A 90-year-old great-grandmother, suffering from arthritis and emphysema, has completed a 14-month, 3,200-mile (5100km) walk across the United States in a holy crusade for the reform of politicians' massive spending in election campaigns. Doris Haddock, known affectionately as Granny D, claims that the very soul of the nation is at risk if US citizens do not convince their elected officials that political spending must be brought under control. While members of the US House and Senate have struggled unsuccessfully for years to cap spending by politicians in election campaigns, Granny D, from the state of New Hampshire, has been consistently drawing attention to the issue since January 1, 1999 when she set out from the West Coast of the US.
In the past 15 years, presidential politics in America have become known more and more as "a rich man's game." George W. Bush, son of the former US president and now the man expected to be the Republican party's candidate in the presidential election to be held late this year, raised more than $50 million last year in just the first few months of his campaign. Neither Bush nor Vice President Al Gore—expected to be the Democratic presidential candidate this year—share Granny D's sweeping vision of reform. However, both their political parties are coming under increased scrutiny and criticism for what is considered political fundraising and campaign spending that are out of control.
According to CNN television reporter Bruce Morton, "political parties spend less money on making sure they are following the [financial] rules throughout the campaign than they do on balloons for election night."
Granny D is following a long tradition of religious crusaders who have crossed America to prove a moral point. In the 1850s, the reason was the abolition of slavery. In the 1960s, it was peace. In the 1970s and 80s it was to raise awareness about poverty.
In an interview with Ecumenical News International (ENI) after she completed her transcontinental walk on February 29 on the steps of the US Capitol, Granny D said: "It just sickened me to realize that a poor man has to sell his soul to run for office. The Bible says we are all equals. It says we must take care of the widows and orphans and those who don't have a voice. Well, I believe most of us are losing our voices to the power of big money. It's a form of bribery, and bribes subverts the rights of many."
Granny D grew up in the Methodist Episcopal Church and became an Episcopalian in 1930 when she got married. Her husband died in 1993, and soon after she lost another close friend to a terminal illness.Depressed and determined at the same time, Granny D "wanted to do something to memorialize both of them. I also wanted to see what it would be like to walk across the country."My son said: 'You can't just set out like that. You almost need a cause'."
Granny D had her cause. "For years I'd been part of a group of women who were trying to raise awareness about campaign finance," she said. "We simply got nowhere. So I decided to walk."
However she was, she told ENI, deeply disappointed by the lack of response she received from individual churches during her 14-month journey. She sent many letters to congregations along her route, but received only one letter in response. At one recent stop, a pastor came up to her and said: "I got one letter from you a year ago."
Granny D shot back: "Did you answer?""No," said the pastor. "But I'm here now."
Granny D started from Los Angeles, California, and walked an average of ten miles (16km) a day. She had two simple goals—to draw media attention to the problem, and to teach citizens how to pressure their representatives to put limits on the amount and type of contributions political candidates were allowed to receive.
During her trip, she had to be hospitalized for dehydration in the Mojave Desert. She walked in snow, rain and sleet, and completed her 3,000th mile on her 90th birthday, January 24, 2000."I have slept in the modest homes of Native Americans in the Arizona deserts, and walked with children and senators, mayors and vagabonds," she told one audience. "I have met elderly women who have pressed their precious food into my hands, though they themselves buy pet food to stretch their budgets."
Granny D, who has 12 great-grandchildren, told ENI: "I have met and spent wonderful walking time, with so many, many wonderful people of every race, every age, every income and political persuasion. Through it all, I have yet to meet one person who believes we should hand over our democracy to those who would use their big dollars to take it from us. I have yet to talk with the one man or woman or child who wants their senator to be beholden to the special-interest check-writers who step in line in front of us all, stealing our representation."
In the last 14 months, Granny D has peppered her speeches with religious overtones: "Let these cold-blooded, Congressional reptiles take, take, take special-interest money, " she said, referring to the generous donations by big companies and lobby groups to campaign funds. "We see through them and their ridiculous and insulting argument that the constitution gives anyone the right to shout us down and drown our voices with their power. On the road so far, I have met people who know what this country is all about and who would not subvert it for their own greedy convenience. They have taken me into their homes and fed me at their tables and shown me the children for whom they sacrifice their lives and for whom they pray for a free and gentle democracy."
Only great leadership and great love can get us through the times ahead," she said in one recent speech. "We must all take our part in this great drama. It is more than politics; it is a struggle of the soul, and it is exquisitely personal to each of us.
"We all have different religions to guide us, but we share a common civic belief: that we, as a great and free people, are capable and duty-bound to manage our own governance. A flood of special-interest money has carried away our own representatives and our own senators, and all that is left of them—at least for those of us who do not write $100,000 checks—are the shadows of their cardboard cut-outs. If you doubt it, write a letter to them and see what rubber-stamp drivel you get back. For all we know, they might all have died 10 years ago and the same letters continue to be sent out.
This is an important election year, and I don't think any of us should spend too much time in our easy chairs. What's the point of having a democracy, what's the point of all the blood sacrifices that have been made for it, if we sit and just watch other people muck it up on our television sets?"
Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.
Granny D's Web site, GrannyD.com, offers photos, speeches, journal entries, and more.
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