Volunteering to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, One Laugh at a Time
By Mehrunisa Qayyum
Oct. 29th, 5pm-7pm@National Mall: OMG, Be Sane and Pray It Doesn’t Rain, pls RT
“Don’t be stupid; don’t be scared,” advised one volunteer captain. I wish someone had stated this earlier when I was riding the metro in Washington DC on August 28th and bumped into masses of Teaparty ralliers who acted like they’d never seen someone like me before. So, in my attempt to highlight what I experienced and learned as a volunteer, I will share only a few tweets. Because, as Jon Stewart explained, “If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.”
About 200 of us participated in orientation for the Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear. Volunteers had flown in from California and Arizona, took the train from the Northeastern states, and hitchhiked—or in my case, walked—from college campuses, or took time off from work, to help prepare for a rally without any real agenda. Comedian-pundits, Jon Stewart and “Sir Reverend Dr.” Steven T. Colbert, H.E., invited anyone who valued sanity, constructive criticism (mixed in with a “teaspoon” of patriotism) to rally for sanity and/or fear on October 30th, 2010 on the National Mall between 3rd and 7th Street. Bill O’ Reilly challenged Stewart to draw 100,000 attendees. All of us volunteers worried—if it rains, how many will make it? But it got bigger. And it didn’t rain. The crowds extended all the way to 14th Street—estimated 10,000 people made it from New York alone while riding buses provided by Ariana Huffington.
@Jefferson Street: Jump Rope w/a Muslim & How to Control a Crowd Wearing Halloween Costumes?
Facebook sent me an invite to Jump Role with a Muslim. I thought it was another Comedy Central joke. Or maybe it was another crazy suggestion for a sign (which I saw during cleanup), but it was the real deal. If you walked over near the Jefferson Street side, you witnessed dozens of non-Muslim kids and “bigger” kids skipping double-dutch or basic jump-roping with American-Muslims. It was safe. It was friendly. And no one got hurt in the process of demonstrating that Muslims like to laugh and play with their kids too. No one fell down too hard either.
Also Stewart invited Kareem Abdul Jabbar to prove to Steve Colbert’s alter ego, as well as the other several misinformed Americans, that Muslim-Americans teach, run businesses, vote, pay taxes, and play; and they do not incite fear and hate.
Between 12:30pm-3pm: Use Your Inside Voices & Pardon Me, Please Don’t Litter
As a volunteer, I was excited to see regular attendees asking how they could help clean up and move recycle boxes. There was a general spirit of being—dare I say—courteous. There was no pushing or shoving to get to the front. No one started a shouting match. I overheard several attendees saying that they’ve never heard so many “Please” and “Thank You’s” in a single gathering. On that note, the rally requested that if anyone wanted to donate to anything, the National Mall Preservation Trust symbolized the country’s effort to convene Americans. Their request was to give back and preserve the grounds so future generations may continue to rally on the historic site. In contrast to some other rallies, the rally organizers diligently organized “Green volunteers” to ensure no littering and to undertake a multi-prong recycling effort.
There were no demonstrators or hecklers, unless you count Stephen Colbert, a.k.a. the man in the bright blue polka-dotted jumpsuit. (The costume shop probably ran out of Captain America costumes.) Colbert invited actor Sam Waterston of Law & Order, to recite “The Greatest Poem Ever Written, by Stephen Colbert”. The poem satirized fear with lines like “Making sure you don’t get Ebola from a tainted diet cola,” and other hyper-sensationalized fears presented by the media.
In other notable appearances: The Roots, John Legend, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, the Staple Singers, Anderson Cooper, Tony Bennett, and Oprah via satellite. Furthermore, R2D2 from Star Wars made an appearance to assuage Steven’s fear of robots. None of the volunteers got his autograph.
Meet Me @VIP Tent 4 Yusuf Islam/Ozzy Osbourne/O’Jays Performances!
After hearing the Roots and John Legend perform, I thought the music would give way to political speeches. I’m glad I was wrong. No politicians were invited on stage. No books or effigies were burned. Candidates were not endorsed. No mention was made of party names or foibles. Rather, these two provokers of thought invited Father Guido Sarducci to bless the rally. Sarducci jokingly requested God to announce which religion was correct after explaining the beauty of each religion. He concluded with thanking God for the opportunity to do good and deliver charity in His name.
I have to admit. For this tweet, I got a little teary-eyed. I never would have imagined Yusuf Islam performing in the U.S. again. I never would have dreamed that he and Ozzy Osbourne would be on stage singing together, and walking off arm in arm during Stewar-Colbert’s mock debate. The two reconciled with an American Motown classic: Love Train by the O’Jays.
3pm: Your Presence=:). Everyone Has a Right 2 B Patriotic, RT!
Jon Stewart stated on Larry King Live that this was not a political rally. I agree. In the end, Stewart just wanted our presence to: a) prove that sanity does exist; and b) everyone has a right to be patriotic. Even though there was the mid-term election in three days, the signs captured the ironic rather than the blunt political messages. Some signs I saw while doing crowd control included:
- Somewhat Irritated About Extreme Rage.
- Got Tolerance?
- Pronoia-overwhelming realization that everyone is out to help me!
- Make Signs, Not Progress
- Tea-Party: Putting the Dumb in Freedom.
- Chimp, Chimk, Thimk, Think. Embrace the Final 2% of Evolution.
Conversely, the rally translated into artistic expression for some, e.g., Abraxus, the life-sized golden dragon rolling down past Pennsylvania Avenue. For some, it translated into a social experience—Ohio friends huddled together with their Maryland pals to decide which tourist attractions would be open the next day. For many others, it was an effort to raise socio-cultural consciousness and appeal to the sanity within all of us.