On the last weekend before the midterm elections, thousands of Americans will converge in Washington for a joint rally hosted by Comedy Central colleagues Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, a rally that the two insist is not meant to be political. But while the creators may intend it as an above-the-fray critique of a political environment gone mad, Democrats and their allies see it as a prime, if unusual, chance to give their side an extra jolt three days before voters head to the polls. "We see it as an opportunity to get people who haven't been involved, involved, and to get people who have been involved to do more," says Adam Ruben, political director for the liberal advocacy group MoveOn.org.
When The Daily Show's Stewart announced the "Rally to Restore Sanity," he claimed it wasn't for rabble-rousers or activists. Rather, his rally and Colbert's supposed rival "March to Keep Fear Alive" (the two events, not surprisingly, were merged) were aimed at Americans who don't normally go to rallies and are disgusted with the overheated political rhetoric often satirized on Stewart's and Colbert's shows. But if the crowd, which organizers hope will exceed 100,000, is anything like the viewership of The Daily Show or The Colbert Report, it is likely to be overwhelmingly young and left-leaning. A Pew Research Center study earlier this year found that about 60 percent of the shows' viewers self-identify as progressive.
Democratic and liberal activists plan to piggyback on the event to reach previously untapped but sympathetic voters and volunteers. The Democratic National Committee, for example, plans to distribute campaign materials at the rally and afterward host a "Phone Bank to Restore Sanity" at its D.C. headquarters. The liberal Huffington Post, while maintaining that the event is nonpolitical, also plans to bus ralliers from New York to Washington.
But activists also acknowledge that it will be tricky to avoid annoying those who have traveled across the country to attend a rally praising comity and working out political differences. "I've been thinking about how to work with this situation, because we don't want to hammer people too hard," says Jim McBride, who heads the D.C. chapter of Generation Obama, a young activist group. "We're not adding too many details about the Democratic agenda this year, we're just trying to make it a fun, subtle message." He is planning an after party at a nearby bar, where he will give out information about volunteering for Democratic get-out-the-vote initiatives. McBride says he noticed that many of his nonpolitical friends were talking about going to the rally and thought people like them could be convinced to become more involved in the election.
MoveOn.org's Ruben says that his organization will be giving out information at the rally about where to volunteer. MoveOn is also hosting "Restore Sanity Call Parties" across the country, where members will make calls on behalf of Democratic candidates after the event.
When the gathering was announced, some Democrats grumbled that it would draw volunteers away from their districts in the crucial days before the election. McBride agrees that it will be a "distraction" from his usual pre-election canvassing but sees it as a plus for Democrats. "It'll also give people like us a little bit of a boost, when we've been kind of depressed about the narrative that the Democrats are in retreat," he says.