Estimates for the rally are around 215,000 people according to a CBS-funded areal survey. Being there, I can definitely say it was huge, and over 100,000 in number. The density was impressive, but then again there were places selling food, such as friend candy. If this was a normal meal, I don't think all could have fitted onto the National Mall.
The event proved to be well-organized, from the stage performances, video montages, interaction between live performer and video recorded actor, not to mention the set-up of the jumbo-trons, speakers (very good for me since I was about 2/3rds the way in the crowd from the stage), bathrooms, and getting people to the right places. Heck, getting Cat Stevens and Ozzy Osborne on the same stage was impressive enough. And the Mythbusters trying to measure the immensity of the crowd by finding out how long a "wave" at the front would move to the back and the seismological effect of everyone jumping at the same time was awesome. When they were announced as next on stage, my friend Adam and I knew it was worth the cost of coming in the first place.
And the point of the rally? I didn't care if there was no political point because I pretty much got to go to a 3-hour Daily Show. But there was a point, and one I think reasonably well made. There has been so much hyperbole in the news and politics that it becomes impossible to try to be reasonable in what should be done in any given situation. If you think your opponent is Hitler or a witch, then it is hard to compromise on something.
Unfortunately, some didn't quite get that message. PZ Myers certainly missed it, but perhaps because he admittedly didn't watch the whole thing, or perhaps even the most important parts. Also, I think PZ is reading into the rally because he sees similarities with some of the accommodationist camp to stop being so aggressive. In reality, Steward et. al. did not attack being deep-felt or impassioned about one's opinions, but the dialog that is simply loud and obnoxious rather than reasoned. For example, just because some Muslims attacked the US in 2001 does not mean all Muslims are terrorists. Even if you think there are problems with Islam or believe it has evil parts (which I do think), you don't need to say all Muslims are evil to make a point. Also, PZ is off when he says Stewart called out those on the right for their hyperbole/propaganda, but didn't name-names or particulars with liberals. In reality, the rally masters didn't use names from either side, but instead did something better: a montage of the crazy. Colbert's montage of the divisive dialog from various TV sources showed the problem. This included clips from Glen Beck and Rill O'Reilly of Fox News (conservatives) and Keith Olbermann and Ed Schultz of MSNBC (liberals). So in reality, Stewart and Colbert point to the very examples of the sorts of things that are making the discourse in America all the more difficult. So when PZ says
Once again, we have someone bravely standing up and telling the people on their own side to stop being dicks, while being vague on the names and specifics.
he is completely wrong.
Moreover, the rally was about the irrationality of what there is to worry about in the world. Again, a montage of clips from various media sources showed the size of the "fear market", such as the world destroyed by CERN, to terrorists, to sandals, to killer bees, to communists, to sandals, etc. There were also clips of various persons using blanket statements about atheists, Muslims, fundamentalist Christians, and so on, all amazingly stupid and useless in making a sensible understanding of what to do or think.
The rally was also to highlight how the media and politics was so unlike the real world. They gave a wonderful example. They showed car traffic in DC with everyone on the road making little compromises of who merges next, and how even though they are almost of every possible opinion of things they can get on through their lives through little compromises. So when someone rides the curb to get past the rest and cut off others, he is rare and scorned. Most importantly, he is not hired as an analyst. Instead, on cable TV, you don't call upon the smartest, best-informed person but the loud-mouth that brings in ratings.
So, was the rally a success? The crowd size suggests that it was more-so than Glen Beck's Rally to Restore Honor which brought in around 87,000. At more than twice the size, does that mean twice the impact? I doubt it since the message of "be sensible" is not as powerful a rallying cry as "take back America" (from what?). I really doubt there will be any changes for the upcoming election cycle, but perhaps the 2012 election period will be affected by the promotion of the values proclaimed at this rally. Maybe there will be another in the future?
Before wrapping up, I must also comment about the signs made by the various attendees. There was much creativity there. Perhaps the best I saw had a picture of Sigmund Freud and the text "So America, tell me about your mother." Brilliant. Others include "Thomas Jefferson is my co-pilot"; "Meh"; "Pancakes"; and "Answer this: How much profit is Sharpe making from all of this?"