Jon Stewart’s "Rally to Restore Sanity": Bigger than Woodstock?

| by Public Citizen

By Joe Newman


If Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and their “competing” Washington D.C. rallies don’t have your attention by now, you  a) have just woken up from a 25-year coma b) live in a shack in Montana where you are working on your great anti-technology manifesto, or c) are among the 4 percent of the population who truly believes President Obama might actually have been born in the Alpha Centauri solar system.

When both Big Os — Oprah and Obama — endorse your Rally to Restore Sanity, you know you might be on to something. Since Sept. 16, when Stewart announced his Oct. 30 rally, along with Stephen Colbert’s satirical March to Keep Fear Alive, 180,000 people on Facebook have said they plan to attend the event, while another 100,000 have said they might.

Public Citizen plans to be there, and we’ve been encouraging people to submit ideas for signs that we’ll hand out at the rally on the National Mall. We plan to pick the slogan that we think best sums up the message we want to share with the throngs of people who will be packed in front of the Lincoln Memorial. So far, more than 3,000 slogans have been entered in our “What Sign Should I Bring to Jon Stewart’s ‘Rally to Restore Sanity’ ” contest. Another 1,000 people have joined the accompanying Facebook page, and hundreds more are spreading the word on Twitter with the hashtag #signs4sanity.

Picking the best one is going to be difficult. We’ll be asking our Facebook fans to help, but in the end,  we may have to resort to the old picking a slogan out of a hat method. You can read the thousands of sign suggestions and enter your own at www.citizen.org/jon-stewart-sanity-rally-signs.

Generally, the sign suggestions fall into five categories:

-- The ones that don’t make a lot of sense — “If you were around when there were more Indians, you’d probably be purple by now. Oh, wait, you are almost purple!”;
-- The really angry — “I can’t (f***ing) stand intolerance!” and “Being stupid and uninformed are not something to brag about”;
-- The funny but somewhat inappropriate — “Are you frowning because you don’t want to look gay?” ” Tea Parties are for little girls and their dolls.” “Don’t teabag me bro.” “Bend over America, this will only take a generation”;
-- The satirical and self-deprecating — “I thought there was going to be cake.”  “ Too Poor to Buy a Politician.” “Whatever.” “I’VE HAD ALL I CAN STAND AND I CAN’T wait to read about this during my lunch break at work unless it’s super busy”; and
-- The ones we actually might pay to have printed on signs — “I believe in the separation of corporation and state.” “Immigrants didn’t steal our jobs, multinational corporations shipped them overseas.” “Of course you’re depressed, the rich tricked you.” “Can’t we all just smoke a bong?” (Whoops, how did that one get in there?)

We’ve also noticed some debate on Facebook among our supporters asking if we should even be promoting the Stewart/Colbert rallies. Stewart has referred to his rally as the Million Moderate March, and we at Public Citizen — and progressives in general — tend to fall left of the middle ground Stewart is trying to claim. We usually don’t support compromising our progressive principles in the name of bipartisan cooperation. We have never stopped fighting for a national single-payer health plan, for instance.

However, we get it. Stewart is a comedian. We laugh at his jokes but Stewart isn’t necessarily “one of us” — i.e., a progressive activist. But face it, he consistently exposes right-wing demagoguery for what it is. Is there anyone else out there with as big of an audience who calls out FOX News and Glenn Beck with such humor and dead-on accuracy? We don’t have to agree with everything he says (and we thought his jab at our Code Pink friends was a little uncalled for) but we can’t discount his influence on mainstream America. He may be the most important foil we have to the craziness and fear-mongering of the right-wing fringe.

We think his rally is going to be huge, Woodstockesque even (an estimated 500,000 people attended that). Dozens of colleges are situated within a couple hours drive to Washington, D.C. Hundreds more are within an eight-hour road trip, including a northeast corridor easily connected to D.C. by bus and train. Huffington Post boss Arianna Huffington has even promised to provide as many buses as are needed to bring people from Manhattan to D.C. for the rally. That’s not even taking into account the number of high school kids in the region who will be coming either with their hipster parents or by themselves. And did we mention it was a Halloween party weekend? Stewart and Colbert are going to turn D.C. into Mardi Gras on the Mall.

So yes, it’s going to be big. But will it be socially or politically transformative? That’s the million-dollar question. Public Citizen will be at the rally handing out signs and hoping to get in the ears of what should be a receptive audience. We think there’s a lot of common ground when it comes to fighting the corporate takeover of our elections, advocating cleaner, greener sources of energy and holding government accountable to We, the People.

Still, anyone can wave a sign for an afternoon. It’s the message we hope they take home with them.