Over 100 Yale students gave up Halloween weekend at Yale for an event with equally ridiculous costumes and pageantry.
At the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” in Washington, D.C., an event organized by Comedy Central personalities Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, attendees dressed as clowns, tea bags and “Mama Grizzlies.” The comedians said at the rally that they planned the event in response to the extreme partisan rhetoric that has characterized midterm election campaigns and media coverage. About 215,000 people swarmed into the National Mall, coming from as far away as Hawaii and Oregon. For students who did not find their own transportation to the event, the Yale International Relations Association and the Yale Record organized buses to take Yalies to D.C., and subsidized the trip for their members.
The atmosphere was light-hearted at the event, mixing irony with politics. Yalies carried signs with slogans such as “Something Smart and Funny,” “I Support the Sign I’m Holding” and “Everything’s pretty OK. Want to go play scrabble?”
Colbert, who satirizes conservative pundits on his show, had asked people to dress as their greatest fears. In an interview with the News Oct. 8, Colbert said his greatest fear was “gay immigrant bears,” and several people who attended the rally came in bear suits, rainbow tee-shirts, moustaches, and sombreros.
A middle-aged woman in a black dress and a witch’s hat held up a sign that read, “I am not a witch,” referring to Christine O’Donnell, a Republican candidate in Delaware who used the line in a recent political ad. Another attendee dressed as a giant cannabis leaf handed out leaflets about Prop 19, a California measure to legalize marijuana.
Some Democrats criticized Stewart and Colbert for hosting the event three days before the midterm election, fearing that the rally would draw activists who would otherwise have spent the weekend canvassing.
The Yale Democrats did not help sponsor the trip, because the rally interfered with “Get Out the Vote” work, Yale Democrats President Ben Stango ’11 said.
“I think the rally was great, but I didn’t agree with the timing,” Stango said in an e-mail. “There are people in the Republican party who are thrilled.”
Jack Newsham ’14, a writer for the Yale Record who attended the rally, said he felt guilty for not helping to canvass or make calls on Saturday, but said he planned to phonebank on Monday and Tuesday. To compromise, he carried a sign that read, “Too Sane to Abstain. Vote Nov. 2.”
Matt Shafer ’13, who helped organize the Yale trip, said he thinks the rally raised morale among Democrats, and will not hurt the party in the elections.
“A lot of moderates and liberals are burnt out and disillusioned, and this rally helped create energy and remind people that they still need to vote,” Shafer said.
In addition to speeches by Colbert and Stewart, the rally included live music from The Roots, dueling performances from Ozzy Osbourne and Cat Stevens and appearances by the hosts of the popular Discovery Channel show MythBusters. In his speech, Stewart criticized the partisan media and the 24-hour news cycle, saying, “When you amplify everything, you hear nothing.” He did not endorse specific candidates, instead promoting dialogue and reasonable debate this campaign season.
Students said they enjoyed the comedians’ humorous approach to serious issues, and the tone did not detract from the meaning of the speeches.
“I always get a little nervous that Jon Stewart will come off too preachy,” said River Clegg ’11, a student who attended the rally. “But I think his message — that America isn’t as starkly divided as the media says we are — was important, and the crowd was receptive. And he didn’t stop being funny.”
Students from the Yale medical school and Drama School also came on the trip. Jennifer Shaw YSD ’09, DFA ’13 said she was glad such a diverse group of people gathered to protest the “rampant fear-mongering of the media,” and she said the turnout proved that the average American is not fearful, intolerant or extremist.
International students from as far as Germany, Georgia and India said the event was markedly American, but that the ideas are universally applicable.
Abhinav Nayar ’14 said he found out about the rally through YIRA, but came for the humor, because he is a Jon Stewart fan. He called the gathering an “argument against biased media,” colored with American nationalism.
“It’s something I saw back home in India too: everyone talking about sensationalism in the news,” he said. “We could still see the bigger picture and larger point [of the rally] and apply it to the world.”
The rally was inspired by conservative pundit Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally which took place in front of the Lincoln Memorial on the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech on Aug. 28.