Local Features
8:54 am
Mon November 1, 2010

Colbert, Stewart on the National Mall

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – More than 100 Rhode Islanders made the trip to Washington D.C. this weekend to attend comedian Jon Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear." They joined an estimated 215,000 people on the National Mall.

After weeks of speculation about whether host Jon Stewart was trying to start a political movement, the event was most striking in its criticism of the media for portraying only the most extreme points of view.

Walking through the grand main hall of Union Station in Washington, D.C., Barrington resident Karri Parola says she knew as soon as she heard about the rally that she had to be there.

"I'm not the kind of person that comes to these things generally but as soon as they announced the rally I just wanted to go," she says. "You watch the media and ...the ridiculousness of it all just gets to you and so this just seemed like it was speaking to me."

Parola boarded a bus in Warwick a little after midnight Friday with her husband, two daughters, and several friends. They joined a group of strangers on two sold out buses that rode through the night to the nation's capital.

"We looked at different options but riding on a bus with a bunch of like minded people just seemed the way to do it to get the full experience," Parola says. "Though maybe not in terms of the amount of sleep we got."

The rules for the rally were simple. Stewart laid them out for his audience in an episode of his television show earlier this month

"No nudity, no throwing things and no totalitarian facism," Stewart said.

Parola's husband, Stephen Parola, came prepared with home-made signs. He showed them off during a quick stop for breakfast.

"Here's one Chris made," he said. "It says bad spellers of the world unite. Then we have make love not sweeping generalizations."

As Parola and his family headed for the National Mall, his 16-year-old daughter Rachel said she was surprised her parents made the trip to D.C. She does see it as a political statement.

"The other parties are doing really big campaigns of making things exaggerated so they're trying to say let's get back to the truth," she said.

By mid-morning thousands of rally-goers had already begun to fill the National Mall. It was difficult to move through the crowds without getting separated. The group settled somewhere in the middle of the tightly packed lawn, and watched for the start of the rally on a large television monitor.

The gathering was generally peaceful, and the only chanting of slogans came when one rally goer got stuck halfway up a tree. The crowd yelled some encouragement.

This was a high point for Chris Zingg, a businessman from Barrington.Stewart and his co-host Stephen Colbert traded barbs on stage and sang a song about how much they love America.

Stewart's message turned out to be more media critique than political call to action. He made a special point of chastising networks like National Public Radio, which barred their employees from attending. In the final moments, Stewart said his goal was to show that most Americans are basically reasonable people. So was it a day about comedy, or politics?

Steven Parola says he thought it was a good mix of entertainment and a serious message.