Money Trail: Walk to get money out of politics begins in Dixville Notch

Last modified: 7/14/2015 7:42:30 PM
‘What are you all running for?” barked a bearded man from his front porch on Main Street in Errol.

He examined the group and their signs with skepticism, like they’d turn to walk up his driveway at any second and try to sell him something he didn’t need or want.

But this handful of pedestrians was the front line of N.H. Rebellion, with their American flags, posterboard slogans and high-visibility vests. They’d left Dixville Notch that morning, about a year ahead of the first-in-the-nation primary, when eyes around the world will turn momentarily on that stretch of woods and its knack for picking presidents. The group was a few hundred yards from the finish line of the first leg of its 150-mile journey on foot to Concord – and they weren’t selling anything.

In fact, all they want is for something to no longer be for sale: elections.

“It’s for campaign finance reform,” shouted back one of the rebels. The man’s skepticism faded immediately into a knowing nod, and he flashed a thumbs up.

This is the second year of the N.H. Rebellion, with its 20 or so diehards who will walk for 10 days the whole route, while others join in for a portion. Each year it has begun in Dixville Notch, but this year there are three other routes from Portsmouth, Keene and Nashua, all converging on Concord on Jan. 21.

They walk with Harvard professor and political activist Lawrence Lessig in memory of Aaron Swartz and Doris Haddock and to bring awareness and momentum to what they call the most pressing issue in American politics. As long as the most wealthy Americans can influence elections, all other activism suffers, they said.

Swartz was a civic and internet activist involved in the creation of such ubiquitous technologies as Creative Commons and Reddit who committed suicide two years ago yesterday while facing federal prosecution for downloading academic articles and trying to make them available to others. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, came to Dixville Notch yesterday in Swartz’s honor.

Haddock, also known as “Granny D,” was a New Hampshire woman who walked 3,200 miles in 13 months from California to Washington, D.C., arriving at the age of 90 years old in 2000, wearing a sign on her chest the whole way promoting campaign finance reform. Addressing the group in Dixville Notch, Lessig said the walk across New Hampshire is based on Haddock’s trip, and he hopes it will inspire people to commit to her cause.

“We’re putting our bodies out there because we believe this has got to change. We’re not politicians; we’re not running for anything. What we are doing is trying to get this nation to be focused again on what a democracy could be,” he said.

Daniel Weeks, the executive director of the Coalition for Open Democracy, urged the walkers to “consider yourselves evangelists for this cause” to the people they encounter along the way.

“Even though there aren’t a ton of people up here in the North Country, there will be more as we move south,” he said. “Take those opportunities and reach out to them.

“Let’s be thinking as we walk about how we’re becoming more and more the kinds of people who can change this country, how we can take this pain, this cold, this sacrifice that we’re making now and channel it into the energies and the actions that we take in the months ahead as the New Hampshire primary gets under way and we make this the unifying issue of 2016,” he said.

Jeff McLean, director of N.H. Rebellion, said there’s four reasons for the effort to be centered on New Hampshire: the pragmatic, independent people; the first-in-the-nation primary, with its ability to attract presidential candidates who are open to candid questioning; Granny D; and the state Constitution, which states explicitly as its 10th article the “right to rebellion.”

McLean said that as he and Lessig developed the idea for N.H. Rebellion, he thought it would be just the two of them. Just over 100 people registered last year, and more than 200 walked, including Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry’s and U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat. This year, more than 300 people have registered to walk on

“Based off what we saw last year, it could be upwards of 600 people,” McLean said.

(Nick Reid can be reached at 369-3325 or or on Twitter @NickBReid.)

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