WASHINGTON — A variety of motivations fueled the thousands who swarmed the nation’s capital Saturday from every corner of the country, including 103 who traveled from Decatur.
Some came out of adoration for Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, the comedians who sponsored the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear. Some came because they supported the event’s message of reason, moderation and compromise.
Laura Harriger of Champaign came to keep her daughter out of trouble.
At least, that was the joke between the two as they stood among thousands on the National Mall waiting for the event to start. Jessica Harriger, 26, had never seen the city and was willing to endure a grueling all-night bus ride from Decatur for the experience.
Jessica Harriger lives in Macomb, where she teaches economics at Western Illinois University. She was watching Stewart’s “The Daily Show” when he announced the event Sept. 16.
“I told my students the next day, ‘I’m going to find a way to go,’ ” she said.
The mother and daughter were among passengers on the two buses that left Decatur at 5 p.m. Friday, arrived in Washington at 9 a.m. Saturday and were expected to return this morning.
Bobbi Gentry, an assistant professor of political science at Millikin University, organized the trip.
She said an even mix of Millikin students and community members made the journey, estimating their average age was 30.
The event’s message was a welcome one, Gentry said, especially to those discouraged by the atmosphere in Illinois politics recently. A few close races have spurred a slew of negative campaign ads in the weeks leading up to Tuesday’s election.
“Some people need something to feel more positive about, and I think this rally was absolutely a part of that, feeling more positive about politics and being involved,” Gentry said.
James Repp, a 17-year-old from Carbondale, said he traveled on a bus from Chicago because he said he is concerned about the country’s partisan divide.
Repp, a freshman at Valparaiso University in Indiana, said people needed to calm down and stop viewing the other side as an enemy.
“This country has gotten so skewed between the right and the left, and there’s no space in between. … We’re all Americans. We’re all trying to make our country better,” Repp said.
Millikin freshman Jacqui Rogers said she had previously visited Washington and loved it so much she jumped at the chance to go back.
Rogers, an 18-year-old from Granite City studying political science, hasn’t watched Stewart’s and Colbert’s shows much but said she planned to start after experiencing the rally.
Following the event, Rogers and some friends took a quick tour of some iconic D.C. sights, including the Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and Union Station.
“It’s been amazing,” she said.
Rogers and fellow student Whitney Vanderspool-Snell traveled on the first of the two buses, where occupants watched the movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” on the way to the rally.
Vanderspool-Snell, a junior from White Heath studying secondary education, said she had never traveled so far east and never seen that many people in her life.
“It’s certainly not something you’d see in Decatur. … I’m still flabbergasted by the amount of people here,” she said.
In some areas, crowds were packed so closely that it became difficult to move, see or hear anything but people trying to get back to each other after being jostled apart.
Hovering above the masses, homemade signs served as a reminder that comedians sponsored the event.
“God is a sock,” one sign proclaimed. “Take it down a notch,” another suggested.
“Legalize whatever Christine O’Donnell is on,” another urged, poking fun at the U.S. Senate candidate from Delaware who has faced criticism for comments about masturbation and being a witch.
Both Vanederspool-Snell and Gentry said their favorite part of the rally was Stewart’s closing speech, in which he advocated compromise and rejection of propaganda-fueled histrionics.
“I was tearing up at parts because it just reminds me about citizen action and about people getting involved,” Gentry said, “… It’s not just one person that does it, but all of us together that does it.”