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My Turn: Like Granny D, I will march on Washington

  • Sen. John McCain (left) and Sen. Russell Feingold (right) walk with Doris "Granny D" Haddock, 91, to news conferences about campaign finance reform on Capitol Hill on March 19, 2001, in Washington, D.C. AP



For the Monitor
Thursday, March 31, 2016

I am going to Washington shortly to take part in Democracy Spring and Democracy Awakening, back-to-back events that are expected to be the largest pro-democracy demonstrations in the country in 50 years.

With hundreds and perhaps thousands of other Americans, I expect to get arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience at the Capitol Rotunda, the symbolic heart of our great experiment in self-governance, or at nearby congressional offices.

We will be walking, at times almost literally, in the footsteps of New Hampshire’s own Doris “Granny D” Haddock, who, at age 90, was arrested and handcuffed in the Rotunda in April 2000 while reading the Declaration of Independence aloud.

She told a judge later that she read the Declaration that day “to make the point that we must declare our independence from the corrupting bonds of big money in our election campaigns.” She said her group did not block access to others at the Capitol, “but I inform you that the halls are indeed blocked over there . . . by the shameless sale of public policy to campaign contributors.”

I was in the news business then, covering my sixth New Hampshire presidential primary campaign. Like Granny D, I was troubled by the growing power of money and lobbyists in politics. But I thought other issues were more important, and I questioned whether those problems could really be solved.

My attitude began to change in 2008 when greed and fraud plunged the country into the Great Recession, wiping out a good chunk of my retirement savings. I knew from the outset that I would be fine. But I was furious about the needless toll in lost jobs, homes and hope among my own family and friends and extending worldwide. I retired a year later and began to read voraciously, trying to understand what had gone wrong and how to go about fixing it.

I came to understand this: The corrupting influence of money in politics blocks progress on virtually every important issue facing our country – and planet. Very few members of Congress are personally corrupt, but the system – including super PACs, phony nonprofits and dark money – is rotten to the core.

Since 2013, I have been working to change it as a proud member of the New Hampshire Rebellion, whose parent organization, Open Democracy, was founded by none other than Granny D.

In 2000, Granny D. walked 3,200 miles across the country for more than 14 months to get arrested with 31 other protesters in the Capitol. She died in 2010 at age 100.
Were she still here, she would no doubt be gratified that hundreds of state, local and national organizations have taken up her cause, and that money in politics is a central issue of the presidential campaign.

But she would not be satisfied, because while Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton do a good job talking about the problem, they talk far too little about solutions, especially small-dollar, citizen-funded elections. (Donald Trump talks about the problem but has no solution.)

Today, Granny D would tell us that sweeping reform is within reach if we will redouble the pressure on politicians at every level. As she told the judge 16 years ago, the time has come “to sweep away the old politician – the self-serving, the self-absorbed, the corrupt. . . . The Earth itself can no longer afford them. We owe this change to our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren.”

Amen.

(Joe Magruder is a former news editor for the Associated Press in New Hampshire, where he covered eight presidential primaries. He lives in Concord.)