I’m going to Jon Stewart’s big “Rally to Restore Sanity” this Saturday. Why? Well, because I think it will be fun to be in a large group of people who have similar views to mine and are also probably around my age. I like big crowds. Also, some people may dress up and wave humorous signs around, and that’s always fun. Maybe I’ll be on TV! I’m not treating it as a serious political rally, as some critics of Stewart insist on doing. It’ll be fun, I’m taking a free bus ride from New York to DC and back again, and I’ll probably end up getting drunk.
The only thing that worries me is that this rally might very well be the largest lefty political event of the midterm election season—it’s already the most talked-about—and that fits into a disturbing trend: Protests are no longer about anything.
The Civil Rights marchers were protesting the Jim Crow laws and other forms of institutional racism. The Vietnam War protestors wanted US troops to leave Vietnam (I’m leaving out all the protestors who wanted to ascend to a higher level of consciousness through rigorous use of chemicals, they weren’t really political protestors). Today’s big protest movement is the Tea Party and they want—what? Lower taxes? A balanced budget? Prayer in schools? I’ve been reading about them for at least a year, and yet besides the repeal of the Affordable Health Care Act, I couldn’t tell you what these people actually want.
Glenn Beck’s big rally back in August—billed as non-political but pretty clearly linked to the Tea Party—was defined by Beck like so:
This is not a political event. This is to send the message to us and our children and the rest of America: There is a revival going on of values and principles. There is a revival of honor and integrity, and we’re going to demand it of ourselves and our politicians. We are not going to put up with it anymore, in our own lives or in the lives of politicians or our banks and our businesses.
What the fuck does that even mean? In a related question, what the fuck does Stewart’s website mean when it says,
Ours is a rally for the people who’ve been too busy to go to rallies, who actually have lives and families and jobs (or are looking for jobs) — not so much the Silent Majority as the Busy Majority. If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence… we couldn’t. That’s sort of the point.
I’m pretty sure I could sum up the political view of the participants in a phrase: left-of-center to far left loony. There aren’t going to be a whole lot of Republicans there, just as there weren’t many Democrats at Beck’s rally. (I’m pretty sure the only Democrats in attendance there were making spiteful documentaries about how ignorant and intellectually inconsistent the Tea Partiers were.) Just as there won’t be any Republicans at the Rally, neither will there be any people who are too busy to go to rallies—they’re going to be too busy. Like Beck’s event, this will be a gathering of people who have mostly similar views on politics and on life but few clearly definable shared goals.
This is a problem because without some clear goals, a protest isn’t going to do much more than make the protestors feel good about themselves for waving signs. A protest or a petition can make politicians aware that a large group of people care passionately about one issue, and that can have consequences. The act of protesting is a cornerstone of yada yada yada. But when a bunch of people gather to say, “We need to restore honor and pride to America!” or “We need to have a civil environment for political discussion!” it doesn’t inform politicians that we feel a certain way about an issue. It just informs politicians that we like to yell and wave signs around.
Anyway, if anyone is going to the Rally, I’ll see you there. I’ll be the guy waving a sign around.