News / USA

Tens of Thousands Rally for Laughs, Activism in Washington

Comedians Jon Stewart, right, and Stephen Colbert, left, perform during their Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall in Washington, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010.
Comedians Jon Stewart, right, and Stephen Colbert, left, perform during their Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on the National Mall in Washington, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2010.

Three days before the midterm elections, a crowd of mostly young Americans swarmed onto the National Mall for a rally hosted by two comedians. The gathering was jokingly called "The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" - and it drew people who said they are disillusioned by the tone of America's political debate.

The National Anthem and the backdrop of the Capitol building gave the rally a patriotic flavor with the trappings of a rock concert.

Jon Stewart is the host of the Daily Show, a satirical news report on American cable television. The show is so influential that the President Barack Obama himself appeared as last Wednesday's guest.

Watch Nico Colombant's Behind the Scenes Look at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear:

Stewart's cohost at the rally on the mall was Stephen Colbert, who also has a mock news show. "Prepare yourself to tremble, behold it is me John. it is me in true fear form," he joked.

Colbert's character was meant to represent fear-mongering. Stewart said there is too much of it these days. "We hear, every damn day, about how fragile our country is, on the brink of catastrophe, torn by polarizing hate, and how it's a shame that we can't work together to get things done. But the truth is, we do. We work together, to get things done, every damn day. The only place we don't is here, or on cable TV," he said.

Washington politics and Cable TV news programs have provided much fodder for these two comedians. And they used it to full effect at the rally by showing a video montage of on-screen name-calling.

"Crazed Tea Baggers, criminal illegal aliens, far right cranks, far-left loons, right wing nut jobs, practicing homosexuals, the lamestream media, radical imans, unamerican bastards, harvard elites, gun nuts, tree huggers, yahoos and birthers, Fabian socialists, crazies let's say. They are what's wrong with America!"

The crowd carried signs that targeted some of those commentators. And the conservative Tea Party movement got its share of criticism.

But most people just wanted to have fun, and even poked fun at themselves. One protester's sign said "Make reasonable protest signs, not war!"

Rally-goer John Powers said politicians and real news show hosts should be the ones calling for a more reasoned and thoughtful debate. "It's a sad statement of where we are with our political dialogue today that it's got to be comedians. But they're the ones that are able to create the dialogue that's missing in our political debate," he said.

The crowd filled the Mall, from almost in front of the Capitol to the Washington Monument. This is a place where some of America's most momentous political protests have been held.

Shawn Fisher said the rally was about giving ordinary people a platform to express themselves. "We really are reasonable people. Reasonable people have a voice, and are ready to be heard again, for both sides. "

Pat De Concini stood in the crowd holding his young daughter on his shoulders. "We are here to take our kids, and show them that there's other voices in America that are more interested in speaking about politics in a more civilized manner," he said.

More civility in politics was something President Obama said he hoped for when he was elected two years ago.

This rally underscores the failure of that hope, just a few days before his Democratic Party is expected to sustain losses in midterm elections.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

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