A quiet country road from Dublin to Hancock, New Hampshire was the site of the New Hampshire Rebellion’s latest “Granny D Walk” to end the influence of money in American politics.
Granny D was the public moniker for Doris Haddock, a long-time Dublin resident who set out from California a few days short of her 89th birthday to walk across the USA and publicize the need for campaign finance reform. She had just turned 90 when she reached the nation’s capital on February 29, 2000.
The path of today’s walk was one she used to train for her historic pilgrimage, which ended at the US Capitol on February 29, 2000, a month after she turned 90.
Few people reflect the strength of conviction demonstrated by Granny D, observed Larry Lessig, the writer and Harvard Law School professor who launched the Rebellion last year. The group conducted a winter march from Dixville Notch to Nashua in January and another along the New Hampshire seacoast in July.
Today forty people, aiming to make breaking the money-politics link a central issue of the 2016 presidential nominating contest, continued Granny D’s quest. Walking through a wooded area with no pedestrians and barely any cars, there weren’t many people to educate and convince. But perhaps that wasn’t the point.
There’s a long history of walks, marches, and pilgrimages intended to bolster movements for social change. Gandhi’s march to the sea, the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, the United Farm Workers Union’s 300-mile march from Delano to Sacramento, and the regular peace walks led by the Nipponzan Myohoji monks come to mind as examples. Yes, they are expressions of political views, but they also embody spiritual power.
When we sing “we won’t let nobody turn us around,” we aim to capture that same spirit. When musicians Leslie Vogel and Fred Simmons treated us to “Just a Walk with Granny D” before the march, I felt the spirit in motion.
Part of the point was also to get to know new people, Dan Weeks said at the walk’s outset. Dan, who was recently appointed as Executive Director for theNH Coalition for Open Democracy (NH COD), says his own activist inclinations began when Granny D visited his high school. At that time the impressionable 15-year old learned from his elderly neighbor that companies which profited from selling tobacco had a heavy hand in writing the nation’s laws through their political involvement. Children were dying because of the nation’s twisted approach to campaign finance, Granny D explained. Dan was hooked, not on cigarettes, but on money & politics activism. “The systemexcludes so many of our people,” he says.
To put it another way, if money is speech, then those with the most money get the most speech. And as the distribution of wealth becomes increasingly skewed, inequality of speech becomes a profound political problem for a country where government of the people, by the people, and for the people is supposed to be imperishable.
From Dan’s perspective, a walk in the steps of Granny D is a statement that we have not given up hope.
Two hours after setting out, clusters of walkers arrived in the center of Hancock, a town with a population of fewer than 2000 people. There we were greeted by volunteers and treated to ice cream donated by Ben & Jerry’s. The crowd had grown to about 60 people, now including Jim Rubens, a Republican candidate for the US Senate who has made campaign finance reform a plank in his platform (and who says he’s the only Republican in the race who is speaking out against the third Iraq war).
When the ice cream had been eaten, Dan Weeks introduced Professor Lessig for a short speech by the gazebo on the Hancock Common. Lessig apparently didn’t feel a need to educate the assembled dozens about the corruption caused by the billions of dollars in the political system, nor did he choose to restate the strategy of the NH Rebellion. He chose instead to exhort the small crowd about the importance of action, something he says our country has become unaccustomed to taking.
“We’ve just gotten through a century of very passive politics, where we were told to shut up and listen to the commercials and just show up to vote,” Lessig said.
“But that’s the kind of politics this will take,” he continued. “Neither the Republican nor the Democratic Party leadership like this issue. Neither of them are going to make this transition happen on their own. It will only happen if we force them.”
Plans are already being hatched for another walk next January, timed to coincide not only with Granny D’s birthday but also with the fifth anniversary of the Citizens United court decision.