10.30.10

Jon Stewart's Demographic Surprise

Far from strictly a college-age affair, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert attracted a surprising number of middle-aged and elderly rally-goers. Benjamin Sarlin reports.

Far from strictly a college-age affair, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert attracted a surprising number of middle-aged and elderly rally-goers. Benjamin Sarlin reports. Plus, watch the 7 best moments from the rally and read The Daily Beast's Howard Kurtz's reports from the scene.

Those expecting the Rally to Restore Sanity (and/or Fear) to be the youth vote's big moment were surprised to find a crowd overloaded with middle-aged parents and even grandparents, many of them with their families. While not nearly as elderly a group as Glenn Beck's Restoring Honor rally in August, attendees of all ages were caught off guard by the diversity. "I was definitely surprised," said Katie Wurtzell, a student at Cornell. "I was expecting people all our age."

Others were less than enthused by the mix. "Everyone over 60 should just leave," one twentysomething grumbled a she forced her way over a crowd of older attendees on blankets. "Yes, I'm ageist." For some of the older attendees, it was a physical challenge just handling the rush. Caught in the jostling for a good view as the rally began, one 70-year-old man was shoved to the floor, causing a young woman sitting on the lawn to scream as he fell backwards onto her lap.

"It's nice to be out here with all these kids," he said as he leaned against his empty wheelchair.

Some attendees were longtime veterans of protests, clearly at ease at yet another rally on the Mall. Walt DeYoung, 81, a former organizer for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union and Vietnam War protestor, came down from Minnesota for the event. "It's nice to be out here with all these kids," he said as he leaned against his empty wheelchair. Asked whether he still had the energy for these rallies after five plus decades, he smiled. "I'm not going to die in bed." Candy Vallado, 65, flew in from Colorado and brought her daughter and grandson, who was writing a paper on the event for a class on government. "I'm one of those 'keep your government hands off my Medicare' folk," Vallado joked. Melody Herr Bruen, 64, came from Pennsylvania with her sons, who she said were fans of Stewart and Colbert. As for her reasons for attending, the rally was strictly political. "We want to make sure there's visibility for the saner people out there," she said. For Doug Moyer, who brought his two children from Sag Harbor, New York, the rally was simply "a nice Indian Summer day with likeminded friends." The rally itself, led by the 47-year-old Stewart and 46-year-old Colbert, featured plenty of acts for the Baby Boomers in the crowd. White-haired Ann Dusenberry, who flew in from Santa Barbara, California, joked with her friends about how they easily sang along to performers Yusaf Islam (nee Cat Stevens) and Ozzy Osbourne while younger rally-goers drew a blank. One of the final numbers, a rendition of "America the Beautiful" by Tony Bennett, seemed more likely to resonate with the Greatest Generation than Generation X.

Benjamin Sarlin is the Washington correspondent for The Daily Beast and edits the site's politics blog, Beltway Beast. He previously covered New York City politics for The New York Sun and has worked for talkingpointsmemo.com.