Billions for Civility?

Stephen Colbert proclaimed that Comedy Central’s weekend rally drew 6 billion participants.  He may believe this; he is not to be believed.  (In the same way, Rep. Michele Bachmann’s estimate of one million at Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally shouldn’t be taken seriously.)

CBS News hired the same outfit that estimated Beck’s turnout at 87,000 to take aerial photos and count the crowds at Jon Stewart’s “Rally for Sanity.”  They came up with a count of 215,000.  (You can find methods and photos here; we discussed how these counts are done here.)

This doesn’t mean, however, that the Comedy Central fans are likely to be three times more effective than Beck’s fans from FOX.  A March isn’t a Movement.

I was surprised that so many people attended the Comedy Central rally.  Organizers picked a more difficult date (colder, and after school starts) and, because of the relatively tight time line,  had less of a chance to publicize their efforts and coordinate logistics–including transportation.

At the same time, Beck’s 9-12 rally-ers can sign onto an organization and an ongoing campaign.  Despite Glenn Beck’s claims otherwise, there was plenty of politics at the rally, with prominent Republicans featured in the program.

In contrast, nearly three times as many Americans went to see a Comedy Central performance.  The leaders explicitly rejected politics (although Jon Stewart railed against polemics and mass media coverage), and candidates for office didn’t appear at the mic.   Neither Stewart nor Colbert fronts a political organization, and attendees were left with little clear direction beyond a call to be civil.

Rob Kleidman, a veteran of many demonstrations and many comedy shows, attended the Comedy Central Rally, and posted in the comments section.  He reports a good show, but an older and whiter crowd than Stewart claimed.  Further, Rob says:

Aside from Stewart at one point asking us to vote, and Kid Rock asking us to ‘care,’ there was no call for action, no outcome.

I’m thinking that some good may come out of the rallies:  if one million people live more moral lives and restore honor, and another six billion work to promote tolerance and civility, life will be better for all of us.

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About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
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