One sign said, “Stand United Against Signs.” Another read, “Paul Revere was an Anchor Baby.” A third: “My wife thinks I’m walking the Appalachian Trail,” a barbed reference to South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford’s alibi for his extramarital liaisons.
Tens of thousands of quip-sters gathered for the "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear" on the National Mall today. One sign of the big crowd was Metro traffic. By 3 p.m. 359,988 people used the Metro, TBD.com reported. On a typical Saturday, it's 350,000 for the entire day.
Scoreboard-sized TV screens started replaying episodes of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report” around 10 a.m., delighting the crowd that had started massing on the National Mall hours earlier. The crowd roared when Jon Stewart, in a re-airing of his announcement episode, laid out its premise: that the country holds differing views, but that the vast majority is reasonable, while the clamorous minority gets most of the attention and dominates debate. For the most part, they left feeling accomplished, like they had finally promoted civility.
After The Roots and John Legend warmed up the crowd, the MythBusters began leading the crowd in group exercises -- a Mall-long wave, cheek pops, and "polite" laughter.
The audience ranged across demographics, in strollers, wheelchairs, red cocktail dresses and cartoonish Uncle Sam garb.
“We’re afraid of gamma rays,” said Liz Coomes, wearing a tinfoil hat and holding a Wile E. Coyote doll with the same headgear. “We’re afraid of everything,” chimed in Mike Coomes, also sporting a tinfoil hat.
The crowd appeared to tilt markedly toward the left, many of them professed supporters of the president. "I Think The President Is Doing OK," one attendee scrawled on a white board.
Some brushed off concerns that the rally would prove a distraction to Democrats over the pre-election weekend, saying they thought the political antennae raised by the saturation-coverage event would more than offset any drain on the get-out-the-vote operation.
One attendee said she wished the event itself had been more focused on the election, despite promises from Stewart and his co-host Stephen Colbert that the rally would remain apolitical.
"I would have liked to see it more political," said D.C. native Kerry Reichs. "I understand why they didn't, but I was a little disappointed that they weren't more active in encouraging the vote." Another rally-goer agreed, showing off a sign post-event that read: "Let's be rational about what we've accomplished here today. Go vote."
Reichs and her three-month-old son donned matching "Team Sanity" ensembles. "His is a onesie," she pointed out, adding when he began to cry: "That's what he has to say about Glenn Beck" - a sentiment widely shared by rally attendees.
"That’s one of the reasons I drove out from Indiana - to make sure more people showed up to this rally than Glenn Beck's," said John Bickle, who was dressed as a giant tea bag that read, "I'm a Tea Bagger; Keep Fear Alive."
Other crowd members appreciated the divorce from politics.
“We expect to hear – we don’t expect to see too much – a nice, positive crowd, people that aren’t on the fringes, left or right, folks who don’t have time for the nuts and bolts, because they have stuff to do,” said Denise Gaines, a 48-year-old human resources manager who had trekked from Rochester, N.Y., with her mother for the rally.
Lydia Cunningham, in from Baltimore, said she had run into a group visiting from South Africa, who were "fascinated by how peaceful this rally was."
“I think it’s just a good time,” Gaines said, standing near the front of a line that stretched more than 75 yards to a tent selling official rally merchandise. “There are people who don’t feel so polarizing. It’s not so black and white.”
“Plus, it’s getting the young folks involved,” said Beverly Gaines, 67, a retired executive at the American Diabetes Association. “[Stewart and Colbert] tell the truth.”
Susan Chase came all the way from Dallas and bought her tickets a month ago. “There aren't that many events that bring so many people together to make politics fun and funny. It's nice to be reminded that you don't need to be afraid of politics. We are all here because we want to have fun and also be politically active."
Priscilla Chism from Alexandria, Va. didn’t come as far but was less impressed. “We came because we are looking for more quality civil discourse” but “mostly what I heard coming from the stage was just drivel.”
Ben Terris and Lindsey Boerma contributed.