The Politics (and Music) of Aspiration – Notes from the Rally to Restore Sanity

by on November 2, 2010 · 4 comments

in Civil Rights, Culture, Economy, Election, History, San Diego, War and Peace

rally torestoresanitycrowd

Over 200,000 gathered at the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington DC, Oct. 30, 2010.

by Keep Sanity Alive / November 2, 2010

On November 1, the Monday after the “Rally to Restore Sanity” in Washington DC, I was still hanging around in the nation’s capital, digesting Jon Stewart’s closing remarks. I ended a call with a friend after talking about what had happened that weekend, and the woman seated at the table next to mine leaned over to chat.

“Pardon me for eavesdropping,” she began, and we started talking about the rally. She told me that she had also attended, and, like me, was reflecting on what it was all about.

We were seated in a DC West End eatery located on the ground floor of an upscale hotel. Yes, as one of the Rally acts said: we were people with disposable income.

She told me that early Saturday morning, a large group of hotel guest- previously unknown to one another- began leaving for the mall, and were delighted and surprised that people who could afford to stay at that location also wanted to join in this very unconventional event. Also, based on conversations with her friends who lived in DC, most of them were hosting out of town visitors on couches, in guest rooms and on their living room floors. This rally definitely had mass appeal.

We were both professional women and accomplished leaders in our respective careers. We could have spent that weekend anywhere- yet there we were in DC for the weekend, on the mall with people from all over the nation, many young enough to be our kids or grandkids.

rally signs ob not hitAs we discussed the message the rally had delivered, and the messages it didn’t, she mentioned that her 15 year old granddaughter had watched the rally on TV. She had loved it, but wanted to know- where was the call to action? Why didn’t Jon at least tell us to go vote?

I wasn’t sure myself. But a few hours later I began reading Thomas Friedman’s column during my flight back to San Diego. Friedman often writes about the positive attitudes and changes he observes in free market development around the world, sometimes in stark contrast to our recent unhappy situation in the US.

In his final paragraph, Friedman quoted Shekhar Gupta, editor of The India Express newspaper. His comment struck me:

“We [Indians] have moved away from a politics of grievance to a politics of aspiration. Where is the American dream? Where is the optimism?”

Yeah! In other words (I thought): Let’s dump this “politics of grievance” nonsense. Time to cowboy up, America! Quit being a bunch of pathetic Debbie Downers and Wally Whiners! We have lots to be thankful for!! As Stephen Colbert had us singing at the rally: “We’re the biggest, strongest country in the world…”

And that doesn’t mean we have to police the world- but we can amaze the world with our creativity, technological breakthroughs and unbridled optimism.

I mean, really: Where is our globally admired, “Made in America”, “Yes We Can-do” attitude? When did we become a bunch of campaigning complainers and combative name callers and head stompers?

I don’t know when we gave up on our dream of a better tomorrow for ourselves and our kids, and stopped leading by example, but let’s cut it out. Just look at the Apollo space capsule hanging in the Smithsonian: American boldness and ingenuity was never better demonstrated than by the equipment used by a few guys willing to fly 200,000 miles to the moon and back in a rickety beat up craft that, by today’s standards, looks a lot like a high school science project that relies way too heavily on duct tape.

* (I mean it. Go to the Smithsonian Aerospace Museum and check out that Apollo capsule. You couldn’t pay me to fly in that thing from its display, over the Mall, to the National Botanical Garden on the south side.)

While I can’t identify the date we gave up, I would suggest that a new “American Aspiration: v.2010” was on display on the Washington Mall on October 30, developed and produced by hundreds of thousands of very diverse human beings using nothing more than thrift store costumes, thousands of poster boards and marking pens and good ol’ American humor.

Attendees ranged in age from infants in strollers to seniors in walkers; from trim joggers (the Marine Corps Marathon was the next day) and hardy hikers to disabled folks in wheelchairs; from white haired, white skinned Unitarians to young “people of color” Rastafarians; from students with signs reading “I should be writing my paper right now” to college grads holding signs stating “If Obama ‘were’ a Nazi Jon Stewart probably couldn’t get a rally permit.”

We were upbeat and offbeat (except for the people in the drum circle that began playing at the conclusion of the stage show- definitely on beat). We were seniors and students; immigrants and infants in strollers and adults dressed as anchor babies wearing very large diapers carrying, yes, papier-mâché anchors (it was, after all, the day before Halloween).

Gay, straight and ambiguous. Secular and faith-based. All of us in good spirits, anticipating a lively stage show full of music and humor and schtick- fear vs. hope/sanity- that ultimately proved to be funny and quirky, full of obscure Star Trek and Star War references. (R2D2 was there!)

A little bit patriotic, a little bit religious (thank you Father Guido Sarducci) and a little bit rock and roll.

rally signs people behindWhere else could you get a medley of Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam singing “Peace Train,” Ozzie Osbourne singing “Crazy Train,” and the O’Jays singing and dancing to “Love Train” and have it somehow all make sense? Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow? John Legend and The Roots? What an unlikely and fun music line up!

But mostly- we were happy to be with friendly folks who had either enough disposable income or friends with cars or ingenuity (or both) to make the trek to the Mall from as far away as Alaska.

We aspired to be part of something light hearted and different on this sunny fall day. We wanted to embrace a new way of being active and showing a quirky form of patriotism, without being acerbic. We appreciate our freedoms, and our unique form of self governance that has intrigued the rest of the world since the 1700s. And we didn’t want to echo the angry, confrontational, head-stomping (literally!) “politics as usual” tone that has been so dominant this election season.

So, yeah- Jon Stewart didn’t overtly raise a clarion call by the program’s close, or tell us specifically what to do (beyond showing us images of merging traffic as a model of democratic civility, making some of us remark: what is this, the political science version of an elementary school sex ed class, with birds and bees instead of real humans?).

But perhaps it’s because he recognized that our actual physical presence on the mall was in itself a demonstration of the “politics of aspiration” that Americans have shown the rest of the world in the last few centuries, and have the capacity to display again.

By leaving us wondering “what do we do now,” he reminded me of Robert Redford’s character- a pretty boy US Senator-elect- and the existentialist dilemma he faced at the end of “The Candidate” (one of my top 10 political movies of the 1970s). Redford’s character turned to his campaign manager (played by Peter Boyle) as the reality of his situation became clear: now what?

(Need another cinematic example? How about the expression on the faces of Katherine Ross and Dustin Hoffman during the closing bus ride scene in “The Graduate”? )

We came. We rallied. Some of us overcame adversity to attend, or defied some naysayers, or skipped out on class. But now, we…are leaving DC without any clear instructions.

So- maybe Jon wants us to come up with our own third acts, in cities throughout the US, if not the world.

Or at least, that is my belief, and reflects how I intend to move forward: it’s up to us now. Me. You. All who RSVP’d when Jon threw a party and a few hundred thousand of us participated.

That includes the in-person attendees and the untold numbers who checked in via Comedy Central. Looky-loos online, and the folks who created local “meet up” parties. Plus all the bloggers and posters and those of you who are still viewing photos of the silly, wonderful, imaginative signs posted by newspapers (who didn’t send reporters to cover the event) and attendees on Facebook. (Check them out- some are really great, including the ones that say simply “meh.”)

But the ambiguous ending is, well, life. Free will. Personal choice. What we do next is up to us.

Jon and Stephen threw a party, entertained us mightily, and then ushered us out of the mall, on our way, back to our lives with no expectations from him about what we will do now. And now. And now.

Will we take his suggestion and be polite and civil on our paths? Will we commit to keep the political traffic of our nation moving smoothly, despite our widely variant bumper stickers (and political parties, skin colors, ages, ethnicities, religions, socio-economic status etc., TV viewing habits and boxers or briefs diversity)?

Or will we go back to honking and road rage and flipping each other off when someone- thru design or error- cuts us off as we drive down the interstate of life?

I’d like to try the former, but I know it will take practice and a support network. So, I’ve started a new Facebook page, “Keep Sanity Alive.” If you’d like to explore what comes next in your life post-Rally, and let others know how you intend to make it up as we go along, please become a fan of the page.

Or create your own page somewhere and invite me- I’ll join in for ideas and encouragement.

And, oh yeah- VOTE. Not just today (I’m writing this November 2 2010). Or next year. Basically always, every chance you get as a living, breathing, thinking, discerning American.That continues to remain important.

But no less so than the suggestion of my lunch friend’s granddaughter: Go have a conversation with someone you disagree with, and make sure at the conclusion, both of you leave smiling despite your differences.

Something tells me Jon Stewart would like that.

PS- here’s what I’d really like to see Jon Stewart doing in a year or so:

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

annagrace November 2, 2010 at 3:45 pm

Gee- what if the light at the end of the tunnel IS just New Jersey? The autotune guys did a funny/stirring piece on Stewart’s closing remarks.


david November 2, 2010 at 11:13 pm

i was at the rally. me and my mate had a great time, we sang along when cat stevens performed “peace train” we danced with tens of thousands to the o’jays “love train” we laughed at stewart’s and colbert’s political burlesque. we groaned when kid rock performed a silly song about not being able to help others but let us know he cares.
what would have made the afternoon perfect and complete would have been stewart instructing the crowd to surround the nearby capital building and threaten to huff and puff and blow the house down unless the two american wars of aggression and occupation were ended, universal health care was enacted, the thieves who stole the american economy were punished. and john mcain apologized for sarah palin.

seriously though, john stewart is a comedian. he does a great service in deconstructing the absurdness that is the american media. colbert exposes the only real weapon the power holders have, the illusion of power reinforced by fear. at a time when there is no real organized progressive mass movement ( thanks to the democratic party fulfilling its historic role of baiting and switching) these two provide a good laugh and a small glimmer of hope that madness can not go on unchallenged. but i do not look to these two for political leadership nor do i think stewart’s message of moderation works when the opposition is ruthless and unreasonable. stewart has taken to attacking the left on order to balance his critique of the right. code pink is not the same as the tea party, michael moore is not the left equivalent to the rights rush limbaugh. in short, the left is not the problem and it is wrong to push that line line at a time when right is a on path toward a full blown fascism ( i am not crying wolf on this point, just learning from history) .

the above article describes the gathering as diverse. that was not my observation. i was surrounded by mostly white twenty somethings who had that heathy aura of a middle class upbringing . and that is not surprising, that is a large part of who watches the dailey show. and its not important at this point. what is important is we be honest and truthful in all things and not make up false representations because thats how we want things to be.
in early 1967 i went to my first anti war rally. i was a long haired hippy kid fresh off an lsd trip and full of love for all things in the cosmos. that crowd also was young and white. within two short years many of us had been radicalized by police riots and continuing war escalation depite our peaceful pleas to stop the genocide in vietnam. that experience is what gives me hope that we can rise again because one thing i can promise you as i watch the election results tonight. shit is gonna happen.


Sarah November 3, 2010 at 8:57 am

You got me with:

“What would have made the afternoon perfect and complete would have been stewart instructing the crowd to surround the nearby capital building and threaten to huff and puff and blow the house down unless the two american wars of aggression and occupation were ended, universal health care was enacted, the thieves who stole the american economy were punished. and john mcain apologized for sarah palin.”

Especially the Sarah Palin part.


MORE? November 4, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Oh great!

Hateful Biggots and racist!


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