Amidst signs that range from smart (THE CIVIL WAR WAS AN INSIDE JOB) to civic-minded (I MASTURBATE AND I VOTE), it becomes obvious that whatever's happening on stage is beside the point. Whereas I first pushed up front for some intro action, at this juncture I'm half-way up on the north side, 50 yards back from the closest Jumbotron. Some people shush neighbors in hopes of hearing Colbert speak — others climb the giant elms for better views, spurring onlookers to shout "TREE-HUGGER!!!" — but most accept the fact that we'll have to watch the replay later. Like it says on the sign directly in front of me: THE PEOPLE BEHIND ME CAN'T SEE. And that's fine.
Missing the (non) message
There's no way to accurately gauge the turnout here; with most grassy Mall patches roped off, crowds spill into every street, path, and sidewalk in and around the designated area. While I'm sure that most coverage will concentrate on tallies, headcounts completely miss the message, or the non-message, as it were. Near the end, Stewart says, "I'm really happy you guys are here — even if none of us are really quite sure why we are here." It might be more accurate to say that while we don't know why we came, there's a good chance that we're leaving with a pretty good idea.
In some cases, people abandoned their pre-packaged agendas. A buttoned-up post-grad who works for the Department of the Treasury tells me that he planned to attend a nearby "Government Doesn't Suck" march — in which federal workers piggybacked the Stewart rally to push a message that not all bureaucrats are lazy — but switched gears to chase a flock of slutty witches to the Mall. I also debrief a New York actress named Jordan and her friend Chantal, a former Celtics dancer. The two hotties rolled down to meet datable men in a promotion for their Real Weather Girls iPhone app, but decided that cheering on sanity is easier than finding Mr. Right among these befuddled masses.
I typically get lonely on long trips to cover protests — perhaps because I don't belong to the homogenous America that conservatives wish to restore, or maybe because I'm often hollered at for asking individuals with TYRANNY RESPONSE TEAM shirts if they're sanctioned by the UN. I rarely jibe with progressive activists, either. Last year, I topped the weed-reformer shit list for lambasting their Spicoli-styled spokespeople. And don't get me started on charter-school supporters.
But this rally is different. This one is relatively sane.
After smashing up some Halloween parties with the Ghostbusters, Pocahontas, and a few Snookies, my taxi passes the Jefferson Memorial, and I begin chatting with the Ethiopian cabbie about the Tea Party, and their superficial affection for the Founding Fathers. "Some of them tip well," he says, "but most of them are like American Taliban." I don't completely disagree, but in the spirit of the day, I change the topic to how Washington and Jefferson might have felt about the festivities, and about the drugs, booze, and anarchy that gave me so much comfort there.