Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What now: Rally to restore sanity - pictures and thoughts

Tomorrow... today.  WE HAVE TO VOTE!
Vote with your feet, your time and, of course,
your Ballot.
See more pictures and signs from our time there

Natalya and I just returned from the Rally to Restore Sanity, and on our way there a question was raised in an article in the NY Times and then repeatedly by other news organizations, gaining steam as these things do when the media amplifies itself. 
"Why are you going, and what do you expect to happen?"
The question surprised me because it had not crossed my mind: the reason(s) seemed obvious.  Beforehand,  no one asked me why I was going.   But, once we began traveling, the question kept coming up, and this set me to the task of trying to articulate, at least to myself, why I was there.

I went because I wanted to vote with my feet.  I knew that if many of us went to the Rally -- all stripes and spots -- it would make an impression.  So, what did we say or learn?
  • That civility is important; it might save us.
  • Showing up matters, in whatever way possible (in costume, via internet, in other satellite locations).  It makes the wacky voices seem less important. It puts people on notice.
  • Humor helps.  It only hurts when we don't laugh, and much of life and politics has not felt funny enough to me recently.  Outrage and frustration were getting the best of my normally wry optimism.
  • We are not alone.  There is a community and I am not alone with my concern (alarm?) and sense of loss, but what to do? I wanted, nay needed, ideas. I needed to explore my confusion with others that felt as I did and hopefully build community, a plan, a great slogan, and  hope. 
Certain formative experiences prior to, during, and following the Rally helped me clarify why attending was important to me and galvanized me to begin framing that answer that the media kept putting out there. 

The first experience was when "we" -- my daughter, and two friends that are college students at Tufts, and I finally arrived at the Mall after having battled our way via Metro.  We saw so many people that had been forced to give up and simply couldn't get there. There were too many people for the trains and the roads.  Throngs of people greater than any I had seen at other rallies.  Getting to the Mall in Washington DC required physical strength and endurance, which many could not muster so they had to settle for sending their best wishes.  It also required a financial commitment especially for those coming from outside the Washington area, which meant that many simply could not attend. Fortunately, there are those -- to whom I offer my blessing -- that made it possible for others to share the experience via the "inter-tubes",  satellite events, and a bazillion websites.

The second and third moments came to me and with the crowd.  It was a roiling, moving, ever increasing, crowd.  Tightly packed, disorganized, straining, and almost scary.  We had to be careful: there were dogs, little kids, wheelchairs, old folks. I was aware of a mounting frustration and the fact that my feet were barely on the pavement. My daughter Natalya and I were holding hands, but sometimes we were separated by cross-currents of people who almost broke our outstretched arms and handhold.  People were uncertain and trying to find their place.  There was grumbling, pushing and rising tension-- a sense of scarcity.  Then something started; A woman's voice was close by saying, "It's OK", "Be kind", "Give way".  It was like a murmur from your mother.  I joined in, quietly offering encouragement and support for my daughter and for others around us who looked nervous and were caught in the eddies.  "We are OK", "We are here", "Maybe this is the event, a huge Conga line emerging, and it's OK". Then a man somewhere behind wryly commented, "OK, we relax for wheelchairs, but not Segways!", which was followed by laughter.  It caught on and other voices spoke kindly reminding us of our better selves.  We looked up at each other instead of our feet and we smiled.  In this way we were drawn away from the edge of impatience, bad behavior and whining.

And then it became clear that my daughter and I would not be among those who would be close enough to actually see or hear what was happening on the stage at the Mall.  We are crowd sissies.  Yes, this was disappointing and relieving.   Natalya and I headed out toward the edge of the crowd where there was more space, and where it was a circus, a picnic, a party, a place to meet.  By 1:30 pm a lot of us along the margins and edges recognized this reality and settled into the fact that our version of the event was going to be between us and that whatever was happening on stage we could watch later.  It was a great comfort to know that the event would be well documented and easy to find on the Internet and that simultaneously most of my friends were watching it from wherever they were.  Now we weren't trying to get anywhere; we had arrived!  We introduced ourselves to each other and laughed at signs, helped hold signs, wrote more signs, took pictures, and spoke of many things.  As Ariana Huffington rightly pointed out in an interview on Sunday,

"It was just amazing, the fact that they were there, even though they had flown from other parts of the country.  Because they wanted to have that sense of community and connection. And that is what you observed if you walked around the rally. It wasn't just what was happening on stage, it was what was happening among people there."  

I  decided that being there was still important: I waved to the helicoptors overhead and occupied my bit of landscape for the body count.

The other epiphanal event was later that afternoon when I introduced myself to an Arabic news reporter who was willing to talk to me after he finished filming.  I asked him, "How will you tell this story?" my arm sweeps out towards the crowd, I wondered, "What does your audience want to know and what will surprise them?" He said, "A comedian calls and people come! There are people here from all over the US and so many.  There are more here than even for the President who was recently in Chicago.  It is amazing!    Why do you all come?  What has he done? He has never run anything-- it is easy to make fun of politicians"  He was polite and these were sensible questions.

I nodded agreeably, admitting that we had traveled all the way from northern Vermont. He gawked and asked, "Why?"
It was then, as I stretched myself to respectfully and clearly answer his question, while desiring not to appear like a kook, that the windshield cleared.  I've spent years in the Middle-East, Afghanistan, and with Arabic, Farsi and Pashtun speakers. They would get it, and I wanted to tell them directly why this odd sight was, in fact, wonderful and, I hoped, important.

"So now what?"asks a sign.

Well..... Vote!  You have to vote!
Then....what to do is at least this much, nothing fancy or new,  just a good place to start.
Keep voting everyday with your money and your attention.
Lets give our attention to things that deserve it and stop being distracted by "squirrels". We do not have time for this. 
Gossip is harmful.
Name calling is mean, and it never makes anyone more likely listen
Facts are important.
In fact, facts are findable, and on this lets not be fooled or fooled with. Its not playing politics, advocacy, campaigning or marketing.  It is lying.

Be encouraging,
To laugh at your (my) self, and
To be quiet and listen.
And, perhaps to make and wear more signs -- maybe this should become a habit.  We can explore the creativity and fun of signs, buttons, and T-shirts.  Who knows some of what comes may turn out the be a rallying cry, a marching song, a lightening bolt straight to the heart, the funny bone, and the truth. We could use something like that.

Meanwhile, as in the manner of Friends (Quakers), truth emerges from many voices well heard.  Go online and read more signs.  They are on Facebook, Huffington Post, everywhere and taken together all of them are a message and the truth. Yep, even the one about scrabble; and the one that says, "Merge left"; and the one that says, "Obama kills kittens"; and the one that suggests, "Hey, what if we all chipped in? We could make sure there is enough medicine, schools, and places to play." 

Vote....please Vote...encourage great acts of civil obedience and revolution by voting.
Make sure that the narrative that the media has been chanting incessently becomes part of a new storyline that reads, "OH MY! Big News! We all thought there would be a blood bath, but now, it seems sanity prevailed."

 Photos by Sharon and Natalya McDonnell

What do  you think.... did the rally change anything?


Gib Parrish said...


Wonderful pictures and thoughtful comments about the rally and voting. I particularly enjoyed the description of your experience at the rally once you realized that you weren't going to be able to see or hear what was going on at the stage: mingling, talking, and laughing with the people.

Sally Ferguson said...

From: Sally Ferguson

Date: Tue, 2 Nov 2010


Also went to Rally with Jim, his cousin and my 88 yr old mother!
Great! Got there at 11 AM and probably got last jumbotron site. Near Freer Gallery.
Agree with you: wanted to "vote" with my feet, be part of the positive. Enjoyed your poster sign photos. My 2 fav: "We the people... not we the corporations" and "I masturbate and I vote."

Just got back from voting. NPR began their hourly segment with "this day in hx Dewey defeated Truman ran in paper." I found that funny and hopeful. And if it is a R sweep, it will be a D sweep in 2 yrs later when their non-ideas and only complaining platform does not help us.

be well, Sally

janedflink@gmail.com said...

Sharon, a chorus of hurrahs for you and Natalya, putting your positions on the pavement of the Mall, feet on the ground in every meaning of the phrase..  All of us who laud the rally (maybe including those like you who were there) took to it as the ultimate Anti-Hatefulness.  Nobody was lynching anybody, metaphorically or otherwise.  Because the rally was saying,, "Enough already" of clawing at each other like lions and tigers and bears, and because it answered nasty not with nice, but with laughter. Will the rally make a difference?  It already has made a difference by cutting through the discourse with a bright-colored crayon that makes people pause and say, huh?  And that, once done, means they have to answer themselves.  To make the kind of difference we hope for, there must be more rallies.  Once is not enough, I think.  The rally reminded me of the Olympic hockey teams when grandson Jack was 2, and we sat up late in the media room, four adults and one little boy, and got rowdy, teaching Jack to yell "Yay! Yay! USA!"  We need more of that.  Thank you for going -- thank you for telling us about it!  It's people like you who were there that keep the message alive by coming home to carry your thoughts to every middlesex, village and farm.

Love from Jane  

Unknown said...


what a perfect comment:
Will the rally make a difference?

It already has made a difference by cutting through the discourse with a bright-colored crayon that makes people pause and say, huh? And that, once done, means they have to answer themselves.

That feels just right-- esp the crayon.


Meg Harper said...

This week, someone said to me that he didn't think rallies made a difference, and I've been musing on the topic. Yesterday 25,000 university students from Ireland demonstrated in Dublin. Will it help? does it matter? This morning, Rick and I had a talk, and his sane replies to my questions were a double to your beautiful words and images. This matters, of course. The world is made from such. Silence is the canvas, stories are the paint (or crayons), and society is the work of art created.