Monday, November 30, 2015

How green was my rally

I wasn't sure whether the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear would turn out to be an Earth to Philly type of event, but I wound up going down to find out. Prior to Saturday nobody seemed to be sure what exactly it was going to be. I'm glad I was there, because as fun as the onstage entertainment was, the real theater was in the interaction of the many attendees

How green was my rally

Which point is more obvious for a 'Sanity' rally, the well-designed Hitler definition, or the one word 'Peace"? Sometimes you had to think twice.

I wasn't sure whether the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear would turn out to be an Earth to Philly type of event, but I wound up going down to find out. Prior to Saturday nobody seemed to be sure what exactly it was going to be, though my colleague Will Bunch apparently decided early in the week that it was a largely pointless exercise in 'slacktivism.'

The joke of it is, it may well have been that. But it was also many other things. And I'm glad I was there, because as fun as the onstage entertainment was, the real theater was in the interaction of the many attendees.

Although I got a great kick out of the many humorous signs (more on that soon), I wasn't there to further my own cause. I had gone back and forth on whether to attend and had missed the opportunity on two different buses that filled up while I vacilated. Then Weaver's Way announced a second bus, and I wound up going down that way, seeing people I knew from unexpected places. (Shout-out to longtime Dumpster Diva Ellen Benson, impressario Todd Kimmell and the team from Philly's Peace Advocacy Network.)

And that was a harbinger of the rally itself: People came from all kinds of constituencies with a full spectrum of intentions to an event that was, in essence, a DIY rally.

There were certainly people there to protest protesting, to be walking props for the satirical ideal (with signs like "Down With Toilet Seats," "Each Word On This Sign Is Spelled Correctly," "2,4,6,8... Rhyming is Hard" and "I Support This Sign").

And of course many signs specifically mocked Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party protests ("I Want My Country FORWARD," "Refudiate Insanity," "I'm Mad as Hell At People That Are Mad as Hell " and a black man holding a sign, "REPEAL Civil Rights - I was HAPPY at the Back of the Bus!"). Over-the-top protester Fred Phelps also got plenty of hommage, with the widely reported "GOD HATES FIGS" as well as others I saw including "GOD HATES FOG," "GOD HATES SIGNS" and "GOD HATES FOX News."

But there were others, including people who took the call for sanity seriously and trumped irony by being forcibly non-ironic, like the 50- ish guy holding the sign saying, "Not Stoned, Not Slacking, I Work. I Vote" or the plaintive "PLEASE Bore Us With the Details."

Moreover, there were also many groups using the gathering to non-ironically advance their cause among a huge group of people likely to be somewhat like-minded - including a large contingent equating sanity with stopping global warming (and an even larger one equating it with decriminalizing pot). Obviously this happens at other rallies, but if, say, a Free Mumia group shows up at an End the Iraq War rally, they know they're piggybacking on the larger cause. Here there was no hierarchy, because the open-ended theme made everyone, or at least a great many people there, feel equally invested and equally welcomed.

And that's one of the hard-to-pin-down positives of this event: Above all, it celebrated pluralism and to some extent enacted it among the many kinds of people there.

What's that? They were all one kind, young-to-middle-aged white liberals? Not so. Though the skin complexion was probably on average whiter than American society, I personally saw plenty of people of every ethnicity or cultural heritage I could imagine. And more to the point, there were people on the mall counter-protesting - yes, protesting against "sanity."

Actually, of course, they were countering what they rightly figured would be some of the lauded discussion topics, including Obama, health care and taxes. And given the theatrical nature of the protest, they adopted ironic guises and signs that performed a kind of bait-and-switch.

I saw at least five of these folks, and the one that I remember best was sitting, holding a sign saying "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them... Matthew 6:1." I chuckled at the obvious reference to spotlight-hogging televangelist-types and tea-party Jesus-praisers - then looked at the crowd merrily snapping photos of each other's signs, and back at the guy with the Matthew sign, who I now saw was trembling somewhat, as though he didn't exactly want to be there, but felt he had to. And I thought about the whole day a little differently then; I could see it, if not as he did, from a different angle that was closer to his.

While there was indeed a narcissistic edge to all the sign-showing-off, there was also a framework where people found themselves situations like this, in which the quick, easy pigeonholing of other people as "like-minded" or "insane" was subverted by the interface of irony and plurality.

Some people obviously wanted this 200.000-strong gathering to be something else: More political, more activism-spurring, more partisan, more epic. And I will admit Jon Stewart did somewhat fall into the error of false equivalency he's previously satirized. But in addition to having a great, fun afternoon with creative, well-behaved (more than one person remarked to me "I couldn't believe how nice everyone was") people, I was more than once put in the position of thinking outside my own box. And from where I see it, that's worthwhile.

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Earth to Philly is a weblog focusing on earth-conscious technology, trends and ideas, from a Daily News perspective. We look at the "green" aspects of your home, business, food, transportation, style, policy, gadgets and artwork. If you have a Philly-related story, Click here to let us know about it!

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Look for Jenice Armstrong to supply tips on green living as well as occasional columns on the subject of Green. She also blogs at Hey Jen.

Becky Batcha stays tuned for the here-and-now practical side of conservation, alternative energy, organic foods, etc. - stuff you can do at home now. Plus odds and ends.

Laurie Conrad recycles from her ever-growing e-mailbag to pass along the latest travel deals, fashion statements, household strategies, gadgets, cool local events and other nuggets of interest to those who appreciate a clean, green world.

Vance Lehmkuhl looks at topics like eco-conscious eating, public transportation and fuel-efficient driving from his perspective as a vegetarian, a daily SEPTA bus rider and a hybrid driver, as well as noting the occasional wacky trend or product. Contact Vance with your 'green' news.

Ronnie Polaneczky sees the green movement through the eyes of her 12-year-old daughter, who calls her on every scrap of paper or glass bottle that Ronnie neglects to toss into the house recycling bins. Ronnie will blog about new or unexpected ways to go green. She also blogs at So, What Happened Was...

Sandra Shea and the DN editorial board opine on any green-related legislation or policy. And we'll pass along some of the opeds on the subject that people send us.

Jonathan Takiff will be blogging mainly about consumer electronics - those things that we love to use and that suck too much energy. He'll spotlight green-conscious gizmos made in a responsible fashion, both in terms of materials used and the energy it takes to run them.

Signe Wilkinson draws the comic strip Family Tree, which follows the Tree family as they try to live green in the face of nattering neighbors, plastic-wrapped consumer products, and the primal teenage urge to spend vast quantities of money on hair care products of dubious organic quality.

In addition to these updates from our newsroom bloggers, watch for an occasional feature, Dumpster Diver Dispatches, from Philadelphia's original "green" community of artists, the Dumpster Divers. You'll learn about creative ways to reuse and recycle while you reduce, and about the artists who are making little masterpieces from what others throw out.

  • Dispatch #1: Margaret Giancola's rugs from plastic bags
  • Dispatch #2: Dumpster Divers in City Hall (Art in City Hall series)
  • Dispatch #3: Wild wood, New Jersey
  • Dispatch #4: Dumpster Divers award winners announced
  • Dispatch #5: From sweaters to colorful cuddling
  • Dispatch #6: Green artists retake South Street Sunday
  • Dispatch #7: Isaiah Zagar: He's a Magic (Gardens) Man

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