If we learned anything from Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert's Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in 2010, it's that when America's favorite anchors ask their audience to jump, the audience immediately, unquestioningly and happily launches itself into the air as one, and worries about exactly what the purpose of that great leap was later.
But that's not because there is no purpose to the 'stunts' they pull, or because the audience doesn't care what the purpose is. No -- it's that we trust Stewart and Colbert to lead us through the wilderness to arrive at some relief. Sometimes, the relief is like reaching an oasis: it comes in the form of a few answers. But sometimes, equally or perhaps even more importantly, the relief comes in the form of a good dose of laughter that makes us feel just a little bit better about being stuck in the middle of the desert.
Jon Stewart said it best in the closing speech he gave at the rally:
I'm really happy you guys are here, even if none of us are really quite sure why. Some of you may have seen today as a clarion call for action... Clearly, some of you who just wanted to see the Air and Space Museum got royally screwed. And I'm sure a lot of you were just here to have a nice time, and I hope you did. I can't control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do. But we live now in hard times, not end times. And we can have animus and not be enemies.
It is the same trust and joy that brought tens of thousands of people to Washington, D.C. that crisp, fall day, now many months ago, that compelled me to start recruiting my fellow Penn State students to help me start a Super PAC late last Thursday night, after Stephen Colbert extended the following invitation to his college-aged viewers:
I want every college across this great nation to have their own my Super PAC. And they can have it, too, thanks to the Colbert Super PAC Super Fun Pack, a do-it-yourself Super PAC kit that you can order. All you need is a burning desire for civil engagement -- and $99 dollars.
Yes, I said to myself. Staying true to the philosophy of 'yes, and' that Stephen Colbert (the person, not the megalomaniacal talk show host) espouses, which dictates that in life, as in improvisational acting, one must never say 'no,' but rather say 'yes, and,' I immediately knew that my answer was a resounding yes, and. Yes, I will do it. And I will do it right now. And I will do it with as many people who want to do it with me. And I will reach out to people young and old, Democrat and Republican, engineers and English majors. And I will do this, even though I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing, or how to do it.
I'll wait for Trevor Potter's handbook -- not legal advice, Colbert warned, and if you mix up the directions, instead of registering a political action committee, you'll find yourself stuck with a shoddy piece of Ikea furniture -- before I fill out the F.E.C. paperwork. And I've already surveyed several students and professors who have expressed their interest in helping me navigate the red tape of the world of campaign finance. But, after all, we're not doing this because it's impossible. We're doing this because it's one page of paperwork to register a political action committee. We're doing it because it's so easy, a college student can do it.
Until the not-legal-advice handbook and the rest of the essential pieces of the Super Fun Pack (particularly the Allen wrench and tube socks) arrive, I'll continue to amass support from my peers, with whom I'm staying in touch via a Facebook page I created on Monday. So far, reactions vary from "You're starting a what? What's that?" ("Exactly why you should join!") to "That's awesome, I'd love to help!" ("Fantastic! The Colbert Nation salutes you, fellow it-getter!").
Of course, the excitement of "federal election commission paperwork, detailed filing instructions, and more legal disclaimers than you can shake a stick at" isn't the only draw: enclosed in the Super Fun Pack is a treasure map and decoder ring that will lead the victor to an actual treasure: a visit to his or her college by our brother, our captain, our king, Stephen Colbert, himself. Not the Venezuelan lookalike he usually sends to malls.
But the best prize, the one everyone who participates gets, is the chance to be a part of a unique and fascinating chapter in our great nation's story. As my agricultural economics professor reminds his students weekly, there is an ancient Chinese proverb and curse that wishes that its recipient live in "interesting times." But whether we are swept into despair by these hard times or whether we accept Colbert's invitation to push back against the current (and even laugh while doing it!) is entirely our choice.
When I shared my intention to start a Super PAC with my dad, he was silent for a moment. Then he asked me just one question: Did I need a lawyer?
Huh, I thought. Do I? "Gosh, I don't know, but I kind of hope so!" I answered.
"Well," my dad said, thoughtfully, hesitantly. "The first Super PAC in the family. How exciting!"
I would have done this alone, but I couldn't be happier to have met and instantly befriended all of those who have already signed on to help me start a Penn Staters for a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow. It's going to be more fun than one should really have filing papers with the Federal Election Commission. Especially because, in a happy turn of events, several of my peers that have committed to being a part of the Super PAC identify themselves Republicans, Libertarians or ideologically conservative. I guess the only things we can all agree on -- Democrat, Republican, or even Whig -- are our nearly unanimous hatred and fear of broccoli, and the fact that Stephen Colbert is hilarious.
Check back for updates about my adventure through the looking glass and into the murky world of campaign finance law.
Watch Stephen Colbert introduce the do-it-yourself Super PAC Super Fun Pack:
The Colbert Report