This weekend, I was fortuitously in Baltimore presenting a conference. Since Baltimore is just a quick 45 minute trip from D.C., some colleagues of mine and myself slipped away to the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear between my morning 8:00am talk and my after 3:45pm talk. It was a quick, almost risky sneak-away, but it was well worth the effort.
The Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear was a satirical political rally put on by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. This rally, (find a brief report in the New York times here), was full of Americans joining together to engage in the satirical debate over politics and the issues currently at hand in the political sphere. Individuals spoke out on a variety of issues from their thoughts on the Tea Party and ideas about health care to gay and lesbian rights and the need to legalize weed. Americans’ abilities to creatively and humorously address many of the issues in America today abounded on the mall Saturday. There’s a pretty great list of some of the signs here.
Although the rally was fun and it was spectacular to be part of such an interesting and entertaining moment in American history, I think one is left asking: “what was the point?” In many ways, to me, the rally represented how most Americans are feeling about politics: fed up. The absurdity of many individuals’ viewpoints was brought to life by the comical signs being paraded around the mall on Saturday. In the end, I think Americans want what they have always wanted: rights, freedom, and liberty. The question is, will this rally in any way increase Americans’ political involvement to help speak out and promote change? Perhaps more simply and importantly, will this rally bring awareness to Americans that they need to VOTE? I’m not certain. Those questions are hard if not impossible to answer. However, I think what the rally did do was afford Americans an opportunity to engage in what it meant to be an American: speak out on issues that matter (in a fun, creative way) and to unite as one American public rather than a myriad of American beliefs. But the real question is whether this will change anything.
It was interesting, somewhat disappointing, yet not surprising to see the lack of conservatives at the rally. Most signs and views voiced a liberal voice, and it made me wonder why conservatives did not come out and voice their own opinions. Even moreso, I wondered how “peaceable” the rally would have been if conservatives had rallied for their own beliefs. Since the conservative agenda is concerned with issues like less governmental regulation, the pro-life agenda, and other competing issues with the liberal side, I find it hard to imagine such beliefs would have been happily accepted at the rally on Saturday.
And so in conclusion, I wonder how really unified we are as Americans. Why is it that liberals tend to fight for gay rights, but the conservatives often see these individuals’ rights as unimportant? And why is it that conservatives tend to fight for unborn children’s rights, yet liberals often do not view these individuals’ rights as important? In many ways, I wish the American public could somehow find a unified voice in which neither extreme end of the spectrum was taken, but a more moderate set of views would be held and promoted. In many ways, I think that was the goal of this rally, but in some ways I think it failed. How do you get both conservatives and liberals to see the value in both camps’ views? And how do you prevent individuals from becoming extremist on either end of the spectrum? If my research has taught me anything, it’s that closed-minded ideologies tend to promote hatred and discrimination. And as far as I can tell, there is still hatred on both sides of the political party lines. I just hope we, as Americans, start to view hating/derogating/acting violently (in word or speech) toward ANY group of Americans (the poor, gay men/lesbian women, religious individuals, unborn children) as unacceptable. That is the real struggle – to voice one’s own opinions without hating or derogating others’ opinions. As far as I can tell, there is still a large amount of failure to do this in both the conservative and liberal parties. So how do we hold our views and stand up for them without hating or derogating others? If the question were easy to answer, we wouldn’t have sanity that needed rallying.