On October 30, 2010, John Stewart held what he called the “Rally to Restore Sanity” on the national mall. His idea was simple: we need an opportunity for real Americans to gather and show their frustrations, without resorting to the same crazy tactics as so many right- or left-wing extremists. After announcing the rally on his show, crowds and other rallies popped up all across the nation. In cities all over the United States, crowds of hundreds got together to discuss, calmly and sanely, the political issues that are plaguing us all right now, and what we believe we can do about it. And how did news about all of these rallies spread? Facebook.
If there was ever any doubt regarding the democratic potential of online social networking sites, this should take care of it. A simple search for “Rally to Restore Sanity” from your Facebook homepage produces page after page of results for rallies in cities in every state. The original Facebook page, started by Daily Show staffers, includes a link asking others to organize rallies in their cities nationwide, and it worked like a charm. In the few weeks leading up the actually rally on October 30, over 230,000 people made the trip to the capital, and the smaller local rallies averaged approximately 3,000 attendees each.
But what made Stewart’s rally so appealing to the masses? It’s simple; he took everything that was going through the average American’s mind, and gave us a place to express it. They chose a target audience, and they directed their campaign directly at them and the places they frequent. Besides using online tools to their fullest potential, Stewart and his team took a stab at the tactics of the mainstream media and turned it on itself. In his speech at the closing of the rally, Stewart places a lot of blame for the hysteria spreading across the nation on the mainstream and the “24 hour news cycle” that we can’t seem to escape. Listen to his speech here:
It seemed as though the mass media practically proved Stewart’s point for him. There was coverage of the event on every major television station as well as a plethora of online news sites. They had a very difficult time trying to figure out the actual reason behind the rally, and very few of them realized that really, we were rallying against them just as much as we were the government. Rally attendees came bearing signs with various “sane” messages, ranging from “I hate spiders” to my personal favorite, “I disagree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler.” For the other awesomely “sane” signs, look here: http://www.rallytorestoresanity.com/photos/. Rally goers all over the nation were able to take the ridiculous, fear-mongering taglines and tactics used so often by the mainstream media, and make a mockery of them on their own networks. That was exactly what John Stewart had in mind.