The Rally To Restore Sanity

Paul at the Rally To Restore Sanity Last Saturday I attended the Rally to Restore Sanity on the National Mall in Washington D.C. with my brother John, our friend Dhiren and a few gazillion other people.

John, Dhiren and I made a road trip of it heading, down from MA on Friday. The plan for Saturday was to spend the morning seeing the sites and then get to the rally by noon. We had no idea just how big the rally would be.

At 9am, we took the metro from Bethesda MD into D.C. and quickly realized that we were going to have to pass on the site seeing. Even in Bethesda there were so many people heading to the rally we couldn't fit on the first train. Once in D.C. we became part of stream of people, turning into a river of people, which quickly turned into a full blown flood of bodies heading to the Rally.

Crowd Streaming to the Rally To Restore Sanity

Lots of these people had hilarious signs like this one.  I couldn't agree more with this guy.

And more serious ones like "Relax. It says McDonald's." There were so many great signs but this one was my favorite.

Rally Sign - Relax! It Says "McDonalds"

This guy was giving out Free Hugs. His sign says "Free Hugs from a Militant Atheist with a Gay Agenda."

Rally Sign - FREE HUGS from a militant athiest with a gay agenda

I was going to give him a hug, but there was a line of people waiting, and every second the mall was filling up with hundreds more people. Pretty soon we were going to lose our chance to get within visible distance of the stage, so we bolted across 7th street into the mall.

By 11:20 am we were stuck in a sea of bodies just in front of 7th street. John and I recorded this video describing the crowd.

The crowed was huge, excited, and unbelievably friendly. There were people there from all walks of life and all political parties. And even with that mix of people, the entire time I was there I didn't witness a single conflict. Everyone appeared to want America to take it down a notch, and they were leading by example.

Rally Sign - The End Is Not For A While

The view up to the stage was pretty clear, but behind us the news trucks and curvature of the earth made it hard to see if we were in the middle or the back of the crowd. So John hopped up on my shoulders and took some pictures. The people around us thought this was great and several people passed us cameras and asked John to take pictures for them. Given he was already up there, it seemed reasonable to help, so he took pictures for lots of people.

Paul Give John a Lift to get a view of the Rally Crowd

This was the best view he could get back toward the Washington Monument. In retrospect we've come to learn we were in the front of the majority of the crowd. Even so, this photo was taken long before the rally actually started.

Rally Crowd from 7th to the Washington Monument

I pieced together this panorama shot of the crowd from our position on the Mall. It's smushed a lot to fit in this blog. You can see the full size panorama here.

Rally To Restore Sanity Panorama
Panorama of the Rally To Restore Sanity from exactly where I was standing.

The rally lasted 3 hours. If you didn't see it I highly recommend watching a recording. The full video is on CSPAN and you can see high definition recordings of all the non musical parts here.

After a some good music, a lot of laughs, and some brilliantly scripted debate on fear and sanity, Jon Stewart took the stage for a Moment of Sincerity. Excerpts of his closing remarks are posted on Wikipedia.

Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear
Jon Stewart - Moment of Sincerity
Rally to Restore Sainty and/or FearThe Daily ShowThe Colbert Report

His remarks were simple, elegant, and passionate. "...we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus, and not be enemies." The cheer when he said this was the loudest of the entire event. It was a great speech made powerful by the peaceful mass of people patiently listening, clapping, and sometimes cheering as he made the point that Americans would be best served if we all took it down a notch.

I am glad that the rally managed to be done in a way that was completely a-political while still focusing its message on our political process. No politicians were visibly in attendance, and no party-specific agenda was put forth.  This was a rally asking for reason and civility for the people, by the people (ok, by the DailyShow) and it was an event I'll never forget being part of.

John & Paul at the Rally To Restore SanityWhen the rally ended we turned to head home and found ourselves, in a word, stuck. Only then did we start to realize the true scale of the number of people in attendance.

View From 7th Street toward the Washington Monument as the Rally ended
Looking back at the Washington Monument as we slowly left the National Mall

This guy climbed up on a light post near 7th street and someone yelled to him "Hey Pole Guy, what's the best way out of here?"  He looked around in every direction for several seconds appearing more and more nervous. Then, resolute, he shouted back "We're screwed!"

Pole Guy Checks for Ways Out As The Rally Ends

About 50 minutes after the rally ended we were able to walk at a reasonable speed. John and I took this video of the crowd going up 7th street.

It was a great day and a thrilling experience to be part of something so big. One of the things that most surprised me was the feeling of standing in such a large crowd and feeling safe. Everyone was so civil. Even when we were leaving, packed shoulder to shoulder everyone kept their cool. A woman was trying to get her son to the first aid tent which was the same direction were were all trying and failing to move. But people didn't hesitate, the wall of people parted and she walked through, and then everyone got back in shoulder to shoulder and we made our way out patiently.

I think it also helped that this woman was there to remind everyone that reasonable people are sexy.

Rally Sign - Reasonable People Are Sexy

The full set of my pictures from the Rally to Restore Sanity are here on Flickr, and embedded below.