Phillip Ensler: Restoring more than just sanity

After much speculation about whether Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear would be a comedic act or present a serious message, it ended up being a combination of the two. Although most of the event was devoted to satirical skits and musical performances, Stewart’s uncharacteristically serious closing remarks were anything but a joke. They struck a conciliatory and optimistic note that brought a sense of purpose to the festivities.

Stewart said he “can’t control what people thought” the purpose of the rally was. Should it be seen as just a fun Saturday afternoon during Halloween weekend or should it be viewed as a “clarion call to action?” The legacy of the rally depends on what the attendees decide it should be.

I encourage my fellow students who attended the rally to embrace Stewart’s concluding message and apply it beyond the hubris of the moment. It certainly was an entertaining day and we’ll get to impress our friends back home with amusing Facebook photo albums of the festivities. But the moment should not be limited to a memory or a few laughs. Everyone has the power to commit themselves to Stewart’s ultimate message – that we as individuals are not alone in our struggles, and that we must confront current problems together.

We see such a display of unity and a dedication to civilly discussing societal issues every day on GW’s campus and in the D.C. community. When students tutor at D.C. public schools, they show unity by recognizing the interconnectedness between themselves and the success of schoolchildren. Similarly, when members of GW’s religious communities organize forums such as the annual Interfaith Dinner to promote understanding, they are embodying civility.

However, there is still much room for progress. Our generation is commonly branded as lazy and selfish. Our elders say we are Internet-obsessed and too consumed in our gadgets to be aware of the troubles plaguing our society. I certainly think as Colonials we seek to disprove this characterization, but at times we fulfill it.

The rally can easily augment the stereotypes about our generation. It can be said that while previous generations rallied on the Mall for civil rights and against war, our generation rallied on the Mall to hear a few laugh lines and be entertained for an afternoon.

Such a depiction fails to recognize our true potential. But merely saying we have stronger convictions and are committed to addressing social issues is not enough. Having impassioned debates in our dorms or getting on our soapbox during class do not solve our problems. We must disprove the myth and fulfill the “clarion call to action.” We can do this by making an even greater effort to engage in work that improves communities, by interning to enhance the lives of others and participating in student activities that seek solutions to problems on campus.

The Stewart rally was a far cry from historic gatherings such as the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. It was a beautiful fall day and a time to have friends from out-of-town visit and take part in the festivities. But it was also a day to motivate us to get involved and to take ourselves seriously – albeit with a sense of humor along the way. You can choose what to make of the rally, but in the end, Stewart could not be any clearer: We each hold the power to do something good.

-The writer, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

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