The rallies hosted by Comedy Central talking heads Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert show that citizens are capable of putting aside political differences to hear the full spectrum of viewpoints in the United States.
Sunglasses glinting in the crisp morning light, mouth set firmly, an elderly woman grips a small sign reading “TEAM FEAR” close to her chest and gazes out across the thousands of people pouring onto the National Mall in Washington, D.C. from all directions for the “Rally to Restore Sanity” and the “March to Keep Fear Alive” on Saturday, Oct. 30.
She is joined by a man fully clad as a monstrous robot, a family toting their grass-stained young son through the throng, a Muslim man hefting a sign that queries, “Am I acting suspiciously?” and roughly 215,000 other individuals throughout the course of the day.
Each arrived for their own reasons whether it was to encourage rationality, promote the legalization of marijuana, criticize members of the Tea Party, have their voices heard or just to have a good day. Despite the variety of individuals and purposes, there was a unifying incentive for this massive meeting as well – to send the message that politics does not have to be a matter of “us vs. them”; that those who are different are not necessarily our enemies, and that it is possible to handle our fears with dignity and courage, even in difficult times.
Even though I could hardly interact with even a small percentage of the people present, I was still impressed by the civil nature of all the members I observed, even those dressed in obscure giant banana and bear costumes. Despite extremely crowded and claustrophobic conditions, everyone made room for others whenever it was possible, and without complaint. I didn’t hear anybody in this diverse crowd of people argue over space or insult each other’s costumes, signs, or beliefs, though they varied extensively, and often even conflicted.
It was a fitting tribute to “The Daily Show” host Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, host of the conservative talk-show satire “The Colbert Report,” that this large group of people was able to gather, recognize their differences and participate in something without sharp division.
And that, I suppose, is the point of contention regarding this rally. What was this “something” that Stewart and Colbert put together? What was the point, the message? That can be answered easily enough through Stewart’s speech on setting aside partisan anger.
“If we amplify everything, we hear nothing,” Stewart said at the rally.
This was a gathering for people who are tired of negativity on both sides of the political spectrum, for people who don’t feel strongly one way or the other on many issues, or who refuse to express their feelings through judgment and alienation.
The U.S. has become increasingly polarized due to policy differences, and cooperation seems to be less and less attainable. However, the people who attended this rally received proof that so many people in America want the same thing as they do – understanding, respect, cooperation and courtesies that we owe not only to those it is easy to offer them to, but to those who challenge us and make us work to defend what we treasure the most.
The realization that viewpoints other than your own have their own value and legitimacy is an essential element to making progress. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice what is dear to you. The people at this rally, many staunchly and proudly sharing their unique views, proved that easily enough.
Ultimately, this rally’s purpose was to promote understanding and cooperation and to spread awareness that views other than yours exist, and that there’s nothing wrong with that.
It also revealed how very dangerous it is to allow fear of the other or that, which is different to warp our minds and opinions.
Staying true to this message of cooperation is of the utmost importance, especially now after the midterm elections, with the shift of power in the United States reflecting a shift in popular opinion.
U.S. citizens are constantly trying to determine what it is they want and who can give it to them. This cannot be done without being open to and understanding of each viewpoint possible.
I can only hope that others will take Stewart’s message to heart – the message to see each other clearly, and to fight the fear that so often clouds our vision when peering into the unknown.
Samantha Gray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.