Though social media in large part brought us together, the sheer number of people attempting to socially network the event rendered internet and phone service useless. Yet there was something sublimely joyful about turning off computers and smartphones to participate in the spectacle of satirical television gone live and literally experiencing our common humanity.
As two of the estimated 250,000 attendees (not counting those who neither made it into the densely packed mass and watched the rally from crowded, local restaurants nor those who attended the roughly 1,000 satellite rallies in 67 countries), we reached the second row of jumbotrons before forward movement became impossible. Despite the common misperception that the audience consisted of young, white hipsters, we were surrounded by “reasonable” Americans representing a range of ages (including many families with small children), political affiliations, races, religions, and parodied special interests.
As Colbert’s giant fear puppet loomed over Stewart, vanquished by Colbert’s fear montages, John Oliver, dressed as Peter Pan, led the crowd in perhaps the most meta-moment of the rally: 250,000 people chanting, “Will this help?” Soon after, Stewart clarified the anti-hysteria message of the rally, directing most of his critique toward the fourth estate’s tendency to depict Americans as shrill, deeply divided, and extremist caricatures. Yet, predictably, post-rally criticism expressed disappointment that the satirists aren’t partisan warriors for causes and missed the meta-nature of the rally, which, to some who dropped the “and/or fear” from their reviews, signified nothing.
In terms of the rally’s accomplishments to date, Colbert helped raise over $550,000 for Donors Choose.org and reminded his November 1 audience to “go vote.” Stewart has raised over $188,000 for the National Mall, with rally merchandise tallies yet to be counted. Some of the activated “minions” continue to organize in their hometowns to transform the event’s spirit into action. And, after initially tweeting that Stewart “jumped the shark” on Saturday, Keith Olbermann suspended his “Worst Persons in the World” in a conciliatory gesture of downshifting the tone of 24-7 cable news. Perhaps, as one rally sign expressed, we should do this more often.