D.C. goes crazy for sanity

By Contributing Writer

by Heather McGraw, contributing writer

Taking a 17-hour bus ride from Chicago to Washington, D.C. for a satirical three-hour political rally might not be considered sane, but for Mesum Norat it was a necessity.

“I’m just an average guy who works Monday through Friday, goes home, goes to sleep, then wakes up in the morning and reads all these newspapers, which are all about the hate. When I heard about this rally, I’m like, ‘I have to be there, no matter what it takes,’” said Norat, 32, a marketing manager from Chicago.

The Rally to Restore Sanity was announced on Sept. 17 by comedian and news satirist Jon Stewart, host of “The Daily Show,” on Comedy Central. It was soon countered by the March to Keep Fear Alive, proposed by satirist Stephen Colbert, host of “The Colbert Report,” also on Comedy Central. The two later decided to combine their events, which gave birth to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.

The rally took place on Oct. 30 at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. and included short skits from the two comedians along with musical performances from The Roots, Sheryl Crow and Tony Bennet. There was also a dueling act between Yusuf Islam—formerly Cat Stevens—and Ozzy Osbourne, performing their similarly-titled songs, “Peace Train” and “Crazy Train,” respectively.

“It was just a bunch of cool people,” Norat said. “We hung out and had fun. I’m more than glad I actually showed up. I would do this any day.”

While many people’s reason to be in attendance was to have a good time, others had a stronger message to convey.

“[I’m here] for these three guys,” said Abid Ashiqali, 28, as he held up his poster depicting characters from “The Three Stooges”—labeled as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.

Ashiqali, a native of Skokie, is a Muslim American who feels his religion is being misrepresented in the media.

“They’ve been adding fear to America, giving false information about Muslims and about the economy in general and I want to point them out,” Ashiqali said.

Ashiqali also noted he thought nearly 800 people asked him for pictures of his sign, and he believed he did his job in “identifying the culprits in our government problem.”

Stewart announced the rally was not meant to be political in any way, but that didn’t stop attendees from expressing their own views through a variety of signs and costumes.

Stewart became intense during his closing speech to the audience, which, according to rally organizers, numbered upwards of 250,000 people.

“We hear every damn day about how fragile our country is, torn by polarizing hate and how it’s a shame we can’t work together to get things done, but the truth is we do,” Stewart said. “We work together to get things done every damn day. The only place we don’t is here [in Washington] or on cable TV.”

The overall message conveyed at the rally was the moderate (silent) majority is fed up with not having its opinions heard, and it’s largely the media’s fault.

“I wanted a place where I could just voice my opinion,” Norat said. “Even if I cannot get on the stage, this is my voice, to be here and just show my support.”

Many people in the audience came to show their support of Stewart and Colbert and the message of calmness and cooperation.

“I came because I have been discouraged and upset at the current environment in politics and how radicalized on both sides the debate can come out,” said Josh Noah, 19, a sophomore at Northwestern University majoring in political science.

“Like Stewart was saying, there are things both sides of the political spectrum agree on,” Noah said. “We can do a lot. It’s just compromising on things and getting things done, and I think that’s what this rally was promoting, working together and solving things.”