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Jim Hightower: The Heartbeat of Democratic Reform Movement

Granny D's walk across America set in motion an effort to devalue the influence of big money in political campaigns

It read like just another obituary written about someone who had lived a very long time: “Doris Haddock died peacefully in her family home,” it began. “Born in 1910, she lived through two world wars and the Great Depression. She is survived by her son, eight grandchildren and 16 great grandchildren.”

Jim Hightower
Jim Hightower

Oh, and one other thing: “She walked across the United States at age 90 to rally public support for campaign finance reform.”

Haddock — better known as “Granny D” — was not your usual elderly lady, living her last years in quiet repose. She had always been that finest of the American species: a “Citizen” — with a capital C — one who stayed engaged in the public issues of her time.

She was small in size, gentle by nature and soft-spoken, but she had the heart of Sojourner Truth, Ida Tarbell, Mother Jones and Rachel Carson beating within her, and she was neither afraid to speak out nor hesitant to take what actions she could.

In her late 80s, Haddock took note of the ever-spreading scourge of the corrupt cash that’s choking the very life out of our democratic political system. She was outraged that she would be leaving such a foul political inheritance to her grandchildren. Rather than sit and seethe, she wanted to make a statement, to do something. But how could just one person with no connections or clout make her voice heard, much less make a difference?

“I’ll walk,” she decided. Not down to town hall. Across America. The full length of it! Her grandchildren feared their Granny D had finally lost her grip on reality. But she was the very voice of calm reason, and she was resolute.

On New Year’s Day 1999, this petite, unknown lady donned her emblematic straw hat, unfurled her banner calling for publicly financed, clean elections and headed east from Pasadena, Calif. Destination: Washington, D.C.

For the next 14 months, Granny D traversed our country, walking 10 miles a day, lifting hearts all along the way. She weathered 105-degree deserts and a blinding snowstorm, but she kept going. She encountered a rattlesnake in Texas and Sen. Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, but she kept going. She had to have her feet taped sometimes and had to wear a steel corset to help her back, but she kept going.

The national political cognoscenti had been claiming that ordinary Americans didn’t care about the arcane issue of campaign finance reform, but Haddock proved them liars. Hundreds of people of all political stripes would turn out as she approached every town or city, greeting her and cheering her on. They simply loved her, loved both the anger and hope she represented, loved her message and mission — and they signed on to join her rebellion against the moneyed powers controlling U.S. politics and government.

Thousands (including me) joined her as she entered Washington on Feb. 29, 2000. We walked with her across the Potomac, past the Lincoln Memorial, right up the K Street corridor where corporate lobbyists roost and on to the Capitol itself.

From the east steps of this edifice of American democracy, she addressed the throng with a moving portrayal of her 3,000-mile journey through the heart of our country: “The people I met along my way have given me messages to deliver here. The messages are many, written with old and young hands of every color, and yet the messages are the same. They are this: ‘Shame on you, senators and congressmen, who have turned the headquarters of a great and self-governing people into a bawdyhouse.”

Haddock made her voice heard. Throughout the last decade of her life, she embodied the national yearning for democratic reform and rallied a movement that has successfully pushed for local and state clean-election laws that give our “people’s voice” real strength against the moneyed interests.

Granny D, 100 years old, died March 9, but her strong heart beats in everyone who dares to confront the corporate corrupters of our democratic system. To keep that beat going, connect with others engaged in this essential effort: www.grannyd.com.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker and author of Swim Against The Current: Even A Dead Fish Can Go With The Flow. Click here for more information, or click here to contact him.

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