Thousands of sanity seekers and self-proclaimed moderates gathered on Saturday in Grant Park's Butler field to participate in Chicago's homegrown version of Comedy Central's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.
Sporting costumes and witty "protest" signs, the diverse crowd buzzed with camaraderie as local comedians, musicians and speakers energized the proceedings.
Despite a last minute cancellation from scheduled speaker Governor Pat Quinn, the rally opened with a spirited flash mob performance dance, followed by a comedy set by MC Aaron Freeman, remarks from Michael Patrick Thornton of ABC's "Private Practice," and a satirical sermon from Greg Hollimon of Comedy Central's "Strangers with Candy." Blogger Don Hall delivered a fiery speech on the limits of anger and the need for civility and the novelty band BC performed "10-30-10" a funny folk-rap rally anthem that was written for the occasion.
Rally organizer Angie McMahon persisted in the face of maddening bureaucratic red tape and logistical setbacks, making the decision to go on with the rally despite being turned down for an official permit from the Chicago Park District. Buoyed by support, both financial and inspirational, from over 7,000 "Chicago Rally to Restore Sanity" Facebook fans and supporters, McMahon raised almost $22,000 in 37 days. All remaining proceeds after expenses will be donated to Chicago schools.
A novice in organizing an event of the size and scope of the rally, Angie McMahon, of Chicago's Chemically Imbalanced Comedy, saw how strongly many felt about the need for compromise and civility in our public discourse.
"It really just started for me with an impulse to support this fun idea from Comedy Central and create a fun event," McMahon said. "But as I talked to so many people, I realized that the root idea that rings true with people on a deep core level is that we are all Americans and something has triggered us to stop simply respecting each other. We cannot disagree anymore without calling names and wishing each other death. And most people feel strongly that this is not okay."
The Chicago rally was one of dozens of satellite rallies that were staged in major cities across the country to coordinate with the Jon Stewart/Steven Colbert Washington D.C extravaganza. A Jumbotron near the Chicago stage silently broadcasted the DC event, and was occasionally turned up to allow the Chicago crowd to enjoy the antics of their heroes Stewart and Colbert. Some in the crowd left in mass when it became clear that the entire DC rally was not going to be screened uninterrupted with sound, and for a time there was an obvious tension between some groups of audience members who loudly booed whenever the Jumbotron was turned down to make way for the local performers.
In the end, however, the theme of the day held sway. Many agreed with Heather Ritchfort who traveled to the rally from Libertyville, Illinois.
"We're all here to have a lot of fun together, and to remind everyone to take it down a notch."
Civility and rationality ruled as the rally proceeded for three hours to entertain and inspire Chicagoans to laugh, use their inside voices and stop the madness.
Check out photos from the Chicago rally here, all by writer Laurie Koblesky: