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Oct 30, 2010 5:12 PM by Andrea Babin

In Election's Shadow, Rally Draws Laughs, Activism

WASHINGTON (AP) - In the shadow of the Capitol and the election,
comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert entertained a huge throng
Saturday at a "sanity" rally poking fun at the nation's
ill-tempered politics, fear-mongers and doomsayers.
"We live now in hard times," Stewart said after all the
shtick. "Not end times."
Part comedy show, part pep talk, the rally drew together tens of
thousands stretched across an expanse of the National Mall, a
festive congregation of the goofy and the politically disenchanted.
People carried signs merrily protesting the existence of protest
signs. Some dressed like bananas, wizards, Martians and Uncle Sam.
Stewart, a satirist who makes his living skewering the famous,
came to play nice. He decried the "extensive effort it takes to
hate" and declared "we can have animus and not be enemies."
Screens showed a variety of pundits and politicians from the
left and right, engaged in divisive rhetoric. Prominently shown:
Glenn Beck, whose conservative Restoring Honor rally in Washington
in August was part of the motivation for the Stewart and Colbert
event, called the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. It appeared
to rival Beck's rally in attendance.
Colbert, who poses as an ultraconservative on his show, played
the personification of fear at the rally. He arrived on stage in a
capsule like a rescued Chilean miner, from a supposed underground
bunker. He pretended to distrust all Muslims until one of his
heroes, basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who is Muslim, came
on the stage.
"Maybe I need to be more discerning," Colbert mused. He told
Stewart: "Your reasonableness is poisoning my fear."
As part of the comedic routine, Stewart and his associates asked
some in the audience to identify themselves by category, eliciting
answers such as "half-Mexican, half-white," "American woman
single" and "Asian-American from Taiwan."
"It's a perfect demographic sampling of the American people,"
Stewart cracked to a crowd filled with mostly younger whites. "As
you know, if you have too many white people at a rally, your cause
is racist. If you have too many people of color, then you must be
asking for something - special rights, like eating at restaurants
or piggy back rides."
With critical congressional elections looming Tuesday, Stewart
and Colbert refrained from taking political sides on stage, even as
many in the crowd wore T-shirts that read "Stewart-Colbert 2012"
and left-leaning advocacy groups set up shop on the periphery,
hoping to draw people to their causes of gay rights, marijuana
legalization, abortion rights and more.
Organizing for America, Obama's political operation based at
Democratic National Committee headquarters, was mounting a "Phone
Bank for Sanity" to urge people to vote Tuesday.
Stewart sang along as Jeff Tweedy sang that America "is the
greatest, strongest country in the world. There is no one more
American than we."
Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow also performed, singing if "I can't
change the world to make it better, the least I can do is care."
Ozzy Osbourne and Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens,
engaged in something of a battle of the bands as the heavy-metal
rocker barged in on the folkie's hit, "Peace Train," in a mock
clash of music and cultures.
The idea was to provide a counterweight to all the shouting and
flying insults of these polarized times. But there were political
undertones, too, pushing back against conservatives ahead of
Tuesday's election.
Slogans urged people to "relax." But also: "Righties, don't
stomp on my head," a reference to a Republican rally in Kentucky
at which a liberal activist was pulled to the ground and stepped
on. And, "I wouldn't care if the president was Muslim."
Shannon Escobar, 31, of Bangor, Pa., came with a group of 400
people on buses chartered in New York. A supporter of President
Barack Obama in 2008, she said she's tired of nasty rhetoric from
both sides and disenchanted with lack of progress in Washington.
"I want to see real change - not Obama change," she said. "We
need a clean slate and start over with people really working
A regular viewer of Stewart's "The Daily Show," she said she
had a dream that he ran for political office, but got "corrupt and
"I need him to stay pure," she said, deadpan.
Stewart is popular with Democrats and independents, a Pew
Research Center poll found. The stage featured entertainers
associated with Democratic causes or Obama's 2008 campaign, but no
political sermons from them.
Stewart said the day was about toning down anger, partisan
division and shouting.
"If we amplify everything," he said, "we hear nothing."
Comedy Central's park permit anticipated a crowd estimated in
advance at 60,000.


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