Spotted at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington D.C.: a human Lockheed Martin, hula hoops, too many Waldos to count and people professing renewed belief in “hopey, changey stuff.” Faces old and young flooded past me in the green stretch between the Washington Monument and the Capitol, carrying trumpets, flags, drums and signs about everything from pro-Muslim appeals to love for Helvetica. I would have never imagined myself attending a political rally a few years ago. I come from a place where, sane or not, the political process is not nearly as developed as in the United States.
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In Romania, a revolution ended the communist regime headed by Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, resetting the system to a struggling young democracy. In the chaos of privatization that followed the fall of communism, business moguls with government connections maneuvered their way and bought out media outlets. Today, each outlet is the effective mouthpiece of not just business elites but also political groups, as each major media company is allied to a particular party. In 2007, I spent my summer photographing for one of the largest Romanian dailies. Our newspaper broke a story about the mayor of Piatra Neamt, a city in Romania, illegally making use of land that was part of a national reserve. The mayor is a prominent member of the party rival to the one our publication’s owner aligns with. So embellished headlines at the hand of top editors distorted the story accordingly. The morning the article came out, we drove through Piatra Neamt; there were no copies of the newspaper to be found. At the break of dawn, most had been bought out by the mayor’s men. The media war in Romania is less about facts and more about scandal, and has become so absurd and pernicious that President Traian Basescu, who is running the country on an anti-corruption platform, went so far as to call the press “a threat to national security” earlier this year.
It’s no wonder then that, for the average Romanian youth, the difficulty of staying informed has produced a habit of political ignorance, laced with apathy and skepticism. One cannot expect to read largest Romanian newspapers and understand how people in power are being held accountable. But unlike most in the United States, we are not even raised to think politicians should be held accountable; the rift between Romanian citizens and their government is a very much normalized phenomena spanning many generations.
Thus, the attendees at Rally to Restore Sanity felt to me like kindred spirits. As members of the silent, moderate majority, they were also protesting the rift between the public and politicians, a felt estrangement from the polarized political discourse of their representatives. Despite my usual skepticism, the Rally to Restore Sanity gave me an outlet to be political in some way, to align with a set of values that I believe in. It drove home the fact that I too don’t feel represented by my elected leaders, and, more importantly, that I should be doing something more about that. Come the next election, I should start by voting.