What the Rally for Sanity Meant for Me

The weekend before last my family went to the Rally to Restore Sanity in Washington DC. We went for a few reasons: because we hadn’t been to DC in a while, because a lot of our friends would be in town, because it was a cheap trip thanks to points/miles. It did end up being a fun trip, even if the rally was too crowded to be safe for the baby and we saw less of the stage presentation than we would have seen on TV. Many friends were in town, everyone was in a good mood, and there were lots of things to see and do.

Since the rally and the election, several people have asked me what the rally was about. Some of these people asked out of complete ignorance, others in a more confrontational way. I realized that I didn’t have a great answer for what the rally was about. For some it was a cult of personality thing. For others it was an opportunity to hang out with fellow members of the internet culture. As a political action, it’s hard to point to much success though.

The rally didn’t really work to unify people. It was kind of an un-political rally. Like the NoSQL database movement, defined by what it is not rather than what it is. The rally was not about confrontational politics, sound bytes, 24-hour news cycles, and a divisive approach to our nation’s challenges. It was not about party politics, or third-party politics, or any specific political agenda. To the extent there as an agenda, it was a media agenda. But that’s just Jon Stewart’s agenda, because he is a media personality criticizing media behavior. Based on the number of Reddit signs I saw, most people at the rally have already opted out of the mainstream media.

The question is what they can opt into. Stewart may have organized the rally, but he is ill equipped to lead a movement. And there were a lot of people at the rally, myself included, who might be ready to join a movement. The problem is that movements are about branding, and branding is about media, and if your goal is to opt out of the current media structures, how do you built a movement with a voice? If your goal is to avoid extremism, how do you get people enthused enough to accomplish anything? And what would the movement be trying to do anyway?

As I thought more about this, I think the desire of most people at the rally is for more fact-based, moderate, and cooperative politics. But what policies or actions will actually bring that about? The best I’ve been able to come up with is to work to end gerrymandering and to improve election structures. Gerrymandering leads to “safe” districts, which are then decided by primary voters, who favor uncompromisingly partisan candidates. The simplistic “first past the post” voting schemes used for congressional and state legislative elections put a heavy emphasis on party politics and encourage gerrymandering. People who study elections have lots of superior systems for both districting and voting, but only a handful of elections in the United States use them.

The Rally for Sanity demonstrates that there is a large group of people interested in seeing more moderate and constructive politics. I think the best way to make that happen is with election reform. But where does that lead? The most compelling election reform group I find is FairVote.org, but I don’t feel like they have a lot of momentum. Election reform is often a fairly technical idea. Will many of my fellow rally-goers be interested?

What activity to you see coming out of this rally, or coming out of the silent majority of frustrated moderate American voters? How are you supporting improved political discourse?

1 Comment »

  1. Marc says:

    I think the best we can hope for as an immediate result is that people who want this sort of change will realize there are many people who agree with them. And that at least one of those people is creative enough to figure out how to energize a movement within the constraints the movement wants. Yeah, it’s a tall order, but the good news is that only one person needs to answer your hard questions. The rest of us can then join up.