I've wondered why these rallies on the Washington mall are happening.
For a while, million something marches were happening. Getting permits and organizing marches is a little harder than provisioning for a large stationary crowd, particularly if the time is delimited in advance. So a shift from marches to rallies isn't strange in itself. And while I expect that anti-war marches and rallies and demonstrations will return, the so-called end of aggressive US military involvement in Iraq seems to have brought with it a bit of a down turn in anti-war events.
The current ones--Beck, Stewart, Colbert--are extensions of televisual gatherings (not events), that is, extensions of the imagined space of community of commentator and audience. The shared fiction is that he is talking to us. And this us, constituted as a collective by virtue of the fact that we are the ones he is talking to, seems now to need to be realized, made to appear as an us.
Worker oriented politics, politics centered in factories, made a lot of sense when people spent hours, days, weeks, months, years together in the workplace. Folks spent more time with their coworkers than their families. No wonder shared gripes, ideas, and alliances emerged. No wonder they were transmitted. Workers saw each face to face. They worked side by side. Even if a guy is a jerk, you feel bad when his arm is mangled because of speed ups on the line.
No wonder, then, that universities have been loci for action--lots of folks are there face to face (and it helps that their time might be flexible). Same with churches--congregations share mutual connections with one another.
Consumer spaces spread out workers, bringing them more into contact with the folks they 'serve' than with one another. No wonder they 'put customers first' (or use this ideological front)--folks who want to talk about the workplace detract from the outward focus on the customer, a focus that has detrimental effects on the capacities for workers to organize.
And the so-called 'social factory'? Perhaps easier to theorize in dense urban setting than in US sprawl.
So we get imagined, mediated, cinematic, televisual communities. And then social networks. We get community lite, thin connections, disposable friends (they don't even have to know when you've moved on!).
Rallies might be symptoms of too much virtuality, attempts to make real what we imagine we are part of, but can't be sure about.