(Previously published in the Huffington Post).
I recently was able to hang out with Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert in Washington, DC. According to Fox News (and Personal Opinion), I was there with a couple dozen of my young lily-white liberal friends to bash the right wing. If you believe the right-wing accounting of the event, at age 57, I was that creepy old guy in the corner of the party.
Luckily, for my psyche, Glenn Beck and Fox weren’t the only people counting and cataloging the crowds. According to other reports of the event, I spent that Saturday between the Capitol and the Washington Monument hanging out in a very diverse crowd of between 200,000 and 250,000 people.
As I revisit my memories of the group assembled on the mall at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear, I didn’t feel old or young. I saw people who could have been my kids, and I saw people who could have been my parents. I didn’t feel particularly white or liberal. It was a beautiful fall day, and I felt good just being there.
I felt proud as an American that we could gather for such an event. As I sat on the mall looking over the thousands of people at the Capitol, I couldn’t help but think that the people who gave birth to the United States had this in mind when they talked about freedom of speech. The rally was a powerful symbol of freedom and America. A couple hundred thousand people from every point on the spectrum of life gathered on a sunny October day. I met people from all over our country. I sat with fellow citizens from Ohio, California, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia. The skin colors were as diverse as the changing leaves on the trees. I think I even saw an orange-skinned Jersey Shore Snookie wannabe, but it might just have been a Halloween costume.
This strong collection of people came to join hearts and hands. They came to laugh together. They came for inspiration, and they came to make a statement. This gathering was not about religion, color, or heritage. This gathering was about our future. The media and the politicians both are spending a great deal of time attempting to drive us apart. The rally made it clearer to me than ever before, that we must work to eliminate the hate and the polarization our current system is cultivating.
Two strong images of the event stand out as reminders of the lunacy of hate. At one point in the rally, Jon Stewart introduced possibly the tallest Muslim American, Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Kareem was admired and respected for his basketball ability. As an NBA pro, his religion meant nothing to America. He was just another tall American playing hoops, and he was good at it. Kareem told the thousands at the rally, “We’re all on the same team.”
Four rally attendees supplied the second image. Two women held the opposite ends of a rope. Two young men held up signs. One said, “Don’t jump to conclusions, just jump rope.” The second sign said, “Jump Rope with a Muslim.” I watched many different types of people jumping rope and grinning. As I started to leave the area, I saw a young man dressed as Jesus (yes, complete with the crown of thorns) start to jump rope. Watching spectators and participants alike grinning, I thought how, sometimes, the best ideas are simple. It’s hard to hate when you are jumping rope. Maybe we should all jump rope with a Muslim, a Republican, a Democrat, a Christian, a Jew, a black, a brown, or even the creepy 57-year-old guy in the corner. As Kareem said,
“We’re all on the same team."