Students rally for sanity

November 5, 2010

Before this weekend, I could not actively visualize a quarter million people because I had never been around that many people at once. But this Saturday, I managed to survive both a parking lot with approximately 10,000 people and a rally with 250,000 people. In theory, I knew that these numbers were large but, until I was in the middle of the crowd, I didn’t realize just how large. In short, my experience at the Rally to Restore Sanity was nothing if not unique.

My Saturday started at 4:15 a.m., when most college students go to bed rather than wake up. But my friends and I managed to wake up on time, and we reached Citi Field, the home of the New York Mets, a little before the 5:30 a.m. deadline. Unfortunately, that is also when our adventure started to go astray from what we had planned. Shuffling 10,000 people onto 200 buses is not easy. Not surprisingly, the line onto these buses moved slowly; first we got stuck in traffic and then we got stuck waiting in line.

On this Oct. 30, 2010, however, even standing in line was not uneventful. We saw Arianna Huffington, one of the founders of The Huffington Post. More relevantly, she was also the one who decided to bus as many people as were interested from New York to Washington, D.C. With several cameras beside her, she walked past the line of people waiting for the buses. Although I was not able to speak to her, it was an exciting break in the monotony of waiting in the cold.

While I shifted from foot-to-foot in an effort to stay warm in the remaining dark, I curiously looked to see what types of people were congregated to take the journey to Washington D.C. Although there were more 30-and-younger aged people than any other age group, I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity. Already, some of these people had signs with them. One such sign read, “American Presidents are not Hitler.”

The bus ride was long, of course, but relatively uneventful. Still, we were all eager to get off the bus because we arrived two hours late. In fact, we only had two-and-a-half hours in the city after six hours of bus time. As we climbed off the bus somewhat bleary eyed, it was only then that I started to realize exactly how large a number 250,000 is. The Metro stop closest to our bus stop was so packed with waiting people that we decided to cut our losses and walk to the next station. Even four stops from the Washington Mall, the rally’s presence was clearly affecting the public-transportation system.

Finally, my friends and I arrived near the Washington Mall, several blocks away from the big event. Being several hours late, however, we did not find an optimal viewing location. In fact, we even had difficulty seeing the large screen and we could only hear some of what was happening on the stage.

Now that I was at the actual rally, I enjoyed reading more entertaining signs. They included some absurd signs with lines such as, “I like pancakes because they are round” and “terror network, Fox News.” There were also some more relevant signs, including, “I want you to stop being afraid of other Americans, of other religions, of other classes, of speaking out. You’re Americans first, act like it!” which depicted the emblematic symbol of Uncle Sam.

Here, the diversity of people impressed me even more than it did at Citi Field and I even saw several babies. Perhaps even more importantly, the rally was relatively calm. Of course, the crowd was extremely tight and collectively loud, but I didn’t see individuals yelling unless in applause to what Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were saying. When so many people collectively cheered or laughed, I did wish that I could hear what was going on, but I consoled myself with the knowledge that I could watch it on YouTube later.

Several days after returning to Brandeis, I have fulfilled my promise to myself. I did read Jon Stewart’s closing remarks as well as some articles discussing the rally. After reading this material, I think Stewart’s comment that “we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus, and not be enemies. But unfortunately, one of our main tools in delineating the two broke” summarizes this closing speech well.

My group of friends and I were hardly the only Brandeisians to make the 10-hour trek to Washington D.C. for the weekend. The Brandeis Democrats organized a trip as well. This group arrived several hours before my group did, having driven straight from Boston through the night. When asked what she thought of this trip, Laura Goodman ’11, a Brandeis Democrat, answered that “although I didn’t think it was very funny, it was great to be there.” She appreciated the general feel of the rally and the chance to be a part of such a large event.

Andy Hogan ’11 also attended the rally and had positive things to say about the event. Like Laura and myself, he appreciated the experience of the crowd and said that “being a part of the crowd was interesting because I did not see one instance of loud, violent speech.” In addition, Andy explained that this positivity was directed toward a strong message that “seemed to transcend politics. [Stewart] was reminding each individual person that America is not collapsing.”

It seems that what I gathered from the day was somewhat paralleled by Goodman and Hogan. And ultimately, considering that I was in Washington D.C. for such a short time and that I was not able to hear or see much, was it still worth the journey? I would say yes; the uniqueness of the situation was well worth the travel time. Even from my locations on the fringes of the rally, it was still fun to be part of such a well-meaning crowd. Given the opportunity, it was not an event that I wanted to miss. Although I cannot deny that The Rally to Restore Sanity was somewhat anti-climatic, it was still cool to be one of the 250,000 rallying for sanity.

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