Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" was going to be big a few weeks ago when I tried to make a hotel reservation in Washington, DC and found that no hotel rooms in the city were available this weekend (I had decided to combine a trip to the rally with some other business).
On Saturday morning, I realized that the rally would indeed be something unprecedented; at 9 AM, the inbound Metro Red line train was jam packed with rallygoers at the third stop (Twinbrook), even though nothing was scheduled till 12 AM. By the sixth stop, the train was having difficulty getting its doors closed, leading to delays.
On the train, collective coping behaviors emerged from the unexpected mass intimacy. When we got to stations where one or two riders needed to get off, other riders squeezed aside to make sure they could emerge from the train. Later, above ground, the crowd would make a special effort to part for rallygoers in wheelchairs and parents with children in strollers. Police cars and ambulances drove through streets packed with people because somehow the crowd recognized a necessity.
This morning, reading the press accounts, I was dismayed to see that much of the "mainstream media" seemed to miscomprehend the Rally for Sanity by focusing on the show rather than the audience. Whether the rally was 215,000 people or 420,000 people, the media's mistake is akin to reporting that YouTube is a site for stupid pet trick videos. The best way to understand the Sanity Rally's significance, in fact, is to make the analogy that YouTube is to Fox (or CBS, for that matter) as the Rally for Sanity is to almost any previous political rally. Finally, crowdsourcing has come to the crowd.
Nonetheless, when Jon Stewart began to speak at the end of the rally, the crowd suddenly became quiet and strained to hear. "These are hard times, not end times" we heard. There was something about the miracle of the Lincoln Tunnel, where cars strain to get through, merging from 20 lines or so down to two, and it somehow works even though the people in one car might be totally different from the people in the next car, the traffic moves forward concession by sensible concession, and sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel isn't the promised land, it's New Jersey.
But we didn't need Jon Stewart to tell us that, we had discovered that by being pressed together in a massive crowd, and by learning how to get around anyway.