees were an average age of 40. And disappointingly, probably 95+% white.

  2. Some stories don't have a clear beginning, middle, or end. If you can't find the right words to explain it, its because its one of those experiences where "you just had to be there to understand."

  3. In case you weren't there...