This weekend I paid for last weekend’s pleasures by working more than I usually do. I had papers to grade, deadlines to meet, and some fairly routine catching-up to do. So I parked my computer on a corner of my dining room table and hunkered down.
The good news is, I got most of my to-do list done. I submitted two abstracts and sent off an article for a special issue, thus officially surpassing any previous record for scholarly productivity during a semester that I might have held. I also marked a full set of annotated bibliographies and did the reading for my Monday class. Add to that the baking, cooking, and cleaning I did over the weekend and you’ll understand why I spent much of today just patting myself on the back.
Despite my productivity, though, what I really wanted to do was drive up to Washington for the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” sponsored by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Though I’m reasonably politically active (I vote, make occasional political contributions, and have been known to walk a precinct for a candidate), I’m not much of a joiner or the sort to attend a rally — in other words, I’m just the kind of person Jon Stewart said the rally was for.
But I was too busy, so I stayed home and instead caught some of the rally on TV as I went about my day. I think I would have enjoyed it if I could have gotten close — the musical acts were clearly chosen with my generation in mind (Yusuf, aka Cat Stevens, and the O’Jays seemed especially like late Boomer/Gen Ex choices, not to mention Mavis Staples and Jeff Tweedy). The last time I was a regular viewer of Saturday Night Live, Father Guido Sarducci (who gave a “benediction” at the rally) was still a regular cast member. And Stewart and Colbert were, it seemed to me, at the top of their respective games — the one reasonable and occasionally aghast, the other fear-mongering and over-the-top.
As I go to the polls, though, I’ll be wondering what the rally accomplished. The speakers were resolutely non-partisan, as advertised; though there were probably a few more examples of fear-mongering from the right, the left was also well-represented among the shouters the rally mocked. No one encouraged a vote for labor, for reproductive rights, or for increased investment in green jobs, any more than they did for tax cuts or stricter immigration policies. Is satirizing the political process a defeatist move that encourages us to stay home, or a reminder that even the most polarized politicians still need, somehow, to make policy? And, if the latter, can my vote even signal my desire for collaboration among my elected officials?
My daughter cast her first vote in the 2008 presidential election. She spent part of her gap hear working for various political organizations that year, cold-calling, walking precincts, and registering voters. But she and her cohort are somewhat disaffected now — while she still recognizes voting as both a right and a privilege, I can hardly blame her for wondering, two years later, what happened to the movement she was part of. She couldn’t make it to DC for the rally, but I saw her peer group well-represented in the crowds. If they were motivated to make the trip, to brave the crowds, will they be motivated to vote?
We live in interesting times, politically; some of our most trusted political figures are entertainers, “debate” means digging in on a position and shouting, and the surest way to become a member of the government is to argue for its irrelevance. Maybe we need something like a rally to restore sanity and/or fear to remind us that civil discourse is possible, and that politics is, actually, all of our business, in off years just as much as in on years. Maybe — let’s see what happens.