It was an early sign that this was not an ordinary political rally: the organizers put the crowd estimate at somewhere between 10 million to 6 billion.
And on the mall, the signs were equally zany. “This is a good sign,” said one sign. “I like Ice Cream,” said another. And a man dressed as a bear wore a t-shirt saying, “Free Bear Hugs.”
Still, it is perhaps a measure of the volatility of American politics that a television comedy show was able to tap something deep among American voters, who turned out in the tens of thousands on Saturday to add their voices to a national political debate that some said had left them behind.
The crowds flooded the National Mall for the “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear,” an overwhelming response to a call by Jon Stewart, the political satirist whose comedy show commands a broad, youthful audience of politically engaged Americans. The turn-out clogged traffic, and filled subways and buses to the point of overflow.
And though it was billed as a gathering for civility — a party on a sunny Saturday for people to enjoy thoughtful conversation — for participants it was a serious political affair. Some were canvassing for votes. Others were searching for a message they felt had been lost by Democrats since President Obama was elected in 2008.