Thousands Rally To Restore 'Sanity' ... Or Fear

Tens of thousands of people got together on the National Mall on Saturday with comedians Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart. NPR's Andrea Seabrook was there, and she tells host Guy Raz that the "Rally for Sanity and/or Fear" was mostly a good-natured riot — a laugh riot, that is.

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GUY RAZ, host:

Now, as we heard earlier, here in Washington today on the National Mall, tens of thousands got together with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for their Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, and Jon Stewart set the tone pretty early.

Mr. JON STEWART (Host, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"): I think you know that the success or failure of a rally is judged by only two criteria; the intellectual coherence of the content, and its correlation to the engagement -I'm just kidding. It's color and size. We all know it's color and size.

RAZ: NPR's Andrea Seabrook is just back from the Mall.

Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA SEABROOK: Hi.

RAZ: So what did you see down there?

SEABROOK: Well, throngs of people. There were people packed into the Mall from about the Capitol all the way back to the Washington Monument.

RAZ: Wow.

SEABROOK: So that's like, you know...

RAZ: Packed in.

SEABROOK: Yeah. That's like, 16 blocks' worth of people.

RAZ: That's amazing.

SEABROOK: It looked really different than other rallies, in part because the signs were so funny.

RAZ: Yeah.

SEABROOK: I mean, they had nothing to do with politics, just like the rally purported to be.

RAZ: Yeah.

SEABROOK: So you saw signs like: We Have Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself - and Spiders.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: And: The Person Behind Me Can't See. And one that I really liked was: Free Lohan - you know, like Lindsay Lohan, instead of Free Mumia Abu-Jamal.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: It was just really - it was really - people really got into this satire part of this rally.

RAZ: And they encouraged them to bring signs, I mean, Stewart and Colbert.

SEABROOK: They did.

RAZ: Yeah. One of the big questions about the rally beforehand was what this was all about. Was it a political rally, was this comedy? What did people say, or why did they say they were there?

SEABROOK: People really just said they were there to show that there are people who are reasonable, and who don't have a lot of time to go around screaming about politics, but who think people should do the right thing. It was very odd.

You know, several people sort of smirked and said, I'm an extreme moderate - you know, things like that. They just really wanted there to be some civil discourse.

RAZ: Yeah. Back in August, Andrea, you covered the Glenn Beck rally.

SEABROOK: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: This seemed like a kind of obvious foil...

SEABROOK: Yes.

RAZ: ...for that one.

SEABROOK: Yeah. It was pretty obvious that it was some kind of answer to that. And actually, I found it more similar, in a way. I mean, think about it. Some of the biggest political movement - in terms of rallies this year have been organized by non-politician...

RAZ: Yeah.

SEABROOK: ...infotainers.

RAZ: Incredible.

SEABROOK: And they were very much alike. People at both the Glenn Beck rally and this rally were very nice, calm, happy. I mean, the Glenn Beck rally was more like a church picnic.

RAZ: Yeah.

SEABROOK: And this was sort of like, you know, a hipster party. But it was the same kind of idea - there weren't chanting, you know, screaming people.

RAZ: Yeah. And I know official numbers aren't in, but what's your best estimate about the size, especially compared with the Glenn Beck rally?

SEABROOK: Well, the Glenn Beck rally was very large. But it did seem, in my estimation, like the Jon Stewart rally was a bit larger - though to be sure, they were both very large Washington protests.

RAZ: Hmm. At the end of the rally, Jon Stewart actually got a little bit serious. Let's just hear a bit of that.

Mr. STEWART: But we live now in hard times, not end times.

(Soundbite of applause)

RAZ: And he went on to sort of give this almost political speech. It seemed pretty different from the tone of the rest of it.

SEABROOK: It really did. I mean, I think that was the one place where he came off suddenly as being kind of earnest and strident. And I think that was meant to give people sort of something to latch onto. But I think he, you know, he came close to going over the edge there, in terms of being apolitical. At the same time, he mostly talked about the media more than anything.

RAZ: Yeah.

SEABROOK: The stand that he takes - and I've seen him say this before - is not left or right. It's more - the media should be doing something other than magnifying angry conflict.

And I was saying before that there weren't people chanting, but I actually did hear one chant. It was: Three-word phrase. Three-word phrase.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: That's NPR's Andrea Seabrook. She's just back from the Jon Stewart-Stephen Colbert Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, here on the Mall in Washington, D.C.

Andrea, thank you so much.

SEABROOK: Thanks, Guy.

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