by Jennifer Andison, Victoria, BC
photos by Geoff Olson
The haters and the snickerers are already taking whacks at the newest piñata in town: Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity. Actually, I am finding it easier today to ignore them than I usually do, as I myself just recently returned from the East End of the National Mall in Washington, D C.
On September 16, Jon Stewart looked earnestly through the black box in our living room and invited us (and everyone else on Earth who could find a babysitter) to convene on the Mall and help send a message to the media: “Hey, take it down a notch – for America.” My husband Lee and I looked at each other and said, “We gotta find a babysitter!” We booked our flights and on Oct 28 we travelled more than 3,800 km from Victoria BC to Washington DC.
Friends asked us why we were so interested. It’s not like we get a vote in the upcoming US election. Frankly, that’s why it felt so necessary for us to make the trip.
As a Canadian, you live your whole life right next door to this big charismatic fellow who might do just about anything and get away with it. You keep your head down and quietly go about your Canadian ways, hoping that he won’t notice you too much. Those he tends to pay too much attention to… sometimes don’t come out of it so well.
In a way, as we waited for Oct 30 and our long flight to DC, it almost felt like a reconnaissance trip into enemy territory. Get in. Gather information about the ‘sitch.’ Get out.
In Canada (probably as a defense mechanism), we tend to feel somewhat smug about our noisy fraternal twin. Sure, he’s better looking and gets invites to all the cool parties. But we get free doctor and hospital visits. Whenever we need them, with whichever doctor or hospital we choose. We have Wayne Gretzky. We have all the potash.
We like to snicker when Rick Mercer gets Americans to lament over the outrage of the Toronto polar bear hunts. It’s so easy for a Canadian to watch an episode of Fox & Friends and to make a quick judgment about a country with congressmen and women who seem much more interested in who’s marrying whom than the fact that there are still thousands of families living in FEMA trailers in New Orleans. The Americans are all crazy right? Wacko gun nuts. Change the channel. Put the hockey game back on.
But on Saturday, thanks to Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and about a quarter-million wonderful blissfully /normal /people… I learned my lesson. The wackos on the television are categorically NOT representative of the average American human being. I photographed a part of the crowd on Saturday and as I sat at my computer and cropped it around the flag that they love so much, I looked at them. Their faces are expectant, polite, hopeful, patient. Intelligent. They don’t know what the solution is. But they are intensely interested in finding one.
They are old. They are young. They are black and white and every colour in-between. They are strong and tall, and they are in wheelchairs with oxygen tanks. They are students and professionals and artists and athletes and the rich and the poor and the unemployed and everyone else as well. They had one thing in common: they were enacting part of the elusive American Dream on that Mall.
We assembled all over the front lawn of the government’s most sacred buildings and we were not herded or corralled. There was no evidence (from where I stood) of billy clubs or tear gas. I wasn’t patted down or threatened or obstructed in any way. Certain people on television might do well to consider these facts before they start casually throwing around big scary words like socialism.
The event that took place on that massive lawn could not have taken place in an actual socialist state like North Korea.
The First Amendment was being peacefully enjoyed in thousands of ways all over the place. In the dozens of different religions sitting respectfully side by side. In the thousands of creative and hate-free signs the people carried. In the, er, slightly-flattened grass of the Mall as we did our calmly cheerful assembling and petitioning. (Do consider donating to www.nationalmall.org for reseeding so the landscapers let Stewart and Colbert come back someday.)
It was enjoyed in the concepts of freedom of speech, freedom of press, democracy and grassroots journalism. Heck, Prop 19 even made a token appearance. People recorded this event from thousands and thousands of points of view. These images are flooding the internet every hour now and will be available free of charge for you to examine for yourself for all time. Does it really matter these days whether Fox News decides to cover it for you? It is 2010. We, the people, have the power to report for ourselves. And this being so, why (oh why?) should we ever tune the TV to a channel that is going to spoon-feed us a biased, bigoted, fear-based point of view?
After providing pre-show entertainment while we enjoyed one another’s company and shared our food and our stories – it takes a while to say “Hi” to 250,000 people, but everyone did their very best – Jon came out on stage. As he looked out at the crowd, he seemed almost dazed for a second and I suddenly wondered what it must be like for this unusual fellow, this Jon Stewart Leibowitz dude who so many of us love, and others love to hate. I mean, the guy starts out in life as a comedian and here he finds himself at a mere 47 years of age, being heralded as the ‘most trusted man in America – standing on a stage in the nation’s capital with something like .08 percent of the entire population of the United States waiting quietly and politely in front of him, trusting him to give them a dose of sanity in a bizarre world.
Oh, and please also run for president as well. If you wouldn’t mind. Well, Jon, I guess you’ve made your bed by being so darn honest and essential; now you must lie in it.
Some members of the media have been demanding to know ‘What This Was.’ They would like a label to stick on the jam jar, please, before they shove it into the cupboard of history and turn to the next Tweet. Well, I was there (unlike many of the media). And so I will tell you curious folks What It Was. Are you ready? Get a pen.
It was nothing more nor less than a massive convergence of positive human energy, made up of us folks who are tired of the bad, bad behaviour from those who have been entrusted with positions of power. It was us saying, “Wow, this guy Stewart is giving us a chance to be heard? What day? We’ll be there!”
It wasn’t a ‘fake protest’ or a ‘faux rally’ or any breed of talking-head comedio-pundit variety show. It wasn’t about Democrats or Republicans. This was an historic twenty-first century phenomenon, a statement of intention and ultimately, a vehicle for those “People” mentioned in that first bit of your Constitution. They would like you to know they are having trouble being heard these days over the sound of your irresponsible journalism. Consider taking it down a notch for America (and the neighbours).
So from these two Canadians, thank you so much Jon. For the opportunity to meet the real America. Like the sign said: “We Should Do This More Often.”