Can Jon Stewart Start a Movement?
 Like many other Millennial researchers, I’ve been fascinated by the response to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear last Saturday in Washington, DC. The rally was organized by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and attended by over 200,000 people, more than the Glenn Beck rally that inspired it.
Stewarts’ impactful twelve minute closing speech, delivered wearing his usual subdued suit and tie, began with, ”And now I thought we’d have a moment, however brief, for some sincerity.” The speech was notable mostly for its lack of extreme rhetoric, as appropriate for a rally dedicated to ’reasonableness’, yet was touch- ing nonetheless. His statement, ”If we amplify everything, we hear nothing”, at once criticized the insanity of 24/7 polarizing debate, and suggested there is another way. (full transcript of speech here)
This insightful essay by Millennial researcher, Barbara Bylenga, appeared today in SFGate’s opinion page. Her remarks explain how Jon Stewart captures the spirit of Gen Y’s subdued brand of ”activism” and why ’civility has never been cooler’.
”Can Jon Stewart Start a Movement?”
by Barbara Bylenga
Saturday’s civil and well-mannered ”Rally to Restore Sanity,” hosted by Jon Stewart, received rave reviews from Millennial viewers and Tweeters (young people between the ages of 15-30 using Twitter to express themselves). Thousands of hands clapped via an endless stream of Twitter bravos and memorable moments. Civility has never been cooler. Some comments included:
Dear Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert, Thanks. We really needed that. Love, America #ral- lyforsanity
When all is said and done, the Rally was good but Jon Stewart’s speech was phenomenal. Suc- cess. #rallyforsanity
The ultimate irony: The serious part of the #RallyForSanity was the best part.
As a passionate believer in the power of the Millennial generation, I was riveted the entire three hours. Stewart delivered exactly what’s earned him their respect: he called bullshit on the media, the fear mongers and the intolerant racists. Authentic transparency is their mojo. Tell the whole truth, or root it out and undress the liars and you have won their hearts.
But Stewart is more than just a truth monger; he also gets their message. He showed, sang and danced the message that fear mongering is destroying us. Millennials feel this in their soul. They are disgusted with the system that creates hate, fear and paralysis, and don’t know what to do about it, so they do nothing. Which to us older folks makes them apathetic.
But the truth is, this generation does care. They are caring by not participating, by disassociating. Stewart also understands this; he gets their approach. They are conservative liberals. They want to change the system without marching down Main Street. Without lowering themselves to the same tactics, name calling and bickering they detest. It’s hard to have a voice when you are disgusted by the tone of the conversation.
So instead of joining, they are quiet rebels who challenge the status quo by the way they live, not how they protest. They have unraveled many industries by tuning into and buying what’s meaningful to them: blogs, not the New York Times, organic, not McDonalds, DVRs, not corporate ads. The ”Rally to Restore Sanity” was a TV staged event they attended, not a grass roots rally they created. Just like Demand TV or ITunes, it was offered up and they clicked ”attend.”
To his credit, instead of belittling their lack of political action, or trying to rally them into action, Stewart told them it was OK, that caring and being there was what was most important to him. As Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock’s lyrics expressed: ”I can’t save the sons and daughters, I can’t change the world and make things fair, the least that I can do is care.”
Given the state of the state, we need youth’s voice. We need them to start a movement, to be heard and to have impact in what ever kind of infiltration fits their style. All movements start with a leader, a Martin Luther King Jr., a John Lennon. Millennials have a new civility and a new definition of cool. Of course it calls for a new category of leadership.
I vote for Stewart. He gets Millennials and their style, he’s got a media channel backing him, a language (comedy) that commands attention and is approaching hero status among them. The question is: How can we help?
Barbara Bylenga is the president of Outlaw Consulting, a market research consultancy specializing in Mil- lennial values. The generation’s need for a movement was the topic of a speech she gave at the Women’s Forum in Deauville, France. www.womens-forum.com.
For more on Jon Stewart and Millennials see earlier posts: ”For Millennials, People Are Brands, Too” and ”Why Aren’t There More Iconic Millennial Brands?”