"Granny D, you speak for me."
That was the cry on the streets of Washington, D.C., as supporters followed 90-year-old Doris Haddock on the last leg of her cross-country march to rally support for meaningful campaign finance reform.
Granny D began her cross-country trek at the Rose Bowl parade in Pasadena on Jan. 1, 1999. She steadily made her way across 3,200 miles traversing California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia walking 10 miles a day.
She called her march a "pilgrimage" for social justice and relied on strangers for food and shelter. Thousands of people have supported her, she says, a testament not only to their generosity but also to their passionate commitment to ending the corruption of our democracy by big-money interests.
Along the way, Granny D has proved that one person can make a difference. Her walk has generated enormous media interest. She has appeared on NBC Nightly News, Good Morning America, National Public Radio, and many other programs to issue a clarion call for reform.
Finally, her 14-month pilgrimage concluded in Washington, D.C. She began her final day's trek in Arlington National Cemetery, beginning, she said, "among the graves of Arlington so that those spirits, some of whom may be old friends, might join us today and that we might ask of them now, 'Did you, brave spirits, give your lives for a government where we might stand together as free and equal citizens. Or did you give your lives so that laws might be sold to the highest bidder?'"
She ended the march on the steps of the Capitol, where she said that she came to deliver a consistent message from across America, from young and old, and from people of every color: "Shame on you, Mitch McConnell, and those who raise untold millions of dollars in exchange for public policy. Shame on you, senators and congressmen, who have turned this headquarters of a great and self-governing people into a bawdy house."
Senator McConnell of Kentucky is infamous for his defense of large campaign contributions as a boon to democracy, and for his call for removal of existing restraints on campaign donations.
As she walked through downtown, it was apparent that Granny D did in fact speak for the crowd that followed her on the last leg of her trek. Many had traveled from all over the nation to join her in the last steps of her march. Carrying "Go, Granny, Go" and "End Legalized Bribery" signs, they reverently looked on as she completed her inspirational journey for justice. And they listened carefully as she spoke truth to power.
But unlike so many of our elected politicians, Granny D does not pander to her audience. She paused in her remarks to remind her fellow citizens of the need to recognize our own complicity in the withering of our democracy and the need to reengage in civic life.
"Along my walk, I have seen an America that is losing the time and the energy for self-governance," she said. "We must energize our communities to better see our problems, better plan their happy futures, and these plans must form the basis of our instructions to our elected representatives. This is the responsibility of every adult American."
"If we are hypnotized by television and overwrought by life on a corporate-consumer treadmill, let us snap out of it and regain our lives as a free, calm, fearless outspoken people who have time for each other and our communities," she continued.
Her programmatic agenda is straightforward: Pass a ban on the use of soft money in federal election campaigns as a modest first step. Implement more comprehensive reform thereafter, including full public financing of campaigns and free TV time. Citizens must push for and win reforms at the local and state levels, so that political momentum for comprehensive campaign reform becomes unstoppable nationwide.
The ultimate goal, she says, is to devise ways "for a great people to talk to one another again without the necessity of great wealth."
Few distill the civic challenges or embody civic commitment as does Granny D. She relies on social security payments for financial support and has no money to leave her 12 great-grandchildren. "So," she told the Washington Post, "I said, 'I can leave the legacy of a democracy. I want them to be brought up in a democracy.'"
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