I was in Washington, DC, this weekend for the amazing and inspiring Online News Association conference, and I couldn't resist putting on my reporter hat and dropping by the "Rally to Restore Sanity." I was there from about 9 until 10:30 a.m. or so, before the rally actually started. There were already thousands of people hanging out in front of the Capitol building, and more streaming in the whole time.
Honestly, I didn't know much about this rally before I showed up, other than the fact that some news organizations had been telling employees they couldn't go, and other news organizations had been making fun of them.
I wasn't even planning to go, but I got up early this morning to walk around DC, and ended up running into a bus-load of people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at 7 a.m. Turns out they were public radio listeners from Albany, NY who had just rolled into town. Apparently, bus tickets were part of the WAMC pledge drive — ironic, given that public radio staffers weren't allowed to attend the rally.
Then as I made my way toward the Metro station to head back to the conference, I ran into hordes of people, some of them in costumes, some of them carrying clever, hand-lettered signs. I decided to skip a couple of the morning conference sessions to take pictures and interview some of the participants.
I'm so glad I did. Political rallies, as a rule, are not funny, but this one was. Most of the people I saw were poking fun, not at conservatives or liberals, but at extremism in general. I saw a lot of signs with messages like "The end is not near," and "Chill out dammit."
It didn't take long to find some Vermonters; I passed Tommy and Leslie Walz, a retired couple from Barre, holding "Vermonter for Sanity" signs. They told me they flew up on their own, though they had heard of groups taking buses. Tommy said they came to the rally because "we believe in sanity." Also, they thought it would be fun.
I also ran into Susan and Parker Richards (pictured), a mother-son duo who drove up from Jericho. Susan said this was the first rally she'd been to since her student days at Boston University. The last rally she attended was in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1969. "It was for peace, love and understanding," she recalled. "I think we were playing Beatles' songs."
Her son Parker, 14, is volunteering for the Democrats this election. He described both of their views as "center-left," but said he was attracted to this rally because it seemed "reasonable and respectful" of all views. His mom agreed. She said she likes the idea that two opposing sides can find common ground, and get along.
"Hopefully I could find something in common even with Sarah Palin," she said. Then paused, adding, "maybe."
I snapped a bunch of photos of creative signs, which I posted to Twitpic. I would have taken more, but my iPhone was running out of juice. Leslie Walz was kind enough to take a photo of me there, too. She managed to capture one of my favorite signs of the day in the background, which reads, "What do we want? Moderation. When do we want it? In a reasonable time frame."
Yes, there are passionate moderates. Who knew?
***update at 6:30 p.m., by assistant online editor Tyler Machado***
I headed down to the National Mall later in the day, when the rally was actually going on, just in time to (kinda) see Cat Stevens and Ozzy Osbourne face off. "Peace Train vs. "Crazy Train"? Um, yes. Anyway, here's a photo I took with my iPhone in an attempt to show how many people were there -- multiply this view by two in either direction, and that's kinda what it looked like.
I haven't the slightest idea how to estimate how many people were in the crowd, so I'll leave that job to the National Park Service. It was definitely more than a handful, though.