They came by Megabus from Philadelphia and by bicycle down 11th St., NW, in D.C.. From locations as far as Washington state, Arizona, Wyoming, Utah and Vermont, people of varied ages and political beliefs arrived on the Washington Mall Saturday for the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.
While Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were the rally’s planned centerpiece, an unexpected turn of events diverted the crowd’s focus: Because the giant audio speakers were inadequate in number and volume to broadcast the speakers’ message to the sizable crowd, most rally goers could not hear the comedians mock political extremism or stoke the voices of moderation. Instead, crowd members took solace in each other’s presence, reassuring themselves there is still sanity in America. Here’s a look at what they had to say:
Tom Renda, 52, of Baltimore, Md., acknowledged that he and his wife Susan “couldn’t hear a damn thing” at the rally. But they didn’t feel the trip was wasted. They can go home and see the comedians’ presentation on television, they said, but by being there in person, they experienced the rally in a way they wouldn’t have from watching at home.
Megan Culp, 68, came from Vermont to bring the message that Obama has not had enough time to accomplish good. Her daughter Susan, 38, who traveled from Arizona, thought it important to spread the word that “we actually like the way some things are going.” She thinks the rally may help get people energized to go to the polls.
Twenty-six-year-old Erin Westcott of Columbia, Md. found inspiration in the rally. “I always wanted to be politically active but never felt anyone represented me before,” she said. The appeal of being part of something that is bigger than one person captivated her, she said.
The Megabus from Philly brought 25-year-old Chelsee Kegerman and 30 strangers who developed camaraderie en route to the Mall. Kegerman talked about the Glenn Beck rally that the Comedy Central production was set up to mock.
“The most extreme people have the loudest voices,” she noted.
Kegerman is originally from Omaha where, she said, she knew people of varied political persuasions including, “wonderful Republicans and crazy-ass Democrats.” She didn’t see the rally goers as sharing a common political outlook so much as a desire to reclaim politics from the extremists. She noted that she saw people bearing signs with conflicting messages co-existing peacefully at the rally.
“I wish there was more public interest in hearing what sane people have to say,” Kegerman said.
For Silesa Washington, 36, of Washington, D.C., the rally was about the future. She rushed home from work, changed into sweats, grabbed the baby and ran, knowing she would arrive late. She did it because “every day I’ve been looking at the news and I get so sad. I’ve actually cried a few times when I see ignorance and hate being spewed.”
Washington said she thought it was important to start now teaching her baby to listen to different ideas, even ones he may not agree with. But her attendance wasn’t entirely focused on her baby.
“I wanted to reassure myself there are still plenty of people who aren’t wacked out,” she said.
The rally serves as “a warning for those of us who stand on the sidelines and watch the country grow angrier and more partisan and more bigoted,” Keith Henry, 62, of Princess Anne, Md., said. “If we do not work at our democracy,” he said, “then obviously others will take this privilege away.”
Like many in attendance, Henry carried a handmade sign. His read: “Corporations are not we the people.”
The timing of the rally was perfect for Robbin Mihajlov, 47, of Fox Island, Wash. Her son Ryan, 23, was moving to the D.C. area from Columbus, Ohio, to go to school, so when she heard Colbert and Stewart were appearing, she decided to help him move. On her way to Washington, she met people from Salt Lake City and Wyoming who also traveled clear across the country to attend the rally.
Mihajlov described the mood of the rally as hopeful. A moderate Republican who voted for Obama, Mihajlov blames Rep. Nancy Pelosi for the divisiveness on Capitol Hill. “She’s mean and nasty and partisan,” Mihjalov said of Pelosi, “and makes people not want to cooperate.”
“I’m a Republican but I don’t support the Tea Party,” Ryan explained. “I don’t really like Sarah Palin or Christine O’Donnell.” Ryan expressed a desire to see less greed and less lobbyist influence in politics.
Nicolas Zamora, 27, of Arlington, Va., presented himself as a liberal and a big fan of Colbert and Stewart. He described the rally as “somewhat reinvigorating.”
“If something like this didn’t happen, we’d drift further and further apart from politics,” he said, “News is dominated by extremists. I like that moderates finally get a voice.”