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Playing 'Where's Waldo?,' and 'Peace Train,' at Jon Stewart's Rally
October 1, 2010  | By Mark Bianculli

There I stood, tightly packed in a sea of people, watching some musical number or other in the opening hour of the "Rally to Restore Sanity And/or Fear," when suddenly, from behind, a man dressed as Waldo (as in "Where's Waldo?") came crowd-surfing slowly over my head. But that, believe it or not, was not the unusual part...

The unusual part followed about sixty seconds later, when a unison rumbling of the crowd made me turn around once more. "Waldo's cell phone! Waldo's cell phone!" No sooner had I made out what they were saying than a blue cell phone was eagerly placed in my hand by a woman in the crowd.

"Pass it forward!"


I turned to my fiance, Jessica Kozzi, and laughed, amazed by the example of consideration (and cooperation), but then it occurred to me: perhaps I shouldn't be.

I was, after all, at the Rally to Restore Sanity, a vaguely but widely advertised gathering of reasonable and responsible people, lending their time to support the very kind of behavior I had just witnessed. Working together. Caring for other people. And acting... sane. Someone dropped his cell phone. And two thousand sane people slowly handed it back to him.

And yes, other, more important things were happening as well. On stage, for example, amidst all the shenanigans, Yusuf Islam (formerly known as Cat Stevens) took the crowd's collective breath away by singing his quiet ballad "Peace Train" to the very children he sang about a generation before.

It was interrupted by an ultimately funny musical stunt involving Ozzy Osbourne and the O-Jays -- but for that first minute, with the crowd completely transfixed, it was probably the most beautiful and moving moment of the entire event. And no, it was not at all lost on the crowd that this beautiful song of peace was coming from a Muslim.


Other important moments included:

-- Giving a sarcastic award to a seven-year-old girl for being braver than NPR and fellow news organizations who prohibited their employees from attending.

-- Some meaningful musical numbers from The Roots.

-- Some powerful video montages of media fear hype presented by Stephen Colbert, who co-hosted the "...And/Or Fear" portion of the joint rally.

-- And, of course, the moment I flew across the country to witness: Stewart's brief but serious address to the country.

Without having yet seen or read any of it since, I have only my memory of what he said. But what I took away as the most touching moment was the part at the end, when he thanked the crowd for attending.

The whole concept of this rally was the idea that rational people truly do outnumber the crazies and the racists and the arbitrarily angry. And by bringing out a calm, happy crowd estimated at up to a quarter of a million, Stewart and Colbert were able to prove their point.

I'm not extremely political, and have never attended so much as a pep rally before. I wasn't born in the turbulent Sixties, and I didn't grow up with a trusted man in broadcast news, such as Walter Cronkite or Edward Murrow. But I did want to stand up for this one.

And even in this cynical time, I do trust Jon Stewart.

I was proud to stand with the only group I do identify with: calm, rational, hard-working, decently educated, non-confrontational, unprejudiced, open-minded people who, thank goodness, truly do appear to be the majority in this country.

Stewart's gratitude for attendance felt so sincere because, in a rally whose motives were questionable, attendance turned out to be the entire point. Just being there, bringing attention to the fact that most of our country still has a calm head on its shoulders, was our jaded generation's way (and others) of collectively "taking it down a notch." And that was something I was proud to be a part of.

The rally ended, and people walked away with their children and their friends, taking pictures of funny posters and chatting about what brought them there. The mall was left clean. The trains were boarded quietly. And 250,000 people calmly went back to their busy lives.

Amazingly, on the way back to the metro station, I spotted Waldo once more in the crowd across the lawn. I wonder if he ever got his cell phone back.

I bet he did.

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