Lindsay is forced to think, however briefly, about what Optimus Prime would do.
I went to my first big political rally in 2005, about a month after I moved to DC. Operation: Ceasefire was a massive anti-war demonstration, complete with speakers, a march on the Capitol, and an outdoor evening concert. I was living in the state of perpetual dazzlement that envelops you when you’re 18 and you’ve just moved to a new city and you keep going to events that make you think your age-appropriate idealism can so easily be channeled into a million productive, endlessly exciting things. The rally was a sensory overload: cheering, chanting and signs with puns that seized upon the fact that the two most prominent leaders of the country were named Dick and Bush. Contrasting with all the hubbub, I remember seeing a man holding a feeble, Sharpie-scrawled sign that said simply, exhaustedly, “Fuck Everything.”
In the five years since, the message of that man’s sad little sign has stayed with me. My dazzlement has worn off, as dazzlement tends to, and “Fuck Everything” has become mental shorthand for something I feel so often: overwhelmed at how many things are broken in the world and at a complete loss as to how to fix them. “I have become a lot less political since moving to DC,” I found myself saying to my hairdresser a few weeks ago — something I used to say with sad conviction when I found it first happening, but it’s now dried up into a benign piece of smalltalk.
I’ve felt a huge change, though, since Mia and I started our book club, and then this blog. I feel empowered being able to channel my frustrations into something very focused. I’ve been reading books (spoilerz: like the next two book club selections, one of which we’ll be posting tomorrow) that use the word revolution not in the vague sense, but in a way that feels focused and real. I feel, honestly, a little dazzled by the potential to change things again.
So in light of all this, there was something sort of dampening about this weekend’s Rally to Restore Sanity, which I attended, because, to quote a sign I saw there espousing the day’s preferred tone of comic apathy, “I came because I live nearby.” Now, don’t get me wrong: ostensibly, I had a very nice time. The artist formerly known as Cat Stevens came out and sang “Peace Train”! It was really, genuinely surprising! Sam Waterston read a very funny poem! At a moment when no one expected it, the soundsystem roared this garbled “ALLLLLL ABOAAAARRRRD” and Ozzy Osborne came out and sang “Crazy Train”! On a surface level, it ruled.
A lot of the rally’s critics seemed to question the idea of comedians leading an (ostensible) protest, but that didn’t really bother me. I was more troubled by the fact that nobody seemed to know exactly what we were protesting against. While I’m totally in favor of Jon Stewart’s appeal to “sanity” and civil discourse (and against Y95’s own Glenn Beck), the whole message behind the rally was so vague and sheeted in such an amorphous blob of moderate liberalism that people saw it as an opportunity to air a real grab bag of grievances. “What Would Optimus Prime Do?” read one sign I saw. Another said, “Everybody Poops.” And to the guy leading the spirited, “Bring Arrested Development back!” chant: I mean yeah, but Arianna Huffington bought your bus ticket to further that pressing social cause? (Full disclosure: I participated briefly in this chant.)
To be fair, a lot of people had signs expressing important, impassioned and well articulated (if, still, kind of vague) viewpoints, and there was something exciting about the sheer number of people who showed up. But as much as I like Stewart and Stephen Colbert, when I saw them up on the stage I couldn’t shake this feeling of frustration at the fact that two upper class, straight, white men were telling us that fixing what’s broken in our society is as easy as listening to each other, being more polite — and simply “restoring” a system that used to work pretty well for them. What about women, people of color, LGBT people, poor people — what about the ways in which this benign notion of “sanity” and a call for restoration glosses over the ways in which our system of power is completely, irrevocably fucked for those of us who aren’t white, rich and male? We need a social revolution, not a restoration.
But there’s that vague, idealistic call for revolution again; the “Fuck Everything” guy seems to be asking, “Yeah, but how?” Well, for me, it’s been feminism. I’ve found that thinking practically and honestly about sexism has not only focused my energy on understanding that system of oppression, but has also helped me see the bigger picture and opened up the ways in which it’s linked to other systemic ills.
I saw so much genuine passion out there on Saturday, but passion is only the first step. What’s next is channeling what you’re actually going to fight for — funneling your frustration, finding the courage or focus or whatever it takes to just say, “Fuck something.”