Rally to Restore Sanity: “You Go, Then I’ll Go”

It was the most soothing rally I had ever attended.  215,000 people on the mall, standing shoulder to shoulder, pressing in on all sides, and you had never seen a crowd so… calm.  Even blocks away from the main stage, people were exceedingly pleasant to one another — no pushing, no shoving.  They were happy to get a glimpse of the jumbo-trons, politely lowered their signs so that others could see, cheered on those who climbed trees to catch a better view.  Measured by the crowd alone, the Rally to Restore Sanity lived up to its name before the show even began.

The show itself was a non-stop tumble of music performances, video montages, songs and skits playing out the satiric battle between Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert: sanity vs. fear. When Stephen yelled that we should be afraid of Muslims, Jon brought out Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who towered over them both to explain the difference between Muslims and terrorists.  Just as on the Daily Show, like the jester in the court who speaks the truth, Jon Stewart has probably done more to combat anti-Muslim bias effectively than any other media personality — through comedy and appeals to reasonableness.

After the audience crushed the giant fear-mongering paper-mache version of Stephen Colbert with applause and chants “Will This Help,” Jon Stewart turned to a moment of sincerity.

“We now live in hard times, not end times,” he said.  “The country’s 24-hour politico-pundit-perpetual-conflictinator did not cause our problems, but its existence makes solving them that much harder…. If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”

He went on to talk about how most of us don’t live our lives solely as Democrats, Republicans, liberals, or conservatives, but as people who make little reasonable compromises every day.  Cars in traffic appeared on the screen — a gay investment banker, a lady in the NRA who loves Oprah, a Mormon Jay-Z fan — and yet each must somehow find a way to squeeze past one another:

“You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. You go, then I’ll go. Oh my God, is that an NRA sticker on your car? Is that an Obama sticker on your car? Uh, well, that’s OK. You go and then I’ll go.”

The spirit of the rally reminded me of the youth energy behind the Common Ground Campaign.  We founded the campaign, because we believed that Muslim Americans ought to be able to build a mosque near Ground Zero, but we also cringed at the screaming heads on the news on both sides: opponents called the other side anti-American, and in turn, proponents called the other side racist.  As young people, we didn’t recognize our voices in the debate. We knew that fear was driving the resurgence of anti-Muslim bias, and if we could start with recognizing opponents rather than demonizing them, we could figure out how to take the rhetoric down a notch and form common ground.

And that was the beauty of the rally.  Its lack of specificity allowed for many different people, frustrated with the nature of discourse on many different issues, to see in it what they needed — a common desire for, well, reasonableness.  Broad enough to encompass all of our grievances, but concrete enough to make it worthwhile: we can make our discourse more rational, measured, and calm.  It’s that simple, I thought, as we left the mall in the middle of tens of thousands of people making their way home: “You go, then I’ll go.”