After I broke my leg in 1999, I was in a hip-to-toe cast for a few months. Sometimes during this period, people would ask how my leg was as they stared at a completely immobilized leg while ignoring the "body". At other times, people were disbelieving when I would say I'm doing great. See, what I was learning during this period was life-transforming. I was learning how to not always run to the next thing, but to be in the moment, and to take time to consider my actions with greater forethought rather than be impulsive. All these were great things that, perhaps, would have come to me at some point, but basically having the use of one leg for 4+ months really deepened the lesson.
I was thinking of this yesterday as I was being asked "How was the Rally (to Restore Sanity)?" It was a great time. A huge crowd on a beautiful day. Both before and after the rally, I have had friends and family asking for reports. I find it difficult to give simple information about things such as this because of the context in which they are happening. Crowd estimates vary from 150,000-250,000, so something is going on outside the rally to bring that many people to one place at one time. I'm not sure that the sense of this can be captured easily. So here goes, in two parts. Use this as an analogy: "How was the college?" 1. The buildings were beautiful. 2. The education really has made a difference.
How was the Rally? The facts: I was riding my bicycle down towards William Penn House. I left my apartment at around 8AM. At first, I was surprised how little traffic was on the road and bike path, but as I neared the Air and Space Museum, the energy was buzzing so I opted to instead park my bike by the American Indian Museum and set up my chair and blanket under a tree on the first block near the stage. A real stroke of luck. By 9AM, the police closed off entry to this section. Like me, there were a few other people around me who laid out extra blankets and chairs for friends who could not get in, so we filled in for each other in sharing the experience. I walked around periodically to take in the signs and get-ups, so the 3+ hours went by fairly quickly. I had brought a book to read, and an Mp3 player to listen to Car Talk if I got bored, but being there was absorbing. There were people of all ages. Most of the signs were non-partisan. Many picked up on Jon Stewart's theme that Obama and Bush are not Hitler. I think that many of us who saw the "Bush=Hitler" signs and were silent need to perhaps to some reconciliation around our silence.
The performance started right on time. I won't go into the details of the performance itself as this is readily available on-line. But among the highlights for me were:
- Hearing John Legend's amazing voice singing "Dear God, I'm trying to believe in you. Dear God, I see your face in all I do." Stunning.
- Yusuf (Cat Stevens) coming out to sing one of the 1970's anti-war anthems ("Peace Train"). Rather than settling in to a serious peace message, though, Colbert almost sacrilegiously cutting him off, saying he can't get on the Peace Train, and bringing Ossie Osbourne on to sing "Crazy Train". The back and forth banter culminated in Yusuf and Ossie singing their songs simultaneously until the O'Jays ended the dispute with "Love Train". Colbert signed on to the Love Train because love can hurt and cause std's. Good stuff!
- The awards for sanity and fear were great. A really nice touch was Colbert giving one of his fear awards to Anderson Cooper's shirt rather than to one of the easier media targets (Limbaugh, Beck, Olberman). Cooper in general is perceived as a good guy - especially some of his recent work on anti-bullying. He is, however, one of the subtle fear-mongerers. Recognition of this is a good reminder of how pervasive the fear in the media is.
- Stewart's message was great. Not political (despite how some - including McCartney in the Washington Post - are shamefully representing it) but a reminder that we are all in this together, and only together will we be able to come out of this. "These are dark times, but not the 'End Times'" he said. I appreciate, as a fellow Jerseyite, the reference to the fact that, sometimes, the light at the end of the tunnel is New Jersey. Even his message at the very beginning of the show asking the crowd to leave the mall cleaner than we found it ("plant topiaries if your a lanscaper") resonated with me. I often use this message in both Workcamps and program messages: the essence of peacemaking as a lifestyle is a commitment to leave a place better than it was upon arrival, regardless of whether it's in the daily routine such as re-stacking weights mis-laid by others at the gym and picking up trash while on a hike, or more pronounced such as mediating a conflict. It's about Stewardship ("Stewart-ship"?).
All in all, a wonderful show.
How was the Rally? The night before, I led a group of 8th grade students from a local private school on a Workcamp to help prepare foods as part of an all-encompassing meals/job-training/employment program in DC. These students chose to be there, as did all the other volunteers including some young adult professionals looking to be a part of and to give back to community. The private school (Norwood School) seems to do an amazing job of giving kids an opportunity to see the world and reflect on purpose. One of the kids even remarked that they were having more fun than being at home watching TV. This school also hosted a viewing of the documentary "Race to Nowhere", which speaks volumes to their admirable commitment to youth development, not test performance. I only bring this up to note that I already was in a pensive mood having spent the prior evening with youth and young adults with a passion for a better world - so much so that they were spending their Friday evenings actually doing something.
As I mentioned above, the rally itself was attended by, what I could see, people who really want to be a part of something different than the status-quo. But it was after the rally that there were deeper conversations about this. At William Penn House, we had an open house after the rally, inviting people to come in for cider and cookies. Many people came in, much appreciative of and a bit taken aback by the openness to strangers, but this is something we have embraced as a part of our "Radical Hospitality" (if I had been more on the ball, we should have done something similar during the Glenn Beck rally if we want to really walk our talk). When I first got back to the house, there were some older folks from Gettysburg at the table. Nice folks who were heading back to PA that afternoon. Most of the folks who came in afterward were also leaving town that afternoon, and were walking to the bus parking at RFK. For us, by opening our doors and welcoming in strangers, it was a good opportunity to quietly be an example of what the rally's message was - being civil.
One of the conversations around the table that flowed from one group to the next was "Do you think the rally will make a difference?" This, to me, is the real heart of the matter. Clearly, there is something stirring in society, but can a "call to Sanity" become a movement? Is our society really ready to take this on ourselves? The media and the politicians are not going to take the lead on this. The political parties are too much about power - so much so that they often penalize their own who try for some civil discourse (witness how Sen. Lindsey Graham has been treated). I do have to say that Republicans seem a bit better at this than Democrats, but I sometimes think that this is because Democratic leadership is lame and unfocused, not more civil. I reflected to one group from the Philly/Poconos area when asked these questions, "Isn't it up to us to have it make a difference?" I know from my experience working with people and groups not necessarily pro-what-I-want that we really can find the common ground and civility that is beneficial to our collective responsibility to leave the world better than we found it. A lot of the people at the table said that it won't be easy to bring about these changes - something as simple as turning off the 24-hour news - but, hey, no one said this would be easy.
So, how was the rally? Great! How would we like the rally to have been as far as making a difference? That's up to us. I'd encourage that we start now - by turning to each other to continue the momentum, and not read what the "pundits" have to say. They are already trying to snuff out any glimmers of light and passion that might spread. We don't have to pay them any mind. Between the kids on Friday evening and all the folks I spoke with after the rally, there is much to build on. It's not your parent's movement, for sure, but the hope and willingness seems to be there.