Thousands rally on National Mall for sanity (and/or fear)

Comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert drew an estimated 215,000 to the National Mall Saturday for their Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, despite an unclear definition beforehand on whether the rally was intended for entertainment or to push a political agenda.

The afternoon was filled with star-studded musical performances – from The Roots and John Legend to Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow – and comedy segments, but it closed with what Stewart called a moment of sincerity. Stewart said the event was an effort to call out the media, specifically cable TV, for being a “broken” information tool for Americans.

“This is not a rally to ridicule what people think, or people’s activism or to look down on those out of the heartland or passionate argument, or to suggest that. we have nothing to fear,” Stewart said.

Stewart said the media can negatively affect the country depending on how it amplifies coverage of certain situations.

“The press is our immune system. If it overreacts to everything, we actually get sicker,” Stewart said. “And yet, with that being said, I feel good, strangely calmly good, because the image of Americans as reflected back to us by our political and media process, is false.”

Stewart said Americans learn from the media that the country is torn by polarizing animosity and that it’s a shame that both sides cannot work together.

“But the truth is we do, we work together to get things done every damn day,” Stewart said.

When Stewart announced the rally Sept. 16, “The Daily Show” host said he was looking for people who were too busy with their families and jobs to go to rallies, and that he couldn’t define the general political views of those who were attending.

While Stewart’s Comedy Central colleague from “The Colbert Report” planned to hold his “March to Keep Fear Alive” event the same day as Stewart’s rally, the comedians ended up combining the events. Colbert countered Stewart’s calls for sanity Saturday by playing up fears in America about terrorism, racism and religion.

While Stewart gave out Medals of Reasonableness to four individuals who exhibited rationality in difficult situations, Colbert gave out Fear Awards.

During a debate between the comedians, Muslim basketball player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar came onstage to illustrate and help quell Colbert’s supposed fear of Muslims.

Stewart later said “the inability to distinguish terrorists from Muslims makes us less safe, not more.”

Members of GW’s chapter of the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity went to the rally together and secured a view close to the stage, which was set up in front of the Capitol.

A freshman in the fraternity, Alex Osterman, said he woke up at 8:15 a.m. and arrived at the rally about an hour later.

“I hope it is funny and not too political,” Osterman said before the event began, hoping to get a good laugh from Colbert, of whom he is a big fan.

Others came from across the country to participate.

Stephanie Paulson, a 22-year-old recent graduate of Purdue University, said she came from Indianapolis, Ind., and was able to attend the rally while visiting family in D.C.

“I’m tired of all the anger, the hate and the ignorance. It is time that people decided that they can disagree and be more civil,” Paulson said.

GW alumnus Jason Keiffer, a volunteer at the event, arrived at 5:30 a.m. to help set up and noticed that some people had already begun gathering for the rally.

“It showed people that there are other sane people,” Keiffer said of the event’s turnout.

Gwen Holbrow of Massachusetts said she was unsure of what the event was going to be like but that she thought it was great.

“What a large crowd of rational people,” Holbrow said. “I am sad, however, that the leaders were television comedians and not my politicians, but at least someone is doing it.”

-Amy D’Onofrio contributed to this report

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