Story & photos by Doan Nguyen, USU ’05
HNC Washington Correspondent
WASHINGTON, D.C.—If you watched the recent Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on television or online, you saw more of the stage than I did. But being in the chaotic crowd was entertaining in itself.
It was a new generation’s Woodstock, but with more skinny jeans, Halloween costumes, satirical signs and less drug usage, although the scent of chocolaty mochas intertwined with the burning stench of weed on the cool breezes that wafted past.
That morning, I had left my Metrorail-accessible apartment a couple hours early to beat the rush to the noon rally. The closest metro station to my apartment had more than 20 people (many costumed) waiting in line to purchase fares.
Two men from different parties noticed each other in line, both were wearing Where’s Waldo? costumes. I wondered if they settled on who had thought of the costume idea first. Did they make reasonable compromises on their differences—if any, or succeeded in not thinking of each other as Hitler? I’d like to believe they eventually got on the love train into the city. Someone on the train that I boarded (mostly full of twenty-year-olds) said they waited a couple hours before being able to get aboard a packed train into downtown. I expected D.C.’s streets to be filled with people, whatever size of turnout; I planned to embrace the situation and to keep my sanity while dodging lost tourists who stand on the left instead right side of escalators in the midst of overloaded Metrorail transit system.
The first thing I noticed when I walked onto the National Mall through 7th Street, beside the Smithsonian’s National Gallery of Art, and into the massive crowd, was the anxious dozen-plus people in line at a dozen or so porta-potties. An overload of cell phone signal usage left most of us with no reception, making the neon orange wig I was wearing a beacon for friends looking for me.
I was grateful to end up on the Mall—much of the crowd extended so far back from the stage in front of the National Capitol Building that they couldn’t hear, much less see anything. The mass seemed significantly more than 250,000 that news reports estimated. Many ralliers for both fear and sanity ended up in bars to watch the show on TV.
For weeks leading up to the rally, D.C. Colbert Report and Daily Show fans asked one another, “Are you going to the rally?” Like me, almost everyone I knew said yes. I know that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert shouldn’t be treated as reliable news sources, but their satirical perspectives on current events and politics keep me chuckling and watching.
I am not partisan and appreciate both Stephen and Jon, but I admit to sitting front-and-center at a taping of The Colbert Report in New York, and I’ve high-fived Stephen twice. I call them by their first names because I feel like I know them so well.
Some rally-goers intended to promote specific causes, and many creatively expressed themselves the state of our nation. Collectively, all seemed to be looking for a good laugh. Giant white beach balls bounced around the Mall. In the distance, a life-sized stuffed blue dolphin with smudged writing on its belly crowd-surfed. I couldn’t make out the dolphin’s message, but there were many other signs:
• “You are entitled to your informed opinion”
• “I am missing a football game to be here…sane???”
• “Rally Virgin”
• “TURN-OFF BECK”
• A picture of Obama with horns and fangs said, “Impeach Dracubama.”
• “I am afraid to be here”
• “End Two-Party System”
• “Legalize Pot”
• “Don’t Panic”
• “I disagree with you, but I am pretty sure you aren’t Voldemort.”
• “I must be dyslexic; my rights left!”
• “Fear is Sanity”
• “Jon 3:16”
• “God hates D-bags”
• “#&@$#!!! Where is the portapotty???
One sign showed a pie chart labeled “Sanity” with a piece missing. Another depicted a donkey whose hoof was shaking the trunk of an elephant under a heart. Just outside the Mall on Constitution Avenue, a couple people were selling T-shirts showing the symbolic Democratic and Republican mascots: “Please Don’t Feed the Animals.”
From where I stood, I could see the stage lights in front of the Capitol, but I could see nothing else and mostly watched the stage on a huge TV screen. The crowd stood shoulder-to-shoulder and swayed like penguins in order to see past people’s heads. We constantly entered and exited this massive crowd. We bumped into each another, some apologizing, others complaining, and then we’d instinctively grab our back pockets and purses to make sure their wallets were still there. Rally-goers in their 50s and 60s were also spotted trying to navigate the crowd, one using the very effective crowd-control device of needing to use a porta-potty.
Some climbed trees to see better. Like a squirrel, one man inched up the treetrunk, stopped to take a breath halfway up, clinging as the crowd rooted for him and then burst in cheers when he successfully made it to the top. Another tree climber was dressed appropriately as Rafiki the monkey from Disney’s “The Lion King.”
The crowd roared at the entrances of both Jon and then Stephen, who rose to the stage from an underground bunker in a Chilean miner capsule. People were even more excited when Ozzy Osborn came out and musically dueled Cat Steven/Jusuf Islam’s acoustical performance. I was hoping they would sing a duet, but before I knew it we were treated to the O’Jays singing “Love Train.”
Then, finally, it was all over. Everyone started to move stiffly out of their long standing positions. Some started leaving even before Jon’s final benediction, so by then there was more room to breathe. When someone in front of me departed, I stepped to my right and crunched down on a Starbuck’s cup. The nearby trash can was overflowing. So much for leaving the Mall cleaner than we found it, as Stewart had urged the crowd at the start of the rally.
Doan Nguyen is a 2005 JCOM graduate who works in the anti-trust division of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C.