Vol 2 May 2002       

Granny D

On the

to Campaign
Finance Reform

with Doris "Granny D" Haddock

by Carol Hiltner


If nothing else, political activism seems to be an incredibly youthing ingredient in one's life. The photo above was taken on the occasion of Granny D's 89th birthday, while she was walking from California to the East Coast in behalf of campaign finance reform.

Doris Haddock — a 92-year-old proper New England great-grandmother now known to thousands as "GrannyD" — walked all the way across America to put a citizen's "face" on the need for campaign finance reform.

Granny D set aside both comfort and security to wake up Americans to the incursions on our freedoms allowed by the realities of our campaign finance practices. In the process, not only did she succeed in her efforts with the passage of the McCain-Feingold/Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance Reform Bill this past March, but she also got a new lease on life.

I wish you could hear her voice as she gave this interview, with her rich New Hampshire accent and dry humor.

Carol: What was it that moved you? What got you started?

Granny D: What was my epiphany?

Carol: Yeah!

Granny D: Back in 1996, I saw an op-ed article in the Boston Globe, the paper that we all read here, at least you do if you're a Democrat. The author of the article, from Common Cause CommonCause.org, said that in the middle of the night, two Senators had put an amendment onto a bill that was going to President Clinton to be signed. . . an amendment that would give $50 billion to a tobacco company.

I said to myself, "This isn't right!"

I called Common Cause, and they said, "Don't you understand, Doris? There is corruption here. This is not unusual."

That's what started me reading about campaign finance reform.

I have a group of about nineteen women. We meet every Tuesday morning and talk about different things, and study some books about current issues. So I went to this group and said, "This disturbs me."

Our "guru," a former teacher named Bonnie Riley, said to me, "What are you going to do about this?"

And I said, "Me?"

She said, "Well, you're the one that's disturbed."

So I got the group together, and we made a listing of all our friends and neighbors and relatives across the country. We sent out petitions, asking them to do just as we had done: make up a list of all their friends and relatives, so that we would be covering the country.

The petition said, "In all due haste, please pass a campaign finance reform bill."

We suggested that they each get about ten people to sign this petition, then send it to their senators.

It took us a couple of years to do all this. We began getting back "cookie-cutter" letters from the senators: "Please, little old ladies, don't worry about this. We will take care of it."

And then the McCain-Feingold bill came up again, and it was filibustered as usual — as it had been ever since Watergate.

I knew that we were really being ignored. That there was just no way that citizens have any power in this country any more.

Carol: It sounds as though you were being very actively ignored.

Granny D: Yes, that's true.

Carol: Then what happened?

Granny D: I went into hiding — into deep depression. My husband had died, and then my oldest and dearest friend died, and I just felt that it was a different world from the one I had known.

Then my son was going Down South to hunt and fish and camp in the Everglades, and he said, "Come with me, and I'll leave you off with your sister, and I'll pick you up in three weeks. I think you need a change."

So I went with him. And on the trip, we saw this old man between two towns, just walking along with a cane and a little pack. I said to my son, "What in the world is that old man doing out here in the middle of nowhere?"

And he said, "Oh, he's on the road again."

I said, "You mean like Willie Nelson's song?"

And he said, "Yes, like that."

I said, "I think it would be fun to just get out on the road again."

And he said, "Everyone has that feeling. But I still have to make a living. And you're too old."

I said, "I'm going to walk across the country."

He said, "Oh, come on, mother. You have to have a cause. It's no good just walking."

And I said, "Oh! But I do have a cause."

And that was the beginning of it.

Carol: Did he know you were serious?

Granny D: No, he thought he could talk me out of it. But he said, "If I put you on a regimen to get you in shape, and you do exactly as I say, then I will consider letting you go."

So I spent a whole year doing the things that he asked me to do. He didn't ask me to clean out the stable, but he might just as well have, you know — all these different tasks I had to go through.

By the end of 1999, I said, "I'm ready." Having lived with me for many years, he realized that I was a pretty stubborn old woman.

Then there were the nine months that I spent walking, walking, walking. Sleeping on the ground. Eating trail mix. He said I had to set something up — that ten miles a day was the best to do. He thought I could do that in the morning, and rest in the afternoon. And that's what I did.

In the afternoon, I wrote in my diary or went out and saw people on the road. My driver would go ahead — I had a support car. David Burke, the director of Common Cause in Arizona, met me at the border between Arizona and California with a little camper that he had borrowed.

He said, "We will not allow you to go across the desert walking by yourself. You've got to have some place to stay at night and we have got this little camper for you to do that. And, more important, you must have water, and you cannot carry enough water to cross that desert. It is one hundred miles — ten miles a day. There is no way — it is just too heavy. Either you can accept our help, or you can go home."

I said, "Go home?"

He said, "Yes. Either that or give me your pack." Across California, I had carried a 29-pound pack, which I figured I would always do, but he took the pack away, so I never had to carry it again. That's what made me decide it would be much more fun to walk along with free hands, with a free back.

And so that's what I did.

On my website, which my grandson set up, I said that I wanted to create a wave of interest in campaign finance reform across the country, and anybody who wanted to walk with me could do so if they could bring their own resources.

I would be traveling as a pilgrim, walking, and fasting until given food, because I lived on Social Security. I still do. I guess I will for the rest of my life. But that's all I have to go on.

My son said, "How do you expect to finance this?"

And I said, "I am going to go as a pilgrim." But I never had to lie on the ground, and I never had to go without food.

Carol: What an affirmation of faith!

Granny D: It was indeed, wasn't it! It was a big thing to go out there without knowing how I was going to make out. But I knew that people were kind.

Carol: This issue of our magazine is about freedom versus security, and in your adventures, you have probably come right up against that issue on a personal level.

Granny D: Many people have said to me, "How did you dare to do it? What made you think that you would be safe?"

I didn't even think about that. I am perfectly safe on the roads around here, and when I had somebody stop in a car and say, "There are desperadoes [laughing] that like to come and hold you up," and "Oh, it's very dangerous here" — well, perhaps there are, but I didn't run into any. They may have been there, but they didn't attack me.

I think, if you are afraid — of anything (which I never have been, perhaps because I've never been in a situation that I felt was dangerous) — that as long as you think you can control or take care of whatever it is, then you're all right.

I thought I could talk my way out of anything that might happen, and I didn't think anyone would bother a little old lady — unless it was the corporations or the unions, the ones that I was walking and talking against.

Once, there was a group of about fifteen of us that were walking, and this man from the New York Times asked me, "Aren't you afraid that you might get a bullet in your back?"

I said, "If I do, it's all right." I'd thought about that before I started and decided that it would be okay.

And the next day, from another newspaper, the Christian Science Monitor, another man said, "Do you think you might get a bullet in your back?"

And one of the people in our group said, "Then she'd be a martyr."

Someone else in the group said, "No, no, no. Being a martyr would only last a couple of weeks. Look what happened to Robert Kennedy — we mourned him for two weeks and that was it."

And I said, "No, I have a promise from Dennis Burke" — the director of Common Cause from Arizona, the one who took me through the desert — "that if I don't make it, he and other friends from Common Cause will carry on and get through to Washington."

Carol: In other words, they would mourn you for a month instead of only two weeks?

Granny D: [laughing] I doubt that. I was pretty much ignored by the national press. I have about fifty-two Granny D Day proclamations from mayors across the country, and I don't know how many "keys to the city" — and nothing on the national press except those two visits from those two different men.

They pretty much ignored me, and they have all along. And the book that I produced a year ago April has been absolutely denied existence (Granny D: Walking Across America in My Ninetieth Year). None of the press has made a review of it, although it has been reviewed in the small magazines. The only way it's getting sold is through word-of-mouth.

Carol: Well, I hope that through the Internet, practical word-of-mouth will actually get books such as yours into wide distribution.

Granny D: That would be nice. The reason that I did it was because Dennis Burke, who was my co-author, saw me writing, writing, writing, and said, "You know, there's a book in this story." I said I couldn't write a book, and he said, "Well, you could get somebody to help you."

I said, "Ooh, I never thought of that. How about you?" And his wife said, "Yes, you can." And he enjoyed it so much that he is now coming out with a book of his own.

Carol: So it is my understanding that we now have a new campaign finance reform law.

Granny D: Right. It's the McCain-Feingold bill, which was started way back after Watergate to try to change the system that has developed in this country for elections. This was the bill that I walked for.

When I got as far as, I think it was Dallas, they called and said, "McCain is going to argue the bill again in the Senate, and he would like to have you come and sit in the gallery" — which I did. I had a boy who was driving my support car, and he came with me. We were the only two who stayed and listened to the debate, between McCain, Feingold, and Mitch McCullough.

McCullough ended by raising his hand up in the air with a fist, and saying, "Hell will freeze over before I'll give up soft money." He fought a very hard bout.

The next time, two years later, when I had finished my walk and McCain had run for President and didn't make it, and Bill Bradley had championed campaign finance reform, people in this country knew what this was. When we went to the Senate this time, the gallery was full. And this time, it passed.

Carol: Would you say that you were taking back the lobbying system for the citizenry?

Granny D: That's a good way to put it. I certainly lobbied all the way. But on the way, people said to me, "It's not a good bill. It doesn't do all that needs to be done." I said, "What needs to be done?"

They said we needed to have public funding.

We give our government $1.4 trillion per year in taxes. Of that $1.4 trillion, $150 billion is given out as special subsidies and tax breaks to corporations, unions, and very rich men.

That is our money they are giving away. Because of laws that have been made by candidates who have been bought by the corporations, the unions, and special rich men, they are taking the money that we give to the government.

But if everyone were given public money to run for office, it would take, of that $150 billion, only $1.9 billion to cover all the federal campaigns.

Carol: Do you think that that is the best solution at this point?

Granny D: It seems to me that it is. It has come up in the states as well. There are 37 states now, working to get public funding. When we passed the McCain-Feingold bill, they could see the future. We have four states that have adopted it — Maine and Arizona have gone through one election and they think that it is wonderful. Massachusetts and Vermont are trying very hard to get it through.

Carol: Is it Common Cause that is spearheading this, or are there other organizations, also?

Granny D: There are a lot of organizations that are working on it. This country is a-boil, it's alive with all different kinds of organizations working on situations that are bad and that need to be changed.

But all of them are stuck because they have no money. The campaign finance reform is a lynch-pin. If you can eliminate that $150 billion!

There are some things that do need to be subsidized, but most of them not. Sometimes the subsidy is put on and is forgotten and goes on and on when there's no reason.

But if that money were released, then all of these organizations would be able to operate. Everything, whether you like or not, takes money. You have to educate the people to accept the fact that public funding is a good thing.

Carol: I have heard that the law that passed has a lot of flaws. Is it an adequate start?

Granny D: It doesn't have a lot of flaws. There did have to be compromise in order to get it passed — they had to double the amount of hard money that can be given legally to a candidate. So they are saying that the law is full of flaws, but I don't know anything else that's wrong with it. It does get rid of the soft money.

But it doesn't go into effect until after this election. All the candidates are out there trying to get money as fast as they can for this election, because they know that it's going to be the end.

President Bush signed the McCain-Feingold bill into law. He did it in his oval office, even though it was an epic vote — an epic bill. He should have had a Rose Garden event with Shays, Meehan, McCain, and Feingold there to get their pens. But he signed it reluctantly.

And what did he do? He went right out and got in his plane and went on another fund-raising expedition. He was asked, "How can you do this?" He said, "Well, it's the system."

It's the system. And this system has been allowed to grow and grow, because candidates who accepted this soft money said to themselves, "Everybody's doing it, so it must be all right."

But it wasn't all right. There were laws made way back after the Civil War, and again in 1907. Theodore Roosevelt passed a law saying there should be no money from corporations in politics, because the situation was getting to be just like it is now — although not as bad as it is now.

And then, in 1987, the same law was passed against the unions. So those two laws are on the books, and have been on the books all along. They have just been ignored.

Carol: You are saying that the excuse given is that this is the system. . . How did this system get developed?

Granny D: What happened was this: At the time of Watergate, it was recognized that only fifty percent of the people who could vote were voting. That's true today. In fact, in some cases it's much lower than that. They said, "We must do something, something to get that vote out. This isn't right, for only fifty percent of the people to be voting."

So they formed federal and state, Democratic and Republican committees. And money could be put into those committees to advertise and get out the vote.

For a few years, it lay pretty fallow. But then somebody on some campaign said, "Say, we could launder money through there."

And so a trickle of money began going through those committees. Some of the money was still used for getting out the vote, but the rest of it — the pile of it — was used for such-and-such a candidate. Gradually there was more and more, until suddenly there was just a flood of money being laundered through those two committees.

Both Republicans and Democrats were guilty of this. This is why I say it's not a political problem — it's a societal problem. It is the worst societal problem we have in this country today, because we are selling our votes. A man today, in the Senate or in the House, with very few exceptions, has had to sell his soul in order to run for office, or he has to be a multimillionaire. And that is not a democracy.

Of that $150 billion a year that we give in subsidies and tax breaks to corporations, $1 billion is laundered through soft money for campaign financing — about half a billion to Democrats, and about half a billion to Republicans. There's a bit more to the Republicans, but not enough to notice.

Carol: What can we as citizens do now, in this situation?

Granny D: We can further the groups that are working on public funding in the states. Many good things have started in the states. The women's vote, for instance, started in Wyoming and wasn't picked up federally until about five years later. And Franklin D. Roosevelt — they called him a Communist, they called him names that are not to be repeated — was able to get things that started in the states into the federal system: workers' compensation, unemployment insurance, and things of that nature.

This is what we believe can happen now. If enough states — if all 37 of those states that are working on it — are able to convince their constituents that it's something they should do, then it will spread federally. That's what we think.

When people understand what it means, they say, "Yes, this is what we want."

But I have decided to come home. I thought I could go home and put my feet up and vegetate at the age of ninety, but for the last two years I have been doing rallies and helping people to get started on public funding.

I still am living on Social Security, but I go whenever somebody can afford to pay my way.

Carol: How is voting reform related to this? Or is it?

Granny D: I only talk about campaign finance reform. But we all know it was a disgrace the way the last election was handled. We know that it was not fair, that it was not democratic, and we must not let it happen again.

But it looks as if the big problem is in getting decent voting machines, machines that work — or else go back to counting. Giving bad machines to the people on the other side of the railroad tracks is not the thing to do.

There are lots of theories on how the voting should go — instant voting, and two or three different ways that should be questioned and talked about.

That's not my field, and I am only talking as a layman. But in campaign finance reform, I know how a bill works, and I've watched it go through.

Carol: It sounds, though, like the strategies you have are certainly applicable to other issues. Is there anything else that you would like our readers to hear from you?

Granny D: Well, I always say, "It's never too late to get in shape." If you want to stay alive, you should get involved and be an activist. It's all there for you — it's all laid out. It doesn't cost any money, it only costs a brain, even if you don't have very much of a brain left [laughing]. I feel that's the answer to a long life and a pleasant one.

And joining a group and working for a cause is a very exciting thing.

I have an awful lot of nerve. When I first put on my website that I wanted to create a wave of interest in campaign finance reform across the country, a friend of mine said, "Gee, that's like bragging, isn't it?"

I said, "Yes, it is, and perhaps it won't happen. But it doesn't do any harm to hitch your wagon to a star."

And then this all happened. I maybe made a few pin pricks here and there. Some people say I put a face on it — and that was nice.

So don't give up when somebody says you can't do something. Don't deny yourself the pleasure of being an activist, even if it's something that cannot happen. Even if you shoot too far. So don't think that you can't do something. Look what Gandhi did, look what King did. Use them as your models.

You have been a success if you are out there working for justice, for peace, for love. You have changed the world. You have changed the chemistry of things, just because you are out there trying. You have pushed whatever you are working on a little bit further. If you do something good, it spreads to other people and makes it more possible for the people who come after you to be a success.

It's not a product that you can touch any more than you can touch the wind, but it's there. It's a legacy that you can leave to your children.

To the Apologists of Corruption
Speech delivered by Doris Haddock at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, September 7, 1999

We are on hallowed ground. The petty affairs of the day fade away at this place, where the courage and pain of a righteous life suddenly transcended to the eternal. And with that transcendence, the light from above that shows us the way to justice and love became, for all time, one soul brighter. Did King die here? The part of him we love, his soul, will never die. And so his voice still rings in our ears and he still implores us to make brotherhood, love and self-sacrifice our only tools for change. We hear you, Dr. King.

In this place, it is easy to remember that our brothers and sisters of every color have sacrificed their lives to advance our shared dream of a land of equality and plenty. We have NOT made these sacrifices in order to separate our people into rich and poor, privileged and oppressed. Dr. King was in this very place because he believed that equal economic opportunity is the partner of political equality.

Our people are more economically divided now than they were when King walked this way. The tax and labor and business laws of this nation drive that division, and those policies are held hostage by a corrupt Congress and its system of campaign finance bribery and billion-dollar political favors. These favors are paid at the expense of programs that could make our society more fair and less troubled.

Whole parts of our society, stripped of other opportunities, have fallen into illegal markets to survive. A young generation of urban poor is in jail or in the justice system. Our families are working too many jobs and too many hours to be able to raise their families properly.

It is the duty of leaders to shape society so that the great masses of its people can work to provide decently for their families and their futures. Our leaders, distracted by the corruption of the campaign finance system, are failing that duty.

They pass laws that destroy the jobs and lower the protections for workers, that segregate the people into rich communities and ghettos of despair, and that provide jails instead of education, shelters instead of decent housing, toxic pollution instead of healthy environments for our children. They do it to favor the wealthy elite who buy campaigns to keep them in power.

We must replace this bribery with the full public financing of our elections, so that candidates may speak as freely to the community as they did in the days of the Fourth of July candidate's picnic in the park. We must get big money out of politics before it destroys us utterly.

Americans are disheartened, but we reformers must not despair. We must help bring on the day when ordinary people can speak as equals at the table of power to decide the affairs of our government.

Our democracy is sacred ground. It is red with the sacrifices of our people. We are here today to honor those sacrifices, not with our words, but with our deeds.

To the apologists of corruption in Congress, like Mr. McConnell of Kentucky, understand, sir, that, just like those who stood atop the school steps to block the historic arrival of desegregation, you cannot stand forever atop the Capitol steps, your arms folded against the American people's longing for a democracy worthy of our national sacrifices.

I thank Mr. Dick Gregory, Rev. Billie Kyles, and the Memphis sanitation workers who have walked here with me today. I hope you will walk with me again in January in Washington. By then I might need a hand up the Capitol steps, and I hope that we, as American brothers and sisters, might go into that great temple of freedom together, with Dr. King beside us and in our hearts.

Thank you.