Jon Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” is sprouting satellite events across the country, including here in Seattle.
On Saturday, October 30, thousands of people from the Seattle area (upward of 3,000 are indicating their interest on Facebook as of this writing) plan to gather in Westlake Park to express their collective hopes for greater sanity in the nation’s political and social dialogue —and maybe just to have a good time.
The event will coincide with the start of the main “Restore Sanity” rally 3,000 miles and three time zones away in Washington D.C. The event, scheduled for the National Mall near the Washington Monument is being hosted by Stewart, the faux news anchor of “The Daily Show” seen weeknights on the Comedy Central cable channel. According to an event page posted on Facebook, more than 180,000 say they plan to attend the rally; roughly another 97,000 are considering going.
Also in the planning, a month before the D.C. event, are similarly themed rallies in Portland, Spokane, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Tucson, Austin, Houston, Chicago, Boston, Honolulu, London, and Auckland, New Zealand, according to Jim Baum of Maple Valley, coordinator of the Seattle event. (Crosscut confirmed some but not all those rallies.)
A public organizing committee meeting for the Seattle rally is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 2) at El Puerco Lloron Restaurant, 1501 Western Ave., near the Pike Place Market. To date, Baum has pledges of over $2,000 to fund the Seattle event.
No support nor encouragement has come from "The Daily Show" or Comedy Central, noted Baum in a telephone interview. He is not even sure there will be a live telecast of the D.C. rally. (A Comedy Central spokesperson confirmed that no decision has been made so far about how, when, or if the rally will be televised.) The Seattle event is non-political; no politicians have been invited to speak but comedians are welcome. “If a politician wants to speak and is humorous, that’s fine,” Baum added, but a stump speech is out. “No one is looking for that”
The Daily Show has been loathe to treat the event as much more than a fun get-together, either in its on-air broadcasts or on the rally’s website. The rally’s website expresses an almost wistful tone about the purpose of the rally.
A sample from the website:
" 'I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!’ Who among us has not wanted to open their window and shout that at the top of their lungs? Seriously, who?
“We're looking for the people who think shouting is annoying, counterproductive, and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn't be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it's appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles.”
It is clear, however, that the D.C. rally has struck a deeper public nerve: not only with Baum but with many other people across the country who generally consider themselves political moderates, according to their Facebook postings on the rally site.
An Entertainment Weekly magazine column by Ken Tucker, and Pulitzer Prize winner Leonard Pitts Jr.’s commentary from the Miami Herald are good examples of serious assessment of the planned event, emphasizing the interest of large parts of the public in reasoned discussion of issues.
Baum was driven to get involved after watching Stewart’s announcement of the rally on Sept. 17 at a friend’s house. (He has no cable TV service.) He posted a Facebook page about a proposed event to coincide with the Washington rally, and public support has driven the Seattle rally’s to its present size.
His view of why the rally is important? “[It’s] a hunger to answer what we have been witnessing: to answer the Tea Party, to answer even the Beck rally, not answer it in a protest against them,” he said. "I think there are a lot of people who are hungering for a more civil conversation. They want to be able to talk issues through. They want facts that matter again. They want real science to matter again.
“It’s almost like there’s this huge frustration. You run into these brick walls to try and talk to somebody who has an opposing point of view and there’s really no exchange of ideas any more.”
Baum himself is no stranger to "The Daily Show." He was the subject of a 1990s "Daily Show" interview by Stephen Colbert, then a “reporter” for the faux news program, who interviewed him about a land dispute he was then having with King County. The county had reclassified his 17-acre farm as “wetlands,” saying that many mammals needed those wetland to survive. One of those animals was "bipedus giganticus," or more popularly, Bigfoot or Sasquatch. The subsequent satirical coverage of Baum's land use battle with the county made Baum somewhat of a local celebrity, but he said it is not linked to his support for the current rally.
While much media attention has been given to the Stewart rally, less attention has been given to the “March to Keep Fear Alive,” an ironic counterpart being hosted on October 30 by fellow Comedy Central pundit Colbert, who hosts his own show, the "Steven Colbert Report." A Facebook page for the Colbert event has been posted here.