U.S. towns organize local Stewart, Colbert rallies

Staff reports

Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show,” wants to restore sanity to politics in America. Meanwhile, his nemesis, faux conservative Stephen Colbert of “The Colbert Report,” wants to keep fear alive.

Both will descend on Washington, D.C., Saturday, Oct. 30, to hold rallies.

Stewart will helm the “Rally to Restore Sanity,” while Colbert will captain the “March to Keep Fear Alive.” It’s comedy, sure, but it’s also political theater with a very real and relevant message.

Stewart has put out a call to “reasonableness,” asking those to join the rally who “think shouting is annoying, counterproductive and terrible for your throat; who feel that the loudest voices shouldn’t be the only ones that get heard; and who believe that the only time it’s appropriate to draw a Hitler mustache on someone is when that person is actually Hitler. Or Charlie Chaplin in certain roles.”

Folks in Newburyport, Mass., are getting in on the action too. They are holding their own satellite rally in downtown Newburyport. Similar satellite rallies are springing up all over the world. A full list of events can be found at

“This might be a really good way to just bring everyone out and just calm things down enough and maybe get back to discussing issues,” says Nancy Earls of Newburyport.

Over the last few months, a group of friends in the Greater Newburyport area became increasingly concerned about the tone of the current political discourse, Earls says. They worried that it was full of venom and that voters would disengage because of all the anger, hyperbole and, sometimes, outright hate directed toward those who hold different views.

They agree with Stewart that some degree of sanity and civility does need to be restored in the American political arena.

Restoring reasonableness to America

Night after night, Stewart effectively skewers the descent of much of our political debate into fear-mongering and exaggeration on his popular fake news show, which also happens to be a very real source of news for many folks, younger people in particular.

Not to be outdone, Colbert immediately countered Stewart’s rally announcement with his own plans to keep fear alive… because you never know what might be lurking around the corner, just waiting to take our freedom away.

It’s funny, but it’s also timely. Remember the screaming about death panels at town hall meetings? The birther movement? The caustic tone of much of the political discourse on the airwaves? The feeling that one can’t disagree, but also be disagreeable?

Remember Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally?

Well, Stewart loves highlighting the more comedic aspects of Beck’s television personality, hence the Rally to Restore Sanity was born. The rally is clearly a call to action that resonates with many people, both young and old.

Stewart has also presented his rally as “a rally for 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 but the Busy Majority.”

Underlying Stewart’s message is the hope that the vast majority of Americans are reasonable people and won’t let fear turn the political debate into simple screaming.

Both the D.C. rally and Newburyport’s local event are nonpartisan, though most would agree Stewart’s audience tends to be more liberal. Earls says all are welcome and local organizers really want the event to be inclusive and not political. The ongoing local discussion about the tone of the political debate was made up of Republicans, Democrats and independents, she says.

Tone it down

Many commentators and historians have noted the strident and downright angry tone of a lot of the political discussion these days. Part of that is the fact that people are truly nervous, scared and angry. The country is still grappling with the effects of the Great Recession. Unemployment is high. People have lost their homes and many worry about being able to achieve the American Dream.

Divisive issues cause a lot of screaming these days, both literally and metaphorically.

Stewart and Colbert have never steered away from taking on the tough issues captivating the country, and they do so with a healthy dose of humor.

Earls says that, these days, we desperately need a good laugh. “I think we need a little levity,” she says. “I think we need to calm down and relax and… actually talk.”

The Nov. 2 election is rapidly approaching. Earls says that if voters walk away, saddened by the current tone, that would be a shame, especially after the presidential election saw such high turnout from young and new voters.

“I would hate to think that the people who are going to cast their ballots are the ones who scream the loudest. We really need moderate voices. We really need a little civility,” Earls said.

Be nice. Be reasonable. Agree to disagree. These are all messages the Rally to Restore Sanity pushes. Stewart often displays these traits on his show. He’ll have these in-depth and contentious interviews with leading figures he might vehemently disagree with politically, but the tone remains civil. It even manages to be really funny most of the time.

Earls notes the satellite rallies springing up all over the world. “It’s really turning [into] almost a movement, a movement of sanity,” she chuckles. “Which is kind of funny.”

Satellite rally in Newburyport, Mass.

Sometimes one just gets sick of all the shouting.

A group of Greater Newburyport folks couldn’t agree more, and they want to be part of the Washington event, too. They’ve pulled together a local event and are inviting residents from Greater Newburyport, Merrimack Valley and the North Shore to join them.

Local organizers see this as a chance to join Stewart in promoting civility.

The Newburyport event will begin at Brown Square at 10:30 a.m. There will be entertainment by musicians and stand-up comedians, refreshments and sign-making materials on hand. Stewart is encouraging participants to make “sane signs.” Many funny examples are viewable on the national rally’s website and viewers can even vote on whether a sign is sane or not sane.

Then the crowd will move into City Hall from noon to 3 p.m., where they will watch a live stream provided by Comedy Central of the rally in D.C.

Having a satellite rally for all those people who are too busy to actually make it Washington, D.C., seemed to make sense to local Newburyport organizers.

Earls, who is married to Newburyport City Councilor Greg Earls, says she’s been very discouraged to hear from friends who say they are just not going to vote this year because they’re pretty much disgusted with politics.

“It feels in that respect that we are kind of moving backwards from a group of voters who were very engaged,” she said. “In this particular election cycle, they are feeling very disenfranchised.”

The goal is to have fun, but also raise awareness about the need for civility. Civil discourse, after all, is one of those bedrock principles that help a democracy thrive.

“It has been a long time since we’ve had any fun at a political event,” fellow organizer and Amesbury resident Tom MacLachlan said in a press release. “I, for one, am looking forward to it. We hope lots of community members will join us to support the effort to restore sanity to our national politics.”

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-- North Shore Sunday/ Wicked Local North of Boston