Will Sanity Be Restored and Fear Be Kept Alive?
"It's not meant to ridicule activism," Jon Stewart tells NPR, speaking of his planned rally on the National Mall. But you can see where someone might have gotten that impression. In the video of Stewart's announcement of the event, he rejects crazy right wing ideas and the idea that Bush allowed 9-11 to happen; he condemns right wing lunacy and the idea that Republicans oppose providing healthcare; he denounces lies and fascism plus daring to accuse war criminals of being war criminals. Stewart opposes activist messages and their messengers.
The problem seems to be, not so much accuracy as inappropriateness and volume. You should not shout anything or say "war criminal," but you especially should not shout "war criminal!"
Yet such a position cannot avoid the substance of the matter. Assuming that the United States, as is well documented, has been fighting illegal wars, imprisoning, torturing, and murdering, how "sane" can it be to reject any discussion of war criminals -- or, for that matter, to allow Tony Blair to come on your program and tell you the United Nations authorized the invasion of Iraq?
If our government is, uniquely among wealthy countries, denying people healthcare, shouldn't we talk about that? How "sane" can it be to always seek out the middle ground and believe whatever propositions lie halfway between advocacy for peace and justice and advocacy for glorified racist ignorance and corporatism?
Stewart rejects as insane the idea that Bush allowed 9-11 to happen, whether that idea is whispered or shouted. Yet Bush was warned of the possible attack and did nothing, after having refused to prioritize the matter and after having rejected opportunities to bring bin Laden to trial, which would not have pleased the Saudis.
Stewart claims that 70 to 80 percent of Americans reject all such facts as extremist, but polling doesn't back him up. However, most people do not participate in public demonstrations or engage in activism of any kind. There is indeed a majority out there willing to be praised for a lack of engagement. In his video, Stewart tells people that if they hesitate to come to a rally, they are exactly the sort of people he wants at his rally. The people he does not want are those who engage in real (as opposed to fake or comedy skit) activism.
The event's website reads:
"'I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!'
Who among us has not wanted to open their window and shout that at the top of their lungs?
Because we're looking for those people. We're looking for the people 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. Are you one of those people? Excellent. Then we’d like you to join us in Washington, DC on October 30 — a date of no significance whatsoever — at the Daily Show's 'Rally to Restore Sanity.'"
Get it? If you don't think the country or the world is in such dire straights that urgent and passionate advocacy is called for, if you reject the international scientific consensus on the dangers of environmental collapse, if you find nuclear energy and weaponry unconcerning, and if you believe the bankrupting of the nation to pay for illegal wars that slaughter human beings by the hundreds of thousands need not come to an immediate end, then you are "sane." You're not sane because you have the facts right. You're sane because you avoid facts that are too unpleasant.
"Ours is a rally for the 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 as the Busy Majority. If we had to sum up the political view of our participants in a single sentence… we couldn't. That's sort of the point."
Imagine how this sounds to people who, despite all the personal and financial hardships that are always involved, have engaged in activism for years on behalf of peace or justice rather than the promotion of a television program. Imagine how people feel who believe they have a moral duty to try to influence decisions that can mean life or death to millions of people. Imagine how active engaged Americans feel when they start seeing protesters with posters that mock themselves rather than actually protesting.
Now, it's not Jon Stewart's fault that the October 2nd One Nation Rally was a schizophrenic pep rally for Democrats / demand for the Democrats to completely change. But Stewart could have promoted the less subservient half of that event had he wanted to, rather than scheduling a rally less than a month later which some people would choose to go to instead.
Whether it's the tea partiers or the sane non-shouters (plus Stewart and his audience, both of whom always shout and scream, even when announcing a rally for non-shouters) public demonstrations have become something created by the corporate media, largely agenda free, lacking any strategy for social change, and devoted to the promotion of a particular celebrity or two. What good can come of this?
Well, the message could become one of huge opposition to Glenn Beck, even in the absence of clear support for something else. People could discover that they enjoy fake activism enough to try the real thing. Activist organizations could finally get it through their thick skulls that we cannot succeed without creating our own media, media large enough to announce and create rallies to restore such things as habeas corpus, the fourth amendment, or the U.N. Charter, rather than "sanity." People could choose to engage in less name-calling. Stewart could discover that his comedy doesn't work on the National Mall and get out of the fake activism business. His special guests could drop the fakeness and speak what needs to be spoken, just as Harry Belafonte did on October 2nd. Stephen Colbert could mock fearmongering warmongers in a way that opens someone's eyes, and Stewart could choose not to "balance" that performance with ridicule for peace activists.
Or everyone could learn that the coolest kind of activism is anti-activism. As far as I'm concerned that would keep fear alive. No joke.
David Swanson is the author of "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union"