Peter Clothier, a seventy-four-year-old author and retired professor, posted an entry on his blog, called The Buddha Diaries, about the wonderful day he and his wife Ellie had spent at the Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on October 30 at the Mall in Washington, D.C., between noon and 3 PM. “We stood there trapped for a good two hours, surrounded by people who, like us, had showed up. We saw nothing, heard nothing of what was happening on the stage. It was great!” Clothier writes. He and Ellie had risen at 5:30 AM to catch a 6:45 Amtrak train from New York, which should have gotten them to the rally in time to not see and not hear for the full three hours. But they were detained by a horrendous and dangerous crush of people in the Washington Metro.
"The Metro system was utterly unprepared for the invasion,” Clothier writes. The station was “a mob scene.” “People were waiting in lines ten deep to board” and train after train went by “so full that not one single person could squeeze aboard.” However, with the exception of one angry man, who was “quelled by fellow passengers,” everyone kept his frustration in check and no one behaved badly.It was a great occasion, but one that did not, finally, live up to its promise. A quarter of a million people (the media hugely underestimated attendance) showed up that day at the end of October, 2010, drawn to Washington by a common distress at the dysfunction of our political system and the insanity of so much of the then-current political rhetoric. We were "fed up, and we weren't going to take it any more." Many of us--most, I suspect--had mistaken Stewart's and Colbert's strictly satirical intent; we were true, perhaps naive believers that our protest might just possibly begin to bring about some change.
Sadly, it didn't happen. It didn't happen then, and it has not happened since. In fact, I suspect that most of those who attended that rally would agree that things have only deteriorated into something worse. The sanity we hoped for, a return to the rule of reason in our political house, remains the dream of the few who gather at the center--well, maybe, for the sake of reason, a little to the left!--to achieve a tempering of rhetoric and a more effective, more compassionate approach to government. The chasm between left and right has grown wider and the exchanges across that chasm still more bitter and intransigent. My own view, of course, is that it is principally the doing of a relatively small group of extremists on the right, whose fanaticism has served only to alienate Americans from each other and from the government that serves them--or should serve them better.
That moment was a missed opportunity. The two principals, I'd argue, failed to recognize the meaning of the response to their appeal; they kept insisting that it was all a joke--albeit a serious one--and refusing to take it seriously. Their audience had come expecting to be counted, and heard. They were neither counted accurately, nor heard. The insanity continues. Most people I know throw up their hands in horror or despair when they listen to the news, and many chose simply not to listen. We face the prospect of six more months of bitterness and lies, six more months of deceptive commercials and speeches that ignore the truth in favor of crowd-pleasing bumper-sticker cliches. We long for the quiet voice of reasonable debate, but cheer when the message has to be pitched loud and angry by our besieged President. When the other side is reduced to hurling personal insults and to predicting, literally and frequently, the end of America if Obama is reelected, the President must match the angry volume of their voices with his own, even as he seeks to present a rational alternative to the proven failure of their tired ideas.
But anyway, metta to all of them. Goodwill, I say, to all our leaders and political aspirants. As Than Geoff says, tirelessly, the world would be a better place if we all found peace and happiness in our lives.