Fun, Strange Rally On The Mall

A fun and definitely over crowded day on the Mall for Stewart and Colbert. Their demographics are astonishing. Jammed in the Metro we met teenagers who drove in from Philly this AM, other college students who drove ten hours overnight, to soccer moms, Volvo dads and everyone in between. All contagiously upbeat and polite.

Once on the Mall, we were amazed at the crowd’s size. Most of the crowd only saw the back of someone else’s head: the Jumbotrons way too few and distant. An anemic PA system couldn’t deliver the copious dialogue despite initially pleading chants ‘louder, louder’. Even the music came across like a small AM radio. People still had fun. Wherever we went, the crowd gave up trying to hear the program and happily chatted amongst themselves and friendly strangers. People caught highlights on the wind – Cat Stevens, Ozzy, R2/D2, etc.

So some observations. Lesson One: always bring more PA than you think you need. You can always dial it back. Jagger, Townshend, Page and Gilmour learned that 40 years ago first playing stadiums.

Lesson Two: there’s a reason that comedians don’t do stadium shows – it doesn’t work. Much of comedy must be seen, ‘felt’ as well as heard. No matter how funny something probably looked to viewers watching TV, for those who can’t see the stage/a Jumbotron and hear only every third word, a 10 minute routine turns into a unintelligible, endless drone. Skits simply don’t translate to mass standing audiences, packed like sardines. Even with a working PA and more Jumbotrons. And there were too many.

Lesson Three: successful stadium rocker vets know a massive crowd assumes a unique organic identity. Carrying a show over to large audiences requires completely different considerations re pacing and careful building to/easing from crescendos.

Still we and all we saw enjoyed the day. People seemed content just being there, knowing Jon Stewart and Colbert were somewhere in the crowd doing their thing. All around us the audience stayed happily to the end. If Stewart’s closing monologue veered into meandering ‘Jazz Odyssey’ territory at times, he recovered (as did the PA, a bit). It’s odd to galvanize a mass audience to gather from across the nation and close with a plea to be reasonable. Stewart himself admitted he is confused by the purpose. Most stadium acts aim for a more specific emotional release.

The organizers wisely closed with the always terrific The Staples Singers’ I’ll Take You There. Hard to beat that. Time well spent.


  1. anxiousmodernman says


    I share all your reservations, believe me.

    So there’s something a little ineffable about my excitement, and the excitement of others at the rally. Perhaps it really was a bunch of TV fans, but that doesn’t feel quite right.

    Absent any kind of social-scientific survey data, or interviews with a lot of people on their impression of the event, there is definitely a limit to any “analysis” I (or any individual) would make. HOWEVER…

    The mere fact that 200,000+ people could be motivated to gather in the name of decency and pluralism is something in and of itself. I’ve been to many a rally, and this one feels different.

    And even if all attendees (and this may not be the case) worked at Universities, Think Tanks, Corporate Management, and Gov’t, those are fragmented institutions, often in competition. The Movement benefits from the organizational capabilities of the Republican Party. The Sanity Rally Goers find themselves in a historical situation where their interests are diffused through an uncoordinated network of 50,000 non-profits. Smoke pot? Donate to NORML. Like Free Speech? Offline try the ACLU. Online try EFF. Enjoy a habitable planet? Greenpeace, Sierra Club, American Forests, etc. Only very occasionally, ineptly, and cynically, do the Democrats make any effort to articulate a vision that might plausibly cohere liberals in America. Most of the time they don’t even try. They just present themselves as the party that doesn’t have a batshit crazy right-wing fringe that may or may not take hold of state power and actually use it, so hold your nose and vote.

    I could go on with my bogus theorizing, but instead let’s consider two propositions in isolation. I think that may be the best way I can explain myself.

    Proposition A: 750 people peacefully gathered on the Mall last weekend for the Rally to Restore Sanity.

    Proposition B: Crowds estimated at over 200,000 peacefully gathered on the Mall last weekend for the Rally to Restore Sanity.

    Given the choice between only those two propositions, ask yourself which you prefer and why. Then substitute the term “Glenn Beck’s Rally to Restore Honor” and again ask yourself which proposition you prefer and why.

    Sorry I couldn’t answer your question.

  2. Tbilisi says


    I ask respectfully and in sincere curiosity: what was the victory, specifically?

    Also, “That problem being the total lack of any institutional form that is both efficacious and trustworthy.” – this I don’t understand. My question is, shouldn’t all the education and supposedly liberal beliefs of the 200,000 equate to at least a modicum of leaderless resistance to rightist radicalism? Where do the Rally attendees work? Universities. Think Tanks. Government. Corporations. All institutions, and all still with real power. They could affect change there. Good doctor, I agree comprehensively that this showed in part a huge unrequited yearning and opportunity for real leadership. But still, why wait, wait, wait for Godot?

    I really, really hope that at least some of the 200,000 stepped over – or, even better, kicked – one of the 6,000 homeless people (incl 1,400 children) who live on DC’s streets, just to show that decadence needn’t always be ironic.

  3. anxiousmodernman says

    Attempted to get down to the rally, but was greeted by a crush of people. Wanted to tweet some pictures, but was forced back by the crowd. Read a book at Navy Memorial and waited for my friends to emerge.

    Over 200,000 people. Easy.

    Still a mini-win in the meme-war, still on the whole a positive vibe. And, considering I’m 1) a DC resident, and 2) not a registered Democrat, my body in the crowd of liberal self-reassurance is probably my most important political act of the year. Besides commenting on this blog, of course.

    The event’s poor execution, the lack of an agenda, it all fits perfectly. Like an alcoholic, American liberal pluralism must first, timidly, come to a meeting and admit that it has a problem. That problem being the total lack of any institutional form that is both efficacious and trustworthy.

    What’s that form going to be? What will it rely on for legitimation? What, exactly, motivated 200,000 people to show up last weekend? Was it really all star-power? All for a good time?

  4. Aldershot says

    Doc, glad you had a nice time. I caught about 20 minutes on C-SPAN. At that point S and C were doing a back and forth dialogue on fear that was painfully not funny and stilted. During that time Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and R2D2 came up (separately) for brief appearances. And also John Oliver, who was also trying, but wasn’t coming off very funny. As you said, not an ideal medium for satire.

    But as you say, it was a good day with a good purpose. I would have loved to come up, but at the thought of the traffic, the flesh was willing, but the spirit weak.

  5. DrLeoStrauss says

    Comment :
    RIP Ted Sorensen – brilliant man.

    Yes, a refined, graceful intellect of a now bygone era. We remember his humor, serious playfulness and effortless bearing back in day when we were in the City. God bless.

  6. Comment says

    We saw it on TV — looked good – the comedy acts were sort of time fillers though – the crowd was the point –

  7. efroh says

    Lurker from Balloon Juice here. Totally agreed with your comments on the rally, although I probably would have been harsher and used terms like “logistical clusterf*ck” to describe CC’s failure to account for fundamental necessities like enough loudspeakers. I’m glad I went, but I felt quite bad for people who had traveled great distances to be there (I’m local, so the only real costs were my time), only to find that they couldn’t hear or see anything once they arrived.

    I quite enjoyed the signs, costumes and general vibe of the rally, however. Nice to know we’re not alone out there.

  8. DrLeoStrauss says

    We’ve moved further along the entropic curve. Today’s entertaining vaudeville not even a minor inflection, good spirits aside. How instructive Stewart et al. recoil sharply at the mere hint of purposeful political engagement. The American idea reduced essentially to ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ in the face of relentless Movement focus on determined application of political purpose.

    It’s not Comedy Central’s fault. They make no pretense to be other than entertainers.

    The American ‘idea’ lost its animating meaning for the non-Movement political class decades ago, replaced by consumer welfare, consumption and special interest group triage. The Obama Administration’s eschewing day-to-day political work for miasmic ‘Brand’ awareness just symptomatic, albeit extreme in its irresponsibility and hypocrisy.

    Today’s crowd to us was a sign that people are still yearning for and seeking leadership — despite the hapless last 2 years. A question is for how long before corrosive disillusionment sets in.

    You make an excellent point about the American people, too. It’s not like they are earning the title ‘citizen’. As for war in Iraq and today, America is not and hasn’t been at war. The American military is in part. The Permanent National Security State grows fat on ‘threats’. Contractors make oodles. How many on the Mall bothered to read re Wikileaks and how the American military lied about the Iraqi innocent civilian deaths?

    We’ve said before the fading veneer of liberal democratic civilization in America is actually quite thin. When the ‘new normal’ sinks in of prolonged diminishing expectations and absent non-Movement political leadership, TV comedians will not suffice. The entropic curve slopes towards an opening for a Man on a White Horse. And history tells us it won’t just be the Movement cheering. The stakes of Obama’s abdication of political engagement are staggering.

  9. sglover says

    I went to it, too. It was a nice crowd, with lots of amusing costumes. And I like Stewart, and I get a kick out of Colbert’s schtick. But — look, I’m a pessimistic, cynical guy — the sense I got was that this was the high-water mark of Professional Class Liberalism. My impression was that more people appeared than showed up for the big anti-war rally on the eve of our glorious Iraq adventure. Dr LS — you often mention the necessity of restoring civic or republican (small ‘r’) virtue. What am I supposed to make of it, when more people are aroused by a TeeVee comedian than, you know, the remake of Poland ’39?

  10. Rally4Fear says

    “The country’s 24-hour political pundit perpetual panic conflictinator did not cause our problems but it’s existence makes solving them that much harder,” he said. “The press can hold its magnifying glass up to our problems bringing them into focus, illuminating issues heretofore unseen or they can use that magnifying glass to light ants on fire and then perhaps host a week of shows on the sudden, unexpected, dangerous-flaming ant epidemic.”

    Jon Stewart

  11. Dr Leo Strauss says

    Aldershot, had great fun on the Mall. Terrific crowd, everyone upbeat and cheerful. The sense one got was that people were yearning for *someone* to take a stand against the Rightists. It says a lot that a cable TV comedian could command such an audience and fill that need.

    Imagine what a competent non-wing nut political leadership determined to fight from day one could have done the past 2 years. Instead, we see the real Obama on ‘The Daily Show’.

    Did you catch it on TV? How did it come across on the telly?

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