“You Can’t Eat Money!” - Interview with Granny D by Peter Moore
In Y2K, 90 year old Granny D (Doris Haddock) began her transcontinental walk across America. Her cause: Campaign Finance Reform, the public funding of our political election system. Over the next 14 months, Granny D walked 3,200 miles, averaging 10 miles a day. When she finally got to Washington DC, she was met by crowds of people, including Senators John McCain and Russell Feingold, authors of the campaign finance reform bill so vehemently opposed by the the power elite who call themselves our “leaders”.
Granny D stayed on the case for Campaign Finance Reform over the next year, never giving up or giving in, even getting arrested in the halls of Congress exercising her Constitutionally guaran-teed rights to free speech and assembly.
After the Enron scam put a public searchlight on lawmakers ’n lawbreakers in bed together, the stench of political corruption was too much for even the US Congress to bear. McCain-Feingold was subsequently (March, 2002) voted into law. Granny D was in the visitors gallery to witness the historic event. The bill then went to the desk of a President who was forced by circumstances to give his signature in order to distance himself from the scandal.
Since then, she has again crossed the nation, more than once, by plane & wheels this time, supporting Campaign Finance Reform in a majority of the states in the union.
On April 8, 2002, Granny D visited Portland and Salem, collecting signatures and making appearances in support of “Money Is Not Democracy”, Oregon’s own campaign finance reform initiative. Her cause is the same, to end the corrupting influence of big money in our political system. Signatures are still being gathered to put campaign finance reform before the Oregon voters this November (visit www.voters.net). We interviewed Granny D at our offices in Salem.
PM: What put you over the edge?
GD: My epiphany? In 1996 I read an op-ed article in the Boston Globe about two Senators who put an amendment on a bill, going to Bill Clinton for signing, for a 50 million dollar subsidy to a tobacco company.
Now, a subsidy is not a loan, it’s a gift. And it’s supposed to go to an entity or a corporation whose product is for the good of all. I called Common Cause and said “What in Heaven’s name is happening?” They said, “Doris, that’s corruption. Don’t you know about corruption?” And I said,”“No, I don’t know about corruption”. They said “Study campaign finance reform”.
PM: How did you decide to walk across America?
GD: I had a group of old people, 19 of us. We called ourselves “The Tuesday Morning Academy”. We studied things. I came to this group and I said “You know, I am very disturbed about this.” And they said to me”“What are you going to do about it?” I said “Me?”, and they said “Well you’re the one that’s disturbed, Doris”. So I got busy and decided what we had to do was to send out petitions begging for campaign finance reform as soon as possible. We made listings of all of our friends and relatives throughout the 50 states and said to them “You do likewise. You send out these petitions to your friends and relatives”. After two years, the petitions were sent to our Senators. The Senators wrote back to us and said, “Dear little old ladies, don’t worry about this, we’re taking care of it.” Then, within two months, McCain-Feingold failed again. And I said, “This is madness. Nothing is being done about it. They’re just letting it continue the way it is, worse and worse and worse!”
PM: After McCain-Feingold failed again, and after the Dear Little Old Ladies letter, what did you do?
GD: I went into deep depression! But I have a son who goes to the Everglades every year, and spends a month fishing and taking life easy. He said “You’re in depression. Come with me and visit your sister in Florida for three weeks, and I’ll pick you up at the end of it.” I said OK, and on the trip down, we saw this little old man walking along with a cane and a bag in one hand. It was winter time, and he had a macintosh and a very heavy hat. I said “What in hell is that old man doing in the middle of nowhere?” My son said”“He’s on the road again”. So we talked about on the road again, and what it would be like to be on the road again, and I said “That’s it! I’m going to cross this country.” He said “You must have a cause. It’s no good if you don’t have a cause.” I said “I got a cause!”. He said, “Oh my God! Campaign Finance Reform!” And I said “I will go as a pilgrim. I’m going to travel like Jesus Christ. I am old, and the people will take care of me.” And they did.
PM: That’s faith! Your son agreed immediately to this plan?
GD: No. He said “I’ll put you on a regime, and if you can do the regime that I set up for you, I’ll consider letting you go.”
PM: Is he a doctor or …
GD: He’s my son. Your son becomes your parent, you know. So I said “OK”, and he said “While I’m in the Everglades I want you to be able to walk 10 miles a day, 6 days a week, with a 25 pound pack. And sleep on the ground”. He thought that would be the end of it, but I did as he told me, I trained for my walk.
PM: How much do you weigh, by the way?
GD: I weigh…I’m not going to tell!
PM: Vanity! (laughter) At 92!
GD: Well I lost about 20 pounds on the road. But I gained it back, quite a lot of it. I weigh about 120 now.
PM: I notice your cause hasn’t ended since the end of the walk.
GD: That’s right. I don’t know how far it will go, depends upon my strength, I suppose. But we now have 37 states interested in some form of public funding of elections, including Oregon.
PM: I heard a Republican Party strategist on NPR recently saying that McCain-Feingold is only going to force campaign funding to go through new channels: within five years it will be as if McCain-Feingold never happened. Is that possible?
GD: He’s not taking into account what is happening all over the country. People all over the country are aware more than they were before that we are losing our democracy, and becoming a fascist state. People don’t like that. Only 50% of the people vote that could vote, and in some cases down to 30%. They don’t think there’s anybody for them to vote for.
The media and the Senate were saying, before I started on my walk, that people don’t care, they’re apathetic. My own Senator said “My people are so stupid they don’t really care whether or not I spend a lot of money running for the Senate. They’re not interested.”
Well I didn’t believe that was true and that is one of the reasons I walked. I asked people as I went, “What is it causing you not to vote?” and they said, “I ain’t votin’ for a bunch of crooks.” That’s what they said. And they said “There’s no one there that understands what my needs are. Unless you’ve got a big check in your pocket, don’t expect to get anything out of them.”
PM: The Democrats and Republicans do exude a certain smug satisfaction with the status quo.
GD: They are in a trap really. This is the only way they know to get elected. They’ve never had to go out and find small donations from a great many people, to go out among their constituents, instead of sitting on the phone trying to get money, BIG MONEY out of a few big people.
PM: What’s the mechanism by which society gets out of this trap you speak of?
GD: Well, if we had public funding of elections, then candidates would be free of having to raise money. Public funding would mean that they’d all be on a level playing field. They’d all get the same amount of money, they wouldn’t spend their own money, or big money. It would come from the People.
Look, here is how the system that we have today works, ever since Watergate. We give our government 1.4 trillion dollars a year. That doesn’t count the other amount, 753 billion I think it is, for social security and medicare. But of those trillion dollars, one hundred and fifty billion dollars of them are used for subsidies, tax breaks and special dispensations for corporations, for unions, and for rich men. And, since Watergate, a billion dollars, pretty much divided between the Republicans and the Democrats, is laundered through the Democrat and Republican National Committees, and then sent to the campaigns of the candidates.
PM: What of routine objections to public funding? That it doesn’t allow the “free speech” of giving out money to whom you like?
GD: I say Money is money and speech is speech, and they have got nothing to do with each other! I do not believe that, because you’ve got money, you should have more of a voice. That is not a democracy. A democracy is government of all the people, by the people and for the people! It’s very simple.
PM: That’s the spirit of the American Revolution! Didn’t you get thrown in jail for reading the Declaration of Independence aloud in the Halls of Congress?
GD: Once, and the Bill of Rights the other time. You know the Constitution does say, if there’s something wrong with your government, you do have the right to say so and petition the government for redress of grievances. And that is why I walked across the country, because I wanted to create a wave of interest in campaign finance reform. And it’s working. I think a lot of people know about it now. Just today, I was getting signatures at the Pioneer Courthouse Square. People say, “what is this petition for?”; you say, “Campaign finance reform”; … they sign it.
PM: The people may care, but again, what about that Republican talking head who says, ‘We’re gonna figure out a way to gut McCain-Feingold legally, and within five years spending will be up to and exceeding current levels’?
GD: He’s talking through his hat! That’s not going to happen!
PM: What will prevent it?
GD: The people of this country will prevent it!
PM: How do you square that assertion with Bush’s 80% popularity polls?
GD: I think it’s a lie! Maybe 80% of the people are in favor of the war, but not of what he’s doing domestically. People don’t like the fact that the Bush Administration ignores global warming. Or that it’s perfectly alright to use up all our resources and not leave something to our children. “Don’t worry about the legacy.” This is Cheney. “Enjoy yourself. Relax and have fun. You don’t have to worry about the future, it’ll take care of itself”. That’s a man talking through his hat!
PM: You’re being kind. When you made your remarks on the 14th of September last year, you received scathing returns….
GD: Yes I did, awful things. They said terrible things about me, that I was a whore, that I should go to Afghanistan and not come back, and there were a few sexual things that were very lewd & rude. I had never expected to get things like that….
PM: How do you bounce back from that?
GD: First you cry….and then you laugh….Fools, you know.
PM: You said earlier that our nation is moving towards fascism if we’re not careful. That is a strong word…
GD: It is a very strong word!
PM: Do you think there are a lot of people out there who agree with you?
GD: People who think at all know it’s true. Ideologues and dictators have risen up throughout history. We recognize this is happening now in our country and this is very scary.
PM: You’ve spoken of the corrupting influence of money in politics. What of society in general?
GD: I think that we’re getting more and more rich people, and more and more poor people, and the middle class is being purposely wiped out. And it was probably the most wonderful middle class in the world, that the world had ever known, and they’re wiping it out!
PM: Why do you think the economy is placed above all other competing values in our society? If it’s legal to make a profit, from cutting down all the redwood trees to polluting the waters, to selling weapons worldwide, to disappearing inconvenient species, then that is the only thing that matters.
GD: But you can’t eat money! What good is it? Are you your brother’s keeper, or not? What kind of a life are you going to lead if you put every one down, but You, You, You? At the end, you are a conscience to yourself. You lie in bed there, when you are dying, and what do you think? “Ha! I’ve got more money than anybody else! Oh boy, I’m dying rich!” It’s crazy!
PM: But you’re hopeful, right? You don’t think that the republic has passed the point of no return?
GD: No, I don’t. I think we’re going to get it back! I think we’re going to fight and get it back. People love this country. People will recognize the fact that they’re losing their democracy and they don’t like it. They don’t like to know there is corruption. We’re going to make it better, but it’s going to take a lot of work.
PM: Well Ganny D, you are certainly setting the pace for us all in doing the good work. May we follow in your footsteps, and live so long doing it. Thank you.
GD: Thank you.
For more on Doris Haddock, aka Granny D, including her brilliant speeches and information about her heroine’s journey across America, go to www.grannyd.com. Granny D urges all to get involved: sign the “Money Is Not Democracy” Initiative petition before July 2 (www.voters.net), and take the corruption out of politics.