1,150 miles + driving 20 hours out of 54 total = a trek to D.C. this past weekend to be part of the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear hosted by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show.
Was it worth it? That’s a good question a lot of folks are asking. Having never been to any sort of rally like this, I was psyched to be part of it. Adrenaline kept me going on the drive there and then all day Saturday on about four hours of sleep. And I really wanted to hear the promised message.
I have to say, though, I was disappointed in the organization of the event: attendance was vastly underestimated, and those who didn’t stake a spot on the Mall lawn at the crack of dawn Saturday got no where near the stage. More important, officials didn’t clear side walks and paths: we spent the three-hour rally either posted in one spot straining to hear voices from the stage or waiting in a crazy-large crowd of folks at a standstill.
I was a driver/chaperone with a group of about 60 college students, professors and staff members, and after seeing each other briefly at breakfast Saturday morning, we didn’t meet again until we departed Sunday morning. I know we weren’t the only group whose best laid “let’s meet here for a group picture and listen to the rally” plans were foiled!
In fact, other than hearing what I knew was either Stewart’s and Colbert’s voice and hearing what I later confirmed via JumbroTron was Sheryl Crow performing, I had to wait until I got back to the hotel (and got cell phone service once I was outside the mass of people) to read about what actually went on and who spoke/performed during the three-hour event.
(Ozzy Osbourne was performing, among others, and I didn’t know it!)
A friend who was a part of our separated group sent me a text after the rally that I agree with a bit: “Kinda felt like a bust overall…D.C. kicked my ass for no good reason it feels like.”
The trip was worth it. From a publicity perspective, having too many people in the audience is a great problem. Figuring out where to put all of them is a different story (that could lead to publicity you don’t want). On Saturday, there was no crowd control, so people spilled over into walkways and sidewalks, making navigation virtually impossible. I guarantee organizers were on eggshells until the Mall cleared and the area was potential-crisis free.
True to the underlying theme of the rally, however, everyone was pretty respectable and patient, despite the frustratingly cramped conditions.
I met people who traveled from Kentucky, Atlanta, New Orleans and San Diego, and everywhere between. To be a part of something so nationally unifying, so to speak, was a great experience, and the organizers can be proud of that.
The quantity of press coverage was also great. According to a New York Times article, more than 1,000 individuals applied for press credentials for the rally, and in the end, just 400 were given out. Good thing…there wasn’t room for another 600 individuals with cameras.
(I hope members of the press saw the necessity to also increase the quality of their coverage, knowing that about 80% of folks on the ground at the rally would be relying on them after the fact to find out what happened.)
Traversing the crowds and trying to find a place to stand along the perimeter of the Mall, I had plenty of time to check out all the signs folks made, and that, too, made it worthwhile. A lot of thought went into these messages, and it was energizing seeing the diversity and creativity. Here’s a great Buzzfeed.com article on the 100 best signs at the rally.
Long blog piece short: I wish my overarching memory of the rally wasn’t of huge crowds and straining to hear what was going on. But there’s nothing I can do about that. I’m glad I went, and I hope to be able to say soon, “Yeah, I was a part of that!” when the 215,000 people in attendance (official number) band together again for some real (and better organized!) change.