One day before Halloween and three days before what will be a pivotal midterm election, the politically engaged, the politically blasé, pot-smoking seniors, families, hipsters and the occasional gaggle of people costumed as Chilean miners gathered on the National Mall Saturday to watch comedians Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert’s satirical Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Keep Fear Alive.
“As I look out here today, I can see we have at least ten million people,” Stewart deadpanned to the crowd with faux Glenn Beck-ian certainty.
According to a crowd estimate commissioned by CBS News via AirPhotosLive.com—the same company used to determine the number of participants at Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally in August—attendance was estimated at 215,000 people. Beck had 87,000.
As early as 8 am, the Metros were overcrowded to the point that the doors had difficulty closing. Even AT&T couldn’t handle the traffic.
“You want fear, Colbert?” shouted an iPhone waving twenty-something dressed as a giant tea bag. “I can’t text!”
Given that Comedy Central’s permit was for an estimated 60,000 participants (although the Wall Street Journal noted that they ordered enough port-a-potties for 150,000), thousands were unable to get into the cordoned-off blocks of the Mall. Adolescents and senior citizens were cheered on as they climbed into trees and onto the tops of port-a-potties to get a glimpse of the elevated video screens.
“At least at concerts you can hear,” said Dianne Cooke. The 24-year-old took Friday off work so that she could travel to DC early. She left the rally early too.
“It had a lot of potential and it was probably a positive sign that there were a lot of people there, but I couldn’t tell you what the message was because I didn’t hear it,” said 23-year-old DC resident and rally frequenter Laiah Idelson. Idelson and her two friends, one of whom flew in from California, were sandwiched between shoving rally-goers and the medic area. “We were joking that you know you’re at a rally for sanity when you’re saying excuse me as you’re pushing someone.”
Those who couldn’t get into the Mall to see the show gathered on the steps of the National Gallery, clogged the streets—it took 20 minutes to travel one block—or formed their own protest around a FOX News van.
Parker Lawrence took a picture of himself flipping off the van before re-joining three other hat-wearing comrades, one with a cigarette cap, the other a femur and the last, a hat in the shape of pin.
“We’re tea baggers, but that’s obvious. I’m a shithead,” the feces-capped Philadelphian said, “and then there’s a butthead, a bonehead and a pinhead.” Parker was content with his inability to view the events onstage, saying that one of the most important parts of the event was seeing the people who came in support of it.
Those who made it into the barricaded blocks of the Mall not only enjoyed the vendors’ kosher hot dogs and black bean burgers, but also reveled in a high-energy and well-choreographed spectacle that was in line with the style of the Daily Show and Colbert Report: a mixture of political commentary and comedic play.